Child prostitution in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa is “increasing at an alarming rate”, according to a study by Save the Children-Denmark (SCD).
The NGO revealed that the lure of work brought many child prostitutes – some as young as 13 - to the city. The report, compiled with government officials and a local child rights organisation, urged immediate action to tackle the magnitude of the problem.
“Intervention is clearly needed as a matter of national urgency,” it said.
SCD said the lack of a national policy and little action were major hurdles to be overcome if the surge was to be halted.
It also criticised the "public disapproval and private encouragement” of prostitution, calling for the stigma to be challenged.
Although the researchers say it is difficult to estimate the numbers of child prostitutes in the city, the booming number of traffickers is evidence of the rapid increase.
The children often blamed lack of work, family deaths, poor education or unwanted pregnancy for driving them towards prostitution.
Many of the child prostitutes had been victims of serious sexual and physical abuse. Almost half the children said they had been raped prior to ending up on the streets and a third had fallen pregnant – with some resorting to back street abortions.
“The abortions were performed mainly by traditional medicine and in the street illegally,” said the report. “The dangers of this are numerous and include death.”
The study was carried out in four districts of Addis Ababa and 100 child prostitutes were interviewed. Most of the children work on the streets, in small bars or local alcohol houses or in rented houses where drugs or the mild stimulant chat are taken, the report said.
“Each location,” it added, “exposes the children to different risks and hazards.”