Children of Ethiopia

Realizing Children’s Rights in Ethiopia

Being one of the most populated countries in Africa, Ethiopia struggles to fulfil the needs of its childhood-aged group. Combined with severe poverty, problems such as increased amounts of female genital mutilation, lack of health services and sanitation, and malnutrition pose a great threat to children.

Children’s Rights Index: 4,98 / 10
Black level :
Very serious situation

Population: 109.2 million
Pop. ages 0-14:

Life expectancy: 66 years
Under-5 mortality rate:
63.25 ‰

Ethiopia at a Glance          

Ethiopia is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa. Its neighbors are Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, and Somalia. Its population, currently at approximately 109.2 million, is continuously increasing. It is the most populated country in the Horn of Africa. Addis Ababa is the capital, located at the centre of the country. The country remains to have a relatively young population with 43.5 percent under the age of 15 (2017). It is also home to a wide variety of ethnic groups composed of a mosaic of almost 100 different languages divided into four main groups.

Ethiopia is Africa’s oldest independent country which has benefitted it in terms of the challenges it did not have to face regarding newly established independence. However, it has faced challenges such as civil conflicts and