International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Combating Child Labor in Ethiopia

The problem of child labor in Ethiopia is significant: nearly 60 percent of children in this nation work to supplement their family income, half of them at hazardous jobs. Children most often work as domestics, farm hands or miners, the latter category including bootleg prospecting for gold, a common practice in this part of the world. They earn about a dollar per month.

While Ethiopians regard child labor as normal, many fail to distinguish between moderate and excessive, or exploitative, forms of work. Aid organizations have long urged local awareness campaigns and stronger government policies to protect children from abuse and neglect.

The International Rescue Committee has taken up the challenge of combating the worst forms of child labor by offering educational opportunities to children with no access to schooling. The project, known as the KURET Initiative (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia Together), reaches out to children in remote communities by implementing Alternative Basic Education (ABE), a flexible, low-cost, community-based approach to learning.

Teaching on Flexible Timetables

ABE centers are designed to accelerate opportunities for child laborers’ integration into the formal education system. Instructors teach key skills at a faster pace and hold classes at convenient times for working children. With the help of the local community, the IRC has created flexible school timetables based on village-specific seasonal calendars and daily work schedules

“We choose the districts based on the fact that they have a high number of children who are not attending school because they are engaged in child labor,” explains Kassahun Assefa, IRC’s KURET project coordinator. “Many of the areas where we implement our project do gold mining, and most families, including their children, work at this hazardous activity. We expect to improve children’s working conditions by reducing the amount of hours that they work, so that they have time to attend school.”

So far, the IRC has constructed 22 ABE centers, including one in the village of Beshir, in the Beninshangul-Gumuz region of western Ethiopia. Because of this center, nine-year-old Aida Oman and eight-year-old Jima Abraham are attending classes for the first time.

“We’re really happy to go to school,” says Aida. “We want to get educated and gain knowledge and then go to the formal school.” Aida used to protect her family’s crops from animals and birds, while Jima was a shepherd.

Community Involvement Is Crucial

The IRC has invested heavily in ensuring community participation in anti-child labor projects. Every two weeks in each district with an ABE Center, we hold Community Conversations, or meetings intended to help communities recognize the problem of child labor and overcome barriers to education. Community contribution is significant: villagers provide labor and material for the construction of ABE centers, build temporary sheds for classrooms and help identify vulnerable children who might benefit from schooling.-

Maria Hussein is a Community Conversations facilitator in Beshir. She’s been surprised by the change in mindset in her village.

“Now parents have some level of awareness about the importance of education,” she says. “It’s not that all children quit work. They are expected to resume their duties once school is finished. But there’s less absenteeism from school because parents are allowing them to go.”

In four years, the KURET Initiative has enrolled 3,840 children across two regions; in September 2008, the project will be handed over to the Ethiopian government’s Regional Education Bureaus. The bureaus have participated in every step of the project’s implementation, from helping to recruit ABE facilitators to providing core teacher training and supervision. In one region, the bureau now pays half of the facilitators’ salaries.