Hundreds of girls are trapped in the sex trade in Ethiopia’s northern city of Gondar. Some were pushed by rural families to find jobs in the cities where prostitution is often the only way to make money. Others resorted to prostitution in order to pay smugglers to help them leave the country.
This horror is being exacerbated by COVID-19, as girls who lost their jobs as waitresses or maids as a result of the pandemic turn to prostitution rather than returning home empty handed.
After fleeing her village aged 11 to avoid being wed to a much older man, Selam – whose name has been changed to protect her identity – ended up in the sex trade. Now 14 years old, she says she sees no way out of prostitution, which is legal and widespread in Ethiopia.
“The job is nasty but what would I be eating if I stopped? I just want to get out…but I have nothing else to do.”
This sentiment expressed by Salem is one shared by many women and girls trapped in the sex industry. The majority are there out of desperation – not choice – and would leave in a heartbeat if other options were available to them.