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Home / Democracy / The nightclubs of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, reveal a thriving sex industry, in which thousands of skimpily dressed young women trade sexual favours for cash.

The nightclubs of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, reveal a thriving sex industry, in which thousands of skimpily dressed young women trade sexual favours for cash.

The nightclubs of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, reveal a thriving sex industry, in which thousands of skimpily dressed young women trade sexual favours for cash to survive, putting them at risk of contracting HIV and spreading the disease.

Extreme poverty has forced many girls into the sex trade. Helen Chane (not her real name), a grade 10 student aged 17, became a commercial sex worker after her parents died from AIDS-related illnesses about a year ago.

“I support my grandmother and sister; I sleep with students during the day and I have customers that I find through brokers at night,” she said. “I do not need to go to the street, the brokers bring them to me.”

Sex work in Addis is usually linked to establishments such as restaurants, bars, hotels and nightclubs frequented by wealthy expatriates or local businessmen, but the city also has residential houses that function as unlicensed brothels.

According to a 2002 census in Addis by the American healthcare agency, Family Health International (FHI), 8,134 establishment-based sex workers were identified in the capital, 60 percent of whom were aged between 15 and 24.

Clients are increasingly targeting high school students, domestic workers and even children – the perception is that these groups are less likely to have the HI virus than those openly selling sex.

FHI found that condom use by sex workers is very high. In 2005, the state-run Addis Ababa HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office launched a condom campaign dubbed ‘Wise UP’ – with sex workers as the primary targets – to break the silence and promote condom use as a way of preventing HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

But clients are often reluctant to use condoms, putting sex workers at a significant risk. According to the FHI study, HIV prevalence among urban sex workers is over 20 percent and as high as 50 percent in some towns.

Abebech Assfaw, (not her real name), 22, came to Addis Ababa after difficulties in her marriage. She told IRIN PlusNews that she tried to use a condom during every sexual encounter, but clients often refused and some even tried to trick her.

“A customer once told me that he uses three condoms at a time and I agreed; then he turned off the light and cut the tips off the condoms,” she said. “I felt something was wrong and turned on the light. I screamed and the police came and saved me.”

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