Ethiopia Struggles to Help Its 5.5mn Child Laborers

 

Eleven-year-old Senait travels the streets of Addis Ababa, the bustling Ethiopian metropolis of 3.5 million people, every day in search for people who want to try their luck by buying one of the lottery tickets she sells.

Along with the lottery tickets, Senait also sells roasted cereals.

None of the people who see Senait merchandizing her wares in the Ethiopian capital is sure what the future holds for her. She, however, is confident that this future will bring her luck.

“I am sure that my bad luck will come to an end one day,” Senait said. “I work hard to bring this end quickly,” she added.

Senait is not, however, the only child in this African state who struggles to alter her condition. As many as 5.5 million Ethiopian children do the same.

The country’s Central Statistical Agency says there are over 5.5 million child laborers in this country between the ages of 5 and 14, out of a total child population of 22 million. Almost as populous as Egypt, Ethiopia boasts a total population of 90 million.

Most of these children work in Ethiopia’s informal sector, according to the agency.

These young laborers are forced to be part of household chores, carry water home, collect wood for fire and be part of farming activities.

Everywhere in this country, children are seen carrying goods, shining shoes, vending or working as minivan driver assistants.

In Ethiopia’s countryside, the children work at home, wash clothes and dishes, cook and take care of younger relatives.

Senait, a 5th grader, has no time to study her school lessons. She says she has to work to support her poor family.

“This is a tough life,” the little girl said. “I have to stay out in the streets and enter taverns to sell my tickets and cereals,” she added.

Senait does this from the morning until 9: 00pm every day. Small and wafer-thin as she is, Senait is sometimes harassed by drunk clients. Other times, these clients take her tickets and cereals, but refuse to pay their prices at the end.

Poverty

Fekadu Gebru, an industrial relations director at the Ethiopian Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, believes that poverty is the root cause of child labor in this country.

He said the government worked hard to improve the livelihoods of citizens to prevent the proliferation of such a trend.

“We strive to prevent child labor in line with an international convention Ethiopia signed earlier and legislation already put in place,” Fekadu told The Anadolu Agency.

Nevertheless, there are so many working children out there. The stories of all these children are almost similar.

Ten-year-old Tagel works in shoe shining. He said his father died some time ago, which made it necessary for him to work to support his poor mother.

After he attends school, Tagel takes a wooden box where he keeps the shoe shining materials and equipment and hurries to the street to earn a living.

“I earn about $2.5 a day,” Tagel said. “This covers the cost of my school uniform and educational materials,” he added.

He added that he puts food on the table for his mother also with the same amount of money.

Hope

Aklilu Yohannes and Alemayehu Abera work also in lottery ticket selling.

The two boys – 12 and 13 respectively – earn around $2 a day each, but a relative who sponsors them gets the lion’s share of this amount of money every day.

Now, both of them are hopeful that one of the lottery tickets in their hands will win.

Despite this, Ethiopia’s economy has been growing at 10.9 percent, almost the highest economic growth rate in the world.

This growth rate has contributed to reducing poverty across Ethiopia, according to the World Bank.

In 2004 and 2005, around 38.7 percent of Ethiopians lived in abject poverty. This rate dropped to 29.6 percent five years later.

Fekadu said Ethiopia had enough legislation to protect the children against labor abuse. He said children should not be allowed to work before the age of 14.

“Raising family income is the best way to prevent child labor,” Fekadu said. “The children are after all forced to work to support their poor families,” he added.

Ethiopia has partnered with international NGO World Vision in bringing child labor down in it through a program that has been implemented in 2012 and is expected to come to an end by the end of 2014.

The program introduced improved clay pottery wheels and spinning tools to adults to help them earn a living without the involvement of the children.

Around 20,000 children were saved from labor so far as a result, according to Fekadu.

As family earnings improve, children get the opportunity to go to school, he said, adding that over 93 percent school age children are already enrolled in schools across Ethiopia.