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Child Labor in DjiboutiLocated on the Horn of Africa along the Bab el-Mandeb, an important maritime chokepoint is the small African nation of Djibouti. With a population of one million but high levels of poverty and limited funding for social welfare programs, child labor in Djibouti has been widespread historically. However, efforts from the government and international actors over recent years have started to reverse this phenomenon.

The Nation of Djibouti

According to Humanium, an NGO focused on protecting children’s rights across the globe, 42% of Djibouti’s population lives in extreme poverty. Child labor is primarily caused by extreme poverty, as parents force their children to work so that they can survive. Therefore, Djibouti’s children are some of the most vulnerable to child labor due to poverty throughout the nation.

As a result of their families’ financial situation, over 12% of children ages 5-14 work. Working can isolate children socially or prevent them from having the time to pursue their academic interests. Only 60-65% of children complete primary education in Djibouti. With many children unable to obtain an education due to work or other circumstances, child labor in Djibouti perpetuates the cycle of poverty generation after generation.

Government Efforts Toward Child Labor

Djibouti’s government has taken an active role over the past decade in reducing child labor. The active role is shown through establishing workgroups and various programs focused on identifying the contributing factors of child labor. One of the main projects is the Anti-Trafficking Working Group, which has improved cross-agency government collaboration to counteract human trafficking. The Prime Minister leads the National Council for Children in its efforts to secure birth certificates for immigrants, ensure education for refugees and reunify separated migrant families. Furthermore, the Council successfully established a temporary shelter for children living on the street in 2018. Therefore, it made these at-risk kids less likely to be coerced into child labor. The government established the National Family Solidarity program to decrease child labor. They supported Djiboutian households in extreme poverty via cash transfers. These programs represent a start to ending child labor in Djibouti, something that future leaders of Djibouti can continue to prioritize.

Despite the government’s efforts, various legal loopholes remain that benefit those who exploit child labor. Many of the statutes only apply to children working in the formal business sector. Therefore, Djibouti’s laws are less comprehensive than international standards. This is especially problematic because most child labor cases occur in the informal business sector. Some examples are working in small shops, selling items on the street and working in family-owned businesses in rural communities. Without true legislative changes, Djibouti’s laws will continue to fail in identifying and eliminating most child labor cases.

Additionally, there were only five labor law inspectors in Djibouti as of 2018. This means that Djibouti’s labor force of almost 300,000 has approximately one labor law inspector for every 60,000 workers. Without the resources or personnel necessary to expose and eradicate child labor, child labor will continue. This brings harm to Djibouti’s long-run humanitarian situation, living conditions and economic growth.

International Support

Yet, despite the shortcomings so far to end child labor in Djibouti, UN-sponsored efforts and aid from various countries/NGOs, present an optimistic future. UNICEF currently works with the government of Djibouti, the United States and the Humanitarian Action for Children Project to increase access to education for the most vulnerable Djiboutian children (orphans and those in poorer areas). This program has helped over 4,500 children obtain pre-primary, primary or secondary education in Djibouti. The U.S. government has also funded a $500,000 program to train law enforcement and expand communication capabilities between the private and public sectors, regarding ending forced labor/human trafficking. Finally, the World Bank oversees numerous programs that deal with the root causes of poverty and child labor in Djibouti by promoting human capital development and education.

Cooperation and a Promising Future

Going forward, it will be pivotal for the government to continue focusing on lowering the extreme poverty rate. Reforming legislation to meet international standards, then enforcing it as well as protecting children of all ages and backgrounds, is the next step in Djibouti’s fight against child labor. Improving human rights means better access to education. This will likely help the economic situation of Djibouti by breaking the cycle of poverty. However, the international community plays a crucial role in helping Djibouti. Some of the most successful initiatives have come from international partnerships and UN-sponsored programs. Cooperation is critical in Djibouti, whereas complacency will be catastrophic.

– Alex Berman
Photo: Flickr

 DjiboutiChinese investment is driving a boom in infrastructure in Djibouti, but gaps still remain when it comes to providing essential services to the country’s most at-risk inhabitants.

Chinese investments promise to revitalize and expand shipping and transportation infrastructure in Djibouti, turning the small African nation of roughly a million people into a major trans-shipment hub on the Gulf of Aden. Chinese-backed projects include an electric train route to Ethiopia’s capital city and developing port facilities in the Port of Doraleh. Djibouti will also host China’s first overseas military base.

Despite these investments and the rapid growth of the nation’s economy over the past 20 years, some people are still left behind, citizens and refugees alike. Djibouti hosts more than 27,000 refugees from across the region, including those fleeing conflict in Ethiopia and Yemen. These refugees typically live in crowded camps with poor sanitation and little access to clean water.

Many citizens of Djibouti also lack reliable sanitation and access to water, particularly in rural areas. Nearly a quarter of the population still lives in extreme poverty, and 48 percent of working-age people are unemployed. The African Economic Outlook estimates that infrastructure development and economic changes driven by foreign investment may trickle down to impoverished citizens in the form of new jobs.

The international community beyond China has also taken an interest in infrastructure in Djibouti. While China’s interests chiefly lie in economic development, others are looking to more humanitarian issues such as education and food security. For example, the United Nations has been working through UNESCO on projects designed to bolster access to water, sanitation and education for both disadvantaged citizens and refugees. Their efforts have reached thousands, but thousands more continue to struggle every day.

The United States is on the ground in Djibouti as well, with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) working with many partners on multiple projects. USAID is active in improving access to education and its quality. USAID is also working with private and governmental partners to address the transmission of diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS along the developing Ethiopia/Djibouti transportation corridor.

However, as NPR reports, USAID funding is insecure under the current administration. The current budget proposal offered by President Trump’s administration would cut USAID and related programs by $2.2 billion. According to the New York Times, savings from these cuts will go to fund further investment in the military and domestic infrastructure. This move by the administration is unlikely to go unopposed. Doubts have already surfaced as to whether Congress will get on board with the administration’s proposals. Following a deal with Democrats, the administration’s budget isn’t likely to come up again for consideration until mid-December.

The government of Djibouti has its own ambitious plan to leverage infrastructure development in the mid- to long-term to raise the nation to “developing” status by 2035. In conjunction with humanitarian aid from abroad, this plan may see the fortunes of all Djiboutians rise like the expected ships at dock in the country’s expanding ports at high tide.

– Joel Dishman

Photo: Flickr