Research Spotlight

Selam Medireshachen (Safe Arrival): Reducing Trafficking and Sexual Abuse of Migrant Girls in Ethiopia

Adolescent girls and young women in low- and middle-income countries are migrating from rural to urban areas in ever greater numbers. This increase in migration has given rise to a “migration industry” that includes brokers and informal labor intermediaries and recruiters who facilitate migration or help new arrivals with employment.

The Population Council conducted a large-scale study of rural-urban migration among adolescent girls and young women in Ethiopia. The research included a large sample of brokers, documenting for the first time the role of brokers in the migration industry.

The study revealed a continuum—from brokers who are well-intentioned to those who deceive, sexually exploit, or traffick adolescent girls and young women into commercial sex work.

“Illegal brokers take advantage of us without being taxed. They take them (girls) from here, steal from them, rape them, make them take drugs, and send them back to us after that. Then we get blamed you see? Because the girls don’t understand that the illegal ones are different from us.”—Licensed broker

Building on these findings, Population Council researchers are implementing and evaluating Selam Medireshachen (Safe Arrival)—a program to tackle the risk of violence and trafficking. The Organization for Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Integration of Female Street Children (OPRIFS) is the service delivery partner on the initiative.

The program centers on two bus terminals in Addis Ababa which are the main entry points for girls who are migrating and where a large concentration of brokers is found. With a goal to disrupt the pattern of sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking, the 12-month pilot program creates a support network:

  • Certified safer brokers: A cadre of agents, or “certified” brokers, trained to support safe employment
  • Female "arrival allies" who are market women working in the vicinity of the bus stage: Point persons for support and advice who can connect arrivals to social services such as safe houses and shelters, health, welfare, and legal services
  • Responsive law enforcement, transportation authorities, and local administration: Representatives of local agencies proficient in identifying signs of abuse and exploitation and providing active support to adolescent girls and young women who are migrating

Researchers will track and monitor participants, capturing demographic data and integrating qualitative research to gain unique insights and evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

The study includes in-depth interviews with female migrants, employment agents/brokers and female arrival allies/market women. Interviews will be conducted at three points in time, spanning recent and previous migrants and individuals who participated in the program as well as those who did not.

This is a novel project addressing a critical concern on which little research has been conducted. It is also sensitive research, as it likely involves instances of trafficking/child trafficking and/or commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The research design is centered on collecting qualitative information from migrants, brokers and female arrival allies/market women over several rounds of data collection. This research approach, undertaken over several phases, will build understanding of the process of migration, brokers, and the experiences of adolescent girls and young women—to allow for adjustments during the intervention and in subsequent rounds of research.

Results will fill a significant knowledge gap on the dynamics of migration and trafficking and contribute to future research that includes quantitative studies.