Are migrating girls more than passive victims?

Girls who have migrated are mainly seen as victims of forced displacement or trafficking - which does happen. Yet research in which Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ partners participated has found that the majority of Ethiopian migrant girls took the decision to leave themselves - sometimes even without consulting their parents. Regardless, girls who migrate are extra vulnerable to exploitation and need better protection. A large majority of adolescent migrant girls in Ethiopia end up as domestic workers or are exploited in the sex industry in its capital Addis Ababa. 

Reasons for migration

Migrant girls indicate that the most important reasons to leave their place of origin, are poverty of their families, experiences of abuse at home, escaping child marriage and the aspiration to continue their education. With high expectations about their new life, they have moved to Addis Ababa, hoping to improve their own lives, those of their families back home, pursuing their education and becoming financially independent. However, the reality turns out not to be as positive as they expected.

From domestic to sex work

Domestic workers in Ethiopia’s capital live very isolated lives. They narrate about heavy workload, low salaries (or no salary at all) and various forms of abuse. This leads many domestic workers into fleeing from their exploitative households into sex work. Sex workers may receive better payment, have more freedom of movement and access to social networks, yet they suffer from huge stigmatisation.  

Opportunities and risks

Migration generates both opportunities and risks for adolescent girls. Migration has contributed to girls’ self-development; some feel that they have gained new experiences and become more independent. At the same time they are facing limited opportunities to continue their education and find better jobs, and often experience abuse and exploitation, which affects their self-esteem negatively. None of the girls in the research wanted to go back home permanently, yet they all exclaimed that they regretted their migration. In their view, they would have been better able to improve their lives by continuing their education at home.

Time to Look at Girls

The Ethiopian research is part of a larger research project, Time to Look at Girls. This research focuses on the experiences, life choices and aspirations of adolescent girls and young women who migrate internally and internationally. It was carried out in three countries: Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Sudan. In addition, a comparative research report was compiled, emphasising commonalities as well as key differences between these three countries.
All researchers worked under the umbrella of the Global Migration Centre of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, with support from the Terre des Hommes International Federation under the Destination Unknown campaign.


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