It is hard to imagine that once a country which shocked the world for one of the most brutal famines in human history, Ethiopia’s capital is now named by some “the Spa Capital of Africa”. As a tourist walking in the bustling Addis Ababa, it will be difficult to miss the great number of luxurious day spas and pampering parlours around.
In Addis Ababa, a range of high quality spa services are available for those who are willing to pay – often upper-middle and upper-class urbanite Ethiopians and expatriate community. The price for spa services is of course significantly more affordable in Ethiopia than in the developed world. At a high-end hotel spa, a typical one-house massage would cost only $20 USD. Moreover, whilst the typical Swedish massage is always on offer, you will also find a huge range of exotic massage services available – Theranaka body massage, avocado and shea butter body massage, African awakening rituals and even mama mio (a maternity spa healing treatment!).
However, with the large emergence of spas in Addis Ababa, the term massage parlour is occasionally synonymous with brothel where a “massage” may be used as a code for paid sexual favours. A “happy ending” is said to occur when a person gets a massage which ends with a paid sexual act hence making the customer happy. Sadly, the stories of the sex workers are certainly not a happy one, particularly in Ethiopia. With sex tourism on an increase at an alarming rate, some estimate that as many as 130,000 women work as prostitutes in Ethiopia. As a result of high poverty rate as well as human trafficking, most sexual workers are very young, many below the age of 20 and some even as young as 8. It is also estimated that a great majority of the women working in the sex industry are HIV positives. As prostitution is taboo in Ethiopia, especially in the rural areas where most of the trafficked girls come from, many find themselves ostracised if they return.
Whilst Ethiopia may have changed from the famine image of a bloated-belly child to affordable spa salons, sadly more than a third of Ethiopians continue to make less than $1.5 a day and certainly cannot afford the lavish treatments. It will be even more disturbing to see Ethiopia become the next top sex tourism country in the Arab world.