What makes a 15 year old girl from rural Ethiopia so desperate that she wants to try her luck in neighbouring Sudan? Tigist was trafficked, exploited in domestic labour, abused, and even imprisoned as an illegal immigrant.
Tigist hails from a large family that depends on self-subsistence farming. Their one roomed house doubles as a stable for their livestock. Food is often not enough, and money for scholastic and other basic needs is scarce. When her father died two years ago, Tigist’s family sank into even deeper poverty.
As one of the older children in the seven person household, Tigist plays a large role in all the work that needs to be done on the farm and in the house. Consequently, she largely spends her time working instead of learning. She is absent from so many classes that it affects her results. Overburdened by her heavy workload, she is drawn to Metema, the border town to Sudan.
Leaving her family and home behind, Tigist is lured into an illegal border crossing by a ‘sympathiser’ who in fact is a child trafficker. Without any papers, they use hidden routes on foot. Once she has arrived in Sudan, her trafficker hands her over to a ‘friend’. This friend in reality is an abusive, demanding boss. Tigist is forced to work for long hours and loaded with tasks. On top of that she is constantly insulted and severely beaten. She does not even get paid.
After enduring this for two months, Tigist decides to report the abuse and exploitation to a local policeman. Being illegal in Sudan, she is arrested and taken to prison to await her deportation. This takes two months and 22 days - and all this time the young girl is spending her days in the cell.
Back in Ethiopia, Tigist is immediately taken into the care of the anti-trafficking task force of the Paths to Safer Childhood project. She receives shelter, food and psychosocial support, to build her resilience and prepare her for her return home. In close collaboration with the police and local authorities, Tigist’s trafficker is brought to book. After two months detainment, he is released on a cash bail of 5,000 Ethiopian birr (around € 100), which is approximately 15% of the average annual income per person in Ethiopia.
Almost six months after her departure, Tigist is reunited with her family. She returns to school, with scholastic materials provided by the project. Her family has been introduced to the local Self Help Group, to help them develop alternative livelihoods so that the mother can better support the education of her children.
Tigist is happy to be back home: “The biggest change in my life is to get reunified with my family. Currently, I feel a sense of security and safety living with my relatives in our village. Your assistance has saved my life.”