Monday, August 12, 2013

NEVIS Review No 23, Section II, Ref#23.2

NEVIS Review No 23
Section II
Ref#23.2 ( Danny Arkus’s section)
August 12, 2013

[Original note by Danny Arku]

One thing that amazes me is the long queue of our sisters, young ladies not to buy bread or oil as one may expect, but as “setegna adari” [prostitutes] in every corner of Addis, in Haya Hulet, in Kazanchis, in Piassa, and in Bole..That is disheartening and a shame to us, Ethiopians, to put it mildly- or at least, to those of us who consider ourselves concerned and informed/enlightened Ethiopian intellectuals.
I think there are several strategies and interventions that can be directed towards this very issue.There might also be some initiatives so far targeted on this problem which I may not be aware of; Besides, I can’t exhaust all the possibilities on how to solve it . However, one thing that came to my mind,at the time of writing this note, is that the government can design some labor-intensive projects, even at the price of inflation that follows government fiscal expansion, and employ these ladies by giving them some training, if necessary. At the risk of introducing contentious normative recommendation, I believe that inflation is lesser cost to pay than a severe unemployment which translates itself into such social evils as pervasive prostitution. Or alternatively, the government can work with NGO and other institutions by directing and/or funding them; or the NGOs themselves may involve in such direction, at least in the short run. I know the long run solution at macroeconomic level is boosting output which will eventually create employment.
What do you say, friends?

NB. The only thing I may add from the original note is that I see police chasing the prostitutes the prostitutes hiding- a kind of hide- and-seek. This is simply fighting the symptom not the real problem-since the real problem is that the ladies need something to eat and to pay their rent with, not to mention it is simply ridiculous- and funny- measure.


Hiwot Emishaw:
This is an interesting topic but one that raises the risk of being over simplistic, being judgmental and stereotyping and at the same time making hasty generalization. Even so, I am going to say the following. I think before putting the burden of “rescuing” these women from what they do on the government and some NGOs, you have to look at why they are doing this.
Prostitution is arguably called the “oldest profession” and there is a reason it has survived this long. There is also a category of prostitutes. The ones you are talking about are the “street Walkers” usually believed to be in it for quick money to solve a certain crisis or there to escape poverty as quickly as possible. However, they largely receive little money to live hand to mouth and must stay and prostitute for longer period of time to survive. Now, I have been part of some initiatives designed to do just what you proposed. Although some of them found the Alternative Income Generating Projects helpful as a way of moving out of the their life style, most of them resort back to prostitution because
1- They are used to getting relatively larger sum of money calculated monthly
2- They are used to receiving money on daily bases and can not be bothered to wait for a month to receive their salaries
3- They simply don’t have the patience to wait and become profitable in the future, moving step by step because of pressing poverty and opt out for the quick cash

All in all, I just want to say there is no quick fix solution to this one, Danny. You cannot eradicate prostitution. And men will never stop going to prostitutes. (That will make an even more interesting topic—“Why do men go to prostitutes?”)

