Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Ethiopia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Ethiopia, 27 June 2011, available at: [accessed 22 January 2018]
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.

Ethiopia (Tier 2)

Ethiopia is a source country for men, women, and children who are subjected to conditions of forced labor and sex trafficking. Girls from Ethiopia's rural areas are forced into domestic servitude and, less frequently, commercial sexual exploitation within the country, while boys are subjected to forced labor in traditional weaving, herding, guarding, and street vending. In 2010, the Southern Nations/Nationalities Peoples Region (SNNPR) Tourism and Culture Bureau reported that brokers, tour operators, and hotel owners are increasingly facilitating child prostitution as tourism expands in the region. Small numbers of Ethiopian girls are forced into domestic servitude, agricultural labor, and prostitution outside of Ethiopia, primarily in Djibouti and Sudan, while Ethiopian boys are subjected to forced labor in Djibouti as shop assistants, errand boys, domestic workers, thieves, and street beggars. Six Ethiopian women were trafficked to China in 2010 for forced prostitution. During the year, local militias – some of whom maintain alliances with the Somali Region Special Police against insurgents – and insurgent groups in Degeharbur and Fik zones of Ethiopia's Somali Region reportedly conscripted children, though these allegations could not be conclusively verified due to restrictions on access to the region's conflict zones.

Young women, most with only three to four years of primary education, from various parts of Ethiopia are subjected to domestic servitude throughout the Middle East, as well as in Sudan, and many transit through Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, or Yemen as they emigrate seeking work. Some women become stranded and exploited in these transit countries, unable to reach their intended destinations. Many Ethiopian women working in domestic service in the Middle East face severe abuses indicative of forced labor, including physical and sexual assault, denial of salary, sleep deprivation, and confinement. Many are driven to despair and mental illness, with some committing suicide. Ethiopian women are also exploited in the sex trade after migrating for labor purposes – particularly in brothels, mining camps, and near oil fields in Sudan – or after escaping abusive employers in the Middle East. Low-skilled Ethiopian men migrate to Saudi Arabia, other Gulf States, and other African nations, where some are subjected to forced labor.

The Government of Ethiopia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government made substantial progress over the past year in addressing human trafficking crimes through law enforcement efforts, which included the country's first convictions for both transnational sex trafficking and internal labor trafficking. In the capital region, Federal Police investigated and the Federal Court prosecuted an increased number of trafficking crimes, though the low number of investigations and prosecutions of internal trafficking remained a concern. Local jurisdictions in some parts of the country, however, became increasingly active in the fight against internal trafficking. The national government's efforts to provide assistance to child trafficking victims identified in the capital decreased significantly during the year.

Recommendations for Ethiopia: Continue to improve the investigative capacity of police and enhance judicial understanding of trafficking throughout the country to allow for more prosecutions of internal child trafficking offenses; increase the use of Articles 596, 597, and 635 of Ethiopia's Penal Code to prosecute cases of labor and sex trafficking; strengthen criminal code penalties for sex trafficking, and amend Articles 597 and 635 to include a clear definition of human trafficking that explicitly covers men; appropriate funding for the deployment of labor attachés to overseas diplomatic missions in order to assist Ethiopian trafficking victims abroad; institute regular trafficking awareness training for diplomats posted overseas, as well as labor officials who validate employment contracts, regulate employment agencies, or provide pre-departure training to migrant workers; engage Middle Eastern governments on improving legal protections for Ethiopian workers abroad to render them less vulnerable to trafficking; forge partnerships with local NGOs to increase the level of services available to trafficking victims returning from overseas, such as through the funding of either a government or NGO-run shelter; improve the productivity of the National Anti-Trafficking Task Force; launch a campaign to increase awareness of internal trafficking at the local and regional levels; and take steps to increase the availability of information on the recruitment and use of children by armed groups in the Somali Region.


