Ethiopia is the second most populated country in Africa with a population of nearly 114 million. While Ethiopia has a deep-rooted history as Africa’s oldest sub-Saharan state, it also has a long track record of devastating poverty. Financial instability has led many families to rely on their children for work, and this has put Ethiopia on the map for having one of the most catastrophic child labor problems in the world. To develop solutions to this persistent problem, it is important that people raise awareness. Here are the top 10 facts about child labor in Ethiopia.
10 Facts About Child Labor in Ethiopia
- Child Labor Rate: According to USAID, nearly 27 percent of Ethiopia’s youth population participates in the labor force. Ethiopia is one of many African countries suffering from widespread child labor, with the African region accounting for the highest rate of child labor in the world. The Internal Labour Organization blames these high levels of child labor on continued economic and political turmoil.
- World Vision Ethiopia and Education Centers: Fortunately, child labor in Ethiopia has been steadily decreasing over the last two decades. A study found that the percentage of child labor in Ethiopia decreased by 25 percent for boys and 40 percent for girls between 2000 and 2013. World Vision Ethiopia (WVE) is one nongovernmental organization contributing to these declining numbers by promoting education instead of child labor. Beginning in 1971, WVE has established education centers in Ethiopia, trained teachers, supported school attendance, enrolled children in vocational services and supported families savings plans to lessen the financial burden on their children. According to a WVE report, The Ethiopians Fighting Against Childhood Exploitation Project began in 2011. This project, which includes WVE and two other NGOs, targets 20,000 Ethiopian children by promoting childhood education and creating better social protections for children in Ethiopia.
- Unstable Education: The instability of Ethiopia’s education system makes it one of the major causes of child labor. Despite compulsory primary education and government-subsidized schooling, widespread economic hardship has led to low attendance rates and a lack of resources. With no quality education to turn to, vulnerable children often resort to child labor to lend financial support to their families.
- Demographics in Child Labor: The demographic breakdown of child labor in Ethiopia shows the lowest rate for children ages 5-9, with 48 percent of them working in the labor force. This percentage jumps to 72 percent for children ages 10-14 and 75 percent for children ages 15-17. Despite the large percentage differences between age brackets, the difference between genders is only 3 percent.
- The Ethiopian Government’s Efforts: In 2018, Ethiopia’s government took further steps to mitigate child labor by working with international and non-governmental organizations to combat disparities in educational resources and government oversight. Programs focused on smuggling, sex-trafficking, forced labor and children’s rights are among the new government initiatives to curtail child labor. In the same year, the National Child Policy made it onto the national agenda, offering major reforms that would commit the government, “to sustain its commitment to respect, protect and fulfill children’s rights and enhance the family and community’s role in the healthy growth and personality development of children.” While the Ethiopian government has not signed this legislation into law, the movement behind the policy is quickly gaining traction with those committed to eliminating child labor.
- Child Trafficking: Child trafficking is a common practice in Ethiopia, responsible for forcing children into domestic and sex work. This practice, prominent in the Capital, Addis Ababa, has seen people sell 20,000 children into the trafficking industry despite laws that prohibit the practice. The lack of enforcement involving the investigation and prosecution of child-trafficking perpetrators is the primary reason that these abuses persist.
- The International Labour Organisation (ILO): In 2003, Ethiopia ratified a convention that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) proposed, a United Nations Agency that dedicates itself to prohibiting and eliminating the worst forms of child labor. The convention, which recognizes poverty and inadequate education as significant barriers to eliminating child labor, led Ethiopia to distribute textbooks and build primary schools. A report by the United States Department of Labor describes Ethiopia’s progress as a “moderate advancement,” noting that, while there are still steps that Ethiopia needs to take, this is the beginning of a necessary solution.
- Types of Labor: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, cattle, gold and hand-woven textiles are among the most common goods that child labor in Ethiopia produces. The children participating in manufacturing textiles and gold are most prominent in urban areas, while those working in cattle herding and production are the most prominent in rural areas. In fact, cattle and farming account for 89 percent of child labor in rural areas, according to the International Labour Organisation.
- Hazardous Working Conditions: A study that the Central Statistical Agency (CSA) conducted reported that children in Ethiopia spent, on average, 41.4 hours a week in working conditions declared that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) declared hazardous. The ILO defines Hazardous work as, “work which, by its nature or circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to jeopardize the health, safety or morals of children.” The CSA concluded that this work has had detrimental effects on children’s health and school attendance in Ethiopia.
- A Top Country for Child Labor: According to the Maplecroft Child Labor Index, Ethiopia ranks fourth behind Bangladesh, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo on a list of the top 10 worst countries for child labor. While this number is more than devastating, the researchers who determine this ranking explain that the numbers do not include the thousands of unseen, uncounted child laborers. This gives the world an even greater reason to help bring awareness and solutions to the child labor problem plaguing Ethiopia.
While these facts about child labor in Ethiopia show that child labor has left an indelible mark on the country, new government reforms can undo much of the previous damage. The goal for future generations of Ethiopian children to live fulfilled lives that emphasize childhood education rather than childhood labor is now a real possibility.
– Aly Hill