Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

2008 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Ethiopia

Publisher United States Department of Labor
Author Bureau of International Labor Affairs
Publication Date 10 September 2009
Cite as United States Department of Labor, 2008 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Ethiopia, 10 September 2009, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Selected Statistics and Indicators on Child Labor
Population, children, 5-14 years, 2005:17,722,972
Working children, 5-14 years (%), 2005:50.1
Working boys, 5-14 years (%), 2005:58.1
Working girls, 5-14 years (%), 2005:41.6
Working children by sector, 5-14 years (%), 2005:
     – Agriculture95.2
     – Manufacturing1.3
     – Services3.4
     – Other0.2
Minimum age for work:14
Compulsory education age:Not compulsory
Free public education:Yes*
Gross primary enrollment rate (%), 2007:90.8
Net primary enrollment rate (%), 2007:71.4
School attendance, children 5-14 years (%), 2005:29.2
Survival rate to grade 5 (%), 2006:64.4
ILO Convention 138:5/27/1999
ILO Convention 182:9/2/2003
ILO-IPEC participating country:Associated

* In practice, must pay for various school expenses

** Accession

Incidence and Nature of Child Labor

In Ethiopia, most children work for their families without pay. The number of working children is highest in Amhara, Oromiya, Tigray, and Southern Nation, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNPR). In both rural and urban areas, children often begin working at young ages, with many starting work at 5 years. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) has indicated that 2 out of 5 working children in Ethiopia are under 6 years. In rural areas, children work primarily in family-based agriculture and commercial agriculture. Children are known to work in tea, coffee, sugarcane, and cotton production. Children work long hours for low wages on cotton plantations, where they are exposed to environmental toxins, snakes, and disease.

Children in rural areas also work in domestic service. Children, especially boys, engage in activities such as cattle herding, petty trading, plowing, harvesting, and weeding, while other children, mostly girls, collect firewood and water. Children also work in illegal gold mining.

Children in urban areas work in construction and manufacturing. They manufacture clothes and other woven items, shoes, and textiles. They also work shining shoes, tailoring, portering, leading customers into taxis, and trading, as well as animal herding, which is a common activity both in Ethiopia's urban and rural areas. As in rural areas, in Addis Ababa, many children, mostly girls, work in domestic service. Child domestics work long hours and are vulnerable to sexual abuse by male employers. Many are unable to attend school and are unpaid, receiving only room and board. There are a number of street children in Ethiopia, some of whom work in the informal sector.

The commercial sexual exploitation of children continues to be a problem in Ethiopia, especially in urban areas. Young girls, some as young as 11 years, have been recruited to work in brothels, where they are sought by customers who believe them to be free of sexually transmitted infections. Girls are also exploited in prostitution at hotels, bars, rural truck stops, and in resort towns. Girls have also been forcibly sexually exploited by their teachers in exchange for favors, such as better grades.

Within Ethiopia, children are trafficked from Oromiya and SNNPR to other regions for forced or bonded labor in domestic service. Children are also trafficked from rural to urban areas for commercial sexual exploitation and street vending. Further, children are trafficked from rural areas to Addis Ababa to work in the weaving industry. Some reports indicate that children in the weaving industry in Addis Ababa face starvation, confinement, physical violence, and long hours of work.

Child Labor Laws and Enforcement

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 14 years. The law forbids employers from using "young workers," defined as children 14 to 18 years, when the nature of the job or the conditions under which it is carried out might endanger the life or health of a child. Young workers are prohibited from working more than 7 hours per day, or between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., during weekly rest days, and on public holidays. Violations of the provisions related to young workers are punishable by a fine.

Children are prohibited from engaging in occupations designated as the worst forms of child labor, such as transporting goods or passengers by road, rail, air, and in international waters; lifting, pushing, or pulling heavy items; working in connection with electrical power plants; engaging in work underground, including in mines and quarries; working in sewers and digging tunnels; working in construction on high scaffolding; working in conditions involving exposure to extreme temperatures; working in night clubs and hotels; working with metal; working with wood using electrical machinery; and mixing noxious chemicals.

The law prohibits the compulsory or forced labor of children. The law also prohibits child rape; in cases where victims are under 17 years of age, it is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The law prohibits all forms of human trafficking for forced labor and sexual exploitation. Trafficking children for labor or prostitution carries a penalty of 3 to 20 years of imprisonment and a fine. The minimum age for conscription and voluntary recruitment into the military is 18 years.

MOLSA's Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions Department employs a staff of 82 individuals charged with enforcing child labor laws in industrial enterprises. In addition, police departments in Addis Ababa, Amhara, Oromiya, SNNPR, and Diredawa have special Child Protection Units that work to address the worst forms of child labor, including child trafficking. According to USDOS, the Government's efforts to enforce the minimum age law have not been effective, and its capacity to prosecute cases of trafficking is limited.

Current Government Efforts to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor

The Government of Ethiopia has integrated child labor issues into its Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP). The Government continues to implement its National Plan of Action on Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (2006-2010), which outlines targets for reducing the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The Government of Ethiopia continued to participate in the 4-year Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia Together (KURET) project, which was funded by USDOL at USD 14.5 million and World Vision at USD 5.8 million through March 2009. Implemented by World Vision, in partnership with the International Rescue Committee and the Academy for Educational Development, the project withdrew and prevented a total of 32,823 children from exploitive labor in HIV/AIDS-affected areas of these four countries through the provision of educational services. The Government also took part in Canada-funded child labor survey activities, implemented by ILO-IPEC through March 2008.

The Government of Ethiopia continued to participate in the 2-year, USD 460,000 regional anti-trafficking technical assistance project implemented by the UNODC's Regional Office for Eastern Africa and funded by Norway and Sweden. The project aims to bolster coordination among the 11 countries involved through the Regional Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking in Eastern Africa and harmonize national legislation in line with the Palermo Protocol.

The IOM, in collaboration with two local NGOs – the Addis Ababa Merkato CPU and Integration of Female Street Children – provides assistance with basic needs to child trafficking victims, including shelter, counseling, and medical treatment. The police run a similar program for child trafficking victims in one town in the Amhara region without any foreign assistance.

In Addis Ababa police stations, Child Protection Units (CPUs) rescued children who had been trafficked and referred them to the IOM and NGOs for care pending their return home. The CPUs also collected data on rescued children to facilitate their reunification with their families, and the local police and administrators helped repatriate these children to their home regions. The police use a manual that focuses on educating police officers on the rights and protection of children, including domestic trafficking of children. From January to November 2008, these CPUs reunited 1,180 trafficked children with their families.

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