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Top News Boy groomed by police officer now safe in Hope for Justice shelter

Boy groomed by police officer now safe in Hope for Justice shelter

A 14-year-old boy in Ethiopia is now safely housed in a Hope for Justice Lighthouse after being trafficked and exploited by a police officer who was meant to keep him safe.

Chala*, a teenager from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, has been under Hope for Justice’s care since late 2022. He was referred to the service by the police in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital, where he was found abandoned. The Hope for Justice team has enrolled Chala in all of the Lighthouse’s services, including education, counselling, and group play.

Chala’s support comes after a gruelling experience of exploitation and displacement. He lost his parents at a young age and was raised by his grandparents, helping them tend to their livestock, while attending the local school. The school had police stationed there following a previous incident.

One of those police officers began to build a relationship with Chala, gaining his trust. This is the first part of any exploitative process of grooming. Given Chala’s vulnerability and the difficulties he was facing living with his grandparents, the police officer offered Chala a place to stay in his own house.

Chala agreed, planning to travel there via Addis Ababa the following morning.

Chala explained: “I went to school early in the morning and told my grandparents that I had an assignment to do at school. [The police officer] was waiting for me at the school gate and took me to the bus station.”

From there, Chala and the police officer traveled to his home, using his status as a police officer to pass through all security checks.

The officer’s intentions were not benevolent. He returned to his normal work and instructed Chala to follow the orders of the family members in the house. Instead of finding safety and care, Chala was forced to work tirelessly for 18 months. His forced labour included looking after the cattle, fetching water in the early morning, collecting food for cattle, and various duties on the farm. All this as a young boy who was meant to be in school.

Speaking to our staff, Chala described his experience: “It was the worst time of my life. I was verbally and physically abused. The man I was working for beat me for no reason, and I ran away.”

Unable to tolerate the exploitation any longer, Chala managed to escape his captor. He knew he had to leave, though he had no idea where he was or how to get to the nearest safe place. Fortunately, along his attempts at finding safety, Chala encountered a worker from Kuyu Women and Children’s Office, a local charitable organisation. They provided him with money and instructions to catch the bus to Addis Ababa. Police eventually found Chala, described as alone and crying in Addis Ababa, before he was referred to Hope for Justice’s services.

We are happy to report that Chala’s recovery is well under way. He is receiving all of the Lighthouse services to help facilitate an effective rehabilitation, to reunite him with his family, and reduce the risk of being re-trafficked.

Speaking to one of the support workers in the Lighthouse, Chala outlined his hope of one day becoming a lawyer: “I want to help victims like me.”

You can help Hope for Justice to continue to provide vital support to the many victims of human trafficking and modern slavery in Ethiopia and across our international projects. Our multi-disciplinary approach helps empower victims to become survivors; to help enable them to live safe, fulfilling lives and close a chapter impacted by this abhorrent and preventable practice.

*Name and image changed to protect identity

young girl