Kiram Yonas:
Danny, my experience working as a social worker with the marginalized group, I realized that we are much concerned on rehabilitation and reintegration rather than prevention. I am saying this because there are significant number of under-age youngsters who are ready to join the group due to the hopeless education they are attending and the increasing cost of living. I suggest to help those at the entry point
Tessema Simachew:
Criminalizing prostitution is a very good option. One thing which always amazes me is to know that prostitution is considered to be against the moral values of the various states of USA but not Ethiopia. This is not something which I am saying because I saw this post. I always have this idea that criminalizing prostitution in one of the regions in Ethiopia could help to raise the awareness of the public on the issue.
Danny Arku:
Hiwot Emishaw, you have raised good points. Thanks. The incentive issue is a concern here. I participated in some research conference where one of the researches was rural to urban migration, and one of the issues of discussion was that ladies from the country side first try the cafe-waitress job, and realizing that it pays them 300 Birr or less PER MONTH, which is too much below what they need for bare necessities. They then resort to prostitution never to come back to their waitress job-since they earn as much as Birr 300 or more PER DAY (which they used to get per month in ordinary job!!). Now, the alternative has to be obviously one that pays better than the waitress job, and it has to be supplemented by awareness programs regarding the fact that they are exposed to STDs and other harmful impacts to her in the long run and all that (Social psychologist and social workers like Kiram Yonas cited can help here). Tessema , will criminalizing help? I doubt because that will be fighting the symptom and she will do it in the hiding for she will have to survive. Criminalizing it without giving alternatives to the ladies will be suicidal. In the US, the employment opportunity is wide at least for blue-collar work.
Costy B Costantinos:
I headed a team that was studying street children and prostitution in Ethiopia for the UN and the Government in 1995. With more than a million engaged in the streets of cities, this is indeed abysmally cruel. Child prostitution is growing in both urban and rural areas of Ethiopia. In the capital city, Addis Ababa, the number of children victimised in commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) is increasing at an alarming rate. Numerous children migrate from rural areas in order to escape poverty, limited educational and job opportunities, drought, violence at home, early marriage, abusive relationships and exploitative labour, only to be become victims of commercial sexual exploitation in the urban centres. School Girls are violated by the ‘supposedly’ right protectors: teachers, law enforcement and it is ‘culturally acceptable” to rape a young girl. The Committee on the Rights of the Child is concerned that a high number, especially girls, are victims of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, and that the majority of cases remain in impunity. Furthermore, the Committee is deeply concerned at the lack of information in the State party report on the extent of the problem and the number of children affected. The Committee is deeply concerned at reports of sexual exploitation, prostitution, rape and other sexual abuse of children (
Serious efforts are under way by women’s groups, civic organisations and the government to contain the problem. But the challenges outweigh the efforts exerted. It suggests itself and seems within reach; only to elude, and appears readily practicable, only to resist realisation. While a lot is being done to penalise offenders, the oldest known profession, prostitution, is legal in Ethiopia. Official focus on group and ethnic rights in Ethiopia also seem to cloud the wider state responsibility of human security for its citizens. The expansion of education and the resultant creation of an ‘economic society’ is the only hope we have, as every other effort seems to have evaded any significant result.
Tessema Simachew:
Danny Arku You are right. Criminalization might not help to solve all the problems surrounding this issue. A law can never do that. But I believe that it can help in changing the way the society perceive the act of prostitution. Of course some aspects of prostitution are already criminalized. But enforcement is always a problem.
Kibrom Araya:
Danny Arku, I think it might be worthy to put much emphasis on exploring the driving forces behind prostitution in the Ethiopian context before fitting some legal enforcements and incentives that could minimize the syndrome. Of course, poverty would take a lion’s share of the attribution but I also think that there might be some other motives associated with the ‘profession’ or practice because it is also a common legal practice in some other Developed countries where poverty is not an issue. More explicitly, there might be other utility based motives and profit oriented drives. Thus, I would suggest that instead of criminalizing prostitution imposing discouraging taxes on prostitutes and on their respective customers might be worthy. I guess this might be working in Netherland. Of course, this reform would only handle only half of the story (it will discourage prostitutes who are either profit or utility maximizers). So one could complement this reform with other educational and other legal incentives which could provide alternative form of employment.
Costy B Costantinos :
The Bottom Billion... Can these be the solutions to poverty-driven prostitution?
Tessema Simachew:
Hiwot, do you think so? As far as I know, it is the "habitual exploitation for pecuniary gain" which is criminalized. I am referring to article 634 of the Ethiopian Criminal Code which reads: "Whoever, for gain, makes a profession of or lives by procuring or on the prostitution or immorality of another, or maintains, as a landlord or keeper, a brothel is punishable with simple imprisonment and fine." Do you know any law which prohibits prostitution, which is directed to the prostitutes themselves?
Betty Negash Woldeyohannes :
Thank you for raising this issue! In the workshop that I am attending, there were presentations on experiences of peer-education and grass root level mobilizations and initiatives being done in Uganda & Tanzania,...and you know what one Guy from Uganda asked me during the break? " There was an advanced form of prostitution when I visited Addis in 2005, what did you do about it? is it still rampant?" and I had nothing to say to him except 'yea, it is still know POVERTY.
Mesfin Tekle:
Danny, this is a very complex issue so is the solution. The incentives are very tempting for young girls. Easy money is very hard to resist specially for people who live in abject poverty. The solution lies in educating young girls at an early age to value themselves and instill confidence in their ability to make a better life for themselves and their family. I disagree with Tessema's suggestion to criminalize the act of prostitution. It's been tried and mostly failed. Here in Canada a court recently rewrote a key phrase in the section of the law to state that charges can only be laid against those "who live off the avails in circumstances of exploitation". Therefore Ethiopian law is fine as it's as long as it protects minors. By the way here in the so called developed world easy money has the same effect on young ladies even though they have a better head start in life than those in Ethiopia.
Meskerem Mulatu :
Danny, thank you for raising an important issue. As you said thinking of our sisters experience to win bread really hurts. It is very unfortunate that we are in the middle of such societal crisis. I think it is not possible to stop prostitution as there is always a demand. However, I believe that it is possible to reduce the number of prostitute in due courses. If we approach and ask each women why they opted for such a life they do have their own story to tell and prostitution is their last option of life. I agree with you that some kind of project could be designed so that they can participate and generate income. But their willingness to participate in such project must be a mandatory. Besides, starting the intervention based on their situational needs or interest will make strengthen the intervention. As Kiram commented, preventive intervention matters a lot b/c educational attainment is a key for empowerment.
Yonas Yoseph:
I think expanding graduate social work studies would be meaningful rather than seeking direct intervention from the government
Selam Bekele:
Thank you Danny for the inclusion in the discussion. There is an ongoing debate between Liberal and Radical feminists on the issue of 'sex work'. In short, the liberals are claiming 'prostitution' is the result of subordination of women by a patriarchal society and need to be alleviated whereas the radicals are saying it is an informed choice made by the women to engage in sex work and it is as any other income generating profession. I am not sure where to categorize our country's context. Sex work might be the only option of economically marginalized women in one way or another (the choice of the choice less). & sex work might be a 'better' choice of women who have an/other choice/s. If we talk about the choice less ones, sure economically empowering them would help to combat the problem. & who should act for that? sure the 'yeferedebet' government, sure 'yeferedebachew' NGOs. How about economically able individuals like singers who sell their single album in millions? How about economically unable individuals who are able to bring the issue into discussion, are able to lobby the community and so? (zurun akererkut?). Hand in hand with exerting an effort to alleviate the root cause, criminalizing the deed (as other commentators up mentioned it) could be helpful. In the country I am living now, buying sex is a crime. Discouraging the buyers (through prosecuting) make the sellers customer 'albo'. When they run out of customers, they by themselves start to look for other options and collaborate with the effort to curb the problem!
Danny Arku :
Thank you all for your effort to show us multiple sides of the story from different disciplines. All of you (my friends in my circle) always amaze me by your thoughtful and respectful responses to my threads. It looks like a symposium/a think-thank of scholars from every corner of the world who bring multiple perspectives on an issue.