The Ethiopian government increased its efforts to investigate and prosecute internal and sex trafficking cases during the reporting period, while continuing to punish transnational trafficking offenders. Many law enforcement entities continued to exhibit an inability to properly distinguish human trafficking from other types of crimes and lacked capacity to collect and organize relevant data. Article 635 of Ethiopia's Criminal Code (Trafficking in Women and Minors) criminalizes sex trafficking and prescribes punishments not exceeding five years' imprisonment, penalties which are sufficiently stringent, though not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 636, which outlines aggravating factors, prescribes penalties of three to 10 years' imprisonment if the victim is a minor or if the offender uses force, fraud, or coercion. Articles 596 (Enslavement) and 597 (Trafficking in Women and Children) outlaw slavery and labor trafficking and prescribe punishments of five to 20 years' rigorous imprisonment, penalties which are sufficiently stringent. Articles 597 and 635, however, lack a clear definition of human trafficking and have rarely been used to prosecute trafficking offenses; instead, Articles 598 (Unlawful Sending of Ethiopians to Work Abroad) and 571 (Endangering the Life of Another) are regularly used to prosecute cases of transnational labor trafficking. These statutes prescribe penalties of five to 20 years' and three months' to three years' imprisonment, respectively.

The Federal Police's Human Trafficking and Narcotics Section (within the Organized Crime Investigation Unit) augmented its staffing levels to 31 investigators and three supervisors during the year, resulting in increased investigations and prosecutions of transnational trafficking offenses, as well as continued improvements in data collection, statistical reporting, and cooperation with the Federal Prosecutor's office to move cases through the judicial system. This unit investigated 151 suspected cases of transnational trafficking during the reporting period; at year's end, 40 cases remained under investigation, 33 had been initiated as prosecutions in the court, and 22 were dropped due to lack of evidence. The court successfully concluded the remaining cases, securing 71 convictions primarily under Articles 598 and 571 and ordering punishments ranging from 20 months' to 12 years' imprisonment with no suspended sentences. One case was specified as involving sex trafficking, constituting Ethiopia's first conviction for this crime. In August 2010, the Federal High Court's 11th Criminal Bench convicted an Ethiopian man under Articles 597 and 636 of trafficking three Ethiopian women to China where they were forced into prostitution, imposing a sentence of 10 years' imprisonment, a fine of $2,400, and restitution of $3,300 to each victim. Under Article 598(1), the court in August 2010 also convicted a woman of trafficking 13 Tigrayan girls to Addis Ababa for domestic servitude, sentencing her to six years' imprisonment for internal trafficking. At the local level, police in SNNPR arrested 12 suspected trafficking offenders and local judicial officials prosecuted and convicted all 12 under the criminal law, imposing sentences of one to three years' imprisonment. Other suspected traffickers received penalties at the local level for violating kebele (local administration) by-laws. During the year, the Supreme Court's Justice Professional Training Center, in partnership with an international NGO, provided 11 trainings to 593 judicial officials.


Assistance available to child trafficking victims significantly decreased in the capital during the reporting period. The January 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation prohibits, among other things, foreign-funded NGOs from informing victims of their rights under Ethiopian law or advocating on their behalf; these restrictions had a negative impact on the ability of some NGOs to adequately provide protective services during the reporting period. As a result of the Proclamation, the joint police-NGO identification and referral units, known as Child Protection Units (CPUs), ceased formal operation in all Addis Ababa police stations in 2010. This includes the CPU at the central bus terminal that identified and obtained care for 1,134 trafficked children in 2009. In contrast with this previously systematic identification and referral process, police and district officials in the capital region referred an unknown number of child trafficking victims to NGO shelters and government orphanages in an ad hoc fashion during 2010. Local police and officials in the regional administrations, however, continued to identify and assist in the return of the trafficked children to their home areas. For example, police and civil society organizations in the towns of Chencha and Hawassa jointly rescued 135 trafficked children, and the Addis Ababa Department of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs reunited 71 trafficked children with their parents and placed 37 children in temporary foster care. The government's over-reliance on donor-funded NGOs to provide direct assistance to most trafficking victims resulted in unpredictability in the availability of adequate care in the country. Many of these facilities lack sustainability as they depend on project-based funding for continued operation. While police strongly encouraged victims' participation in investigations and prosecutions and victims testified during some court proceedings, resource constraints prevented law enforcement authorities from covering travel costs or providing other material resources to enable such testimony in the majority of cases. There were no reports of trafficking victims being detained, jailed, or prosecuted in 2010.

