Genet’s story: A life on the streets

Violence and sexual abuse within the home are among the main reasons children run away to live on the streets, according to a report, the State of the World’s Street Children, published by a coalition of charities.

In Ethiopia, an estimated 150,000 children live on the streets. The story of Genet, now living in a safehouse in Addis Ababa, is similar to those of many such children, especially girls.

A girl in a safehouse in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo: David Levene/EveryChild

Photo: David Levene/EveryChild


No images of Genet are included to protect her identity.

My troubles began when I was 14 years old and my mother became too ill to care for my younger sister and me.

We were sent to live with a family as their domestic labourers.

We were both subject to frequent beatings and were not allowed to go to school.

A year later we were taken by our grandmother to live with a distant male relative elsewhere in Addis.

We were told our mother had died and this would now be our home.

It had been horrible with the family we had been living with before and I hoped the new family would be kinder to us now that our mother was gone.

I find it very difficult to talk about my time on the streets of Addis. I survived there as best I could for over two months.

But I was forced to go to bed with the male relative who we had been sent to live with and a woman in the household frequently beat us both.

I was pretty sure that the man was also sexually abusing my 11-year-old sister too. After two months I ran away but my younger sister was too frightened to come with me.

I ended up in the house of a family friend who took me in but they demanded that I pay my way by working as their domestic servant.

After being beaten and verbally abused, I decided to take my chances on the streets.

I find it very difficult to talk about my time on the streets of Addis. I survived there as best I could for over two months. I was often very hungry.

Photo: David Levene/EveryChild

The refuge provides a safe space.
Photo: David Levene/EveryChildd

Other girls I met living and working on the street told me about the Drop-in Centre for street children operated by the Forum for Street Children.

It took a lot of courage to go there for help as I found it very difficult to trust adults.

But when I told the community workers there what had happened to me they immediately gave me a place in their safe home for girls.

I am now 16, I have started school again and I am being trained at a local health centre as a janitor so I will be able to support myself when the time comes to leave the safe home.

I am desperate to see my sister again. They tell me she has managed to escape from the abusive household we were in and is now living with our grandmother in her home village.

When I grow older I want to help other children in the same situation as me.

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