Limited consular services provided to Ethiopian workers abroad continued to be a weakness in the government's efforts. The Ethiopian consulate in Beirut reportedly provided limited victim services, including the operation of a small safe house, mediation with domestic workers' employers, and visitation of workers held in a Lebanese detention center; the shelter run by the consulate provided services to 300 women in 2010. Ethiopian embassies in Kuwait and Yemen also reportedly provide limited services, but specific information regarding these efforts was not made available. Although Ethiopian law mandates the establishment of labor attaché positions in diplomatic missions abroad, Ethiopia's parliament has not appropriated funds for the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) to establish these positions. During 2010, airport authorities and immigration officials at Bole International Airport referred 40 female victims returning from the Middle East to an NGO consortium providing shelter and services for trafficking victims; however, this shelter has been operating without funds since April 2011.

The government showed only nascent signs of engaging destination country governments in an effort to improve protections for Ethiopian workers and obtain protective services for victims. In June 2010, the government ratified a bilateral labor agreement with the Government of Kuwait that reportedly includes provisions for increased anti-trafficking law enforcement cooperation; at present, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia are the only Middle Eastern countries to which the government allows the official sending of Ethiopian domestic workers. Although licensed employment agencies must place funds in escrow in the event a worker's contract is broken, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has never used these deposits to pay for victims' transportation back to Ethiopia. In 2010, Ethiopia granted asylum to 1,383 Eritrean refugees deported from Egypt, many of whom claim to have been brutalized by Rashaida smugglers operating in the Sinai – including conditions of forced construction labor – or have fled Eritrea to escape situations of forced labor associated with the implementation of the country's national service program.


The government sustained its efforts to prevent international trafficking during the reporting period, while regional initiatives to prevent internal child trafficking significantly increased. The Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking did not formally meet during the reporting period and approval of its national anti-trafficking action plan remains pending with the Council of Ministers. During the year, six woredas (districts) in SNNPR banded together to create a steering committee on human trafficking to share information and raise awareness in their respective localities. Every kebele in these woredas, as well as the woredas themselves, then drafted local anti-trafficking bylaws that were approved by the respective Woreda Council. Woredas reported stringent enforcement of these bylaws, with fines collected from parents caught trafficking their children and the funds collected through these fines used to support social services for children in the kebeles. During the year, the SNNPR government provided free radio time to a local NGO to air anti-trafficking outreach programming. To reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, the SNNPR Tourism and Culture Bureau issued a tourism code of conduct in 2009 that bans facilitating or participating in sex tourism by tour operators or tourists; this code does not appear to have been implemented or enforced. The country's primary school textbooks include instruction on prevention of child labor and trafficking. In December 2010, MOLSA conducted an anti-trafficking workshop in Dessie to educate potential trafficking victims on the risks of labor migration. A second regional workshop – organized by the government and IOM – on irregular migration and human trafficking held in March 2011 targeted Oromia government officials representing seven zones and three town administrations with high prevalence of irregular migration. Both regional meetings marked follow-up initiatives from the March 2010 national anti-trafficking conference. In contrast to previous years, the ministry did not provide data regarding its provision of pre-departure orientation sessions to migrating workers on the risks of labor migration and the conditions in receiving countries, or its review and approval of contracts for overseas employment of domestic workers. The government's salutary enactment and subsequent enforcement of Employment Exchange Services Proclamation No. 632/2009, which governs the work of labor recruitment agencies, resulted in both judicially-mandated and voluntary closures of additional private employment agencies during the reporting period. This led to a significant increase in illegal, unregulated brokers to meet the demand for overseas employment. Before deploying soldiers on international peacekeeping missions, the government provided training on human rights issues, including human trafficking. Ethiopia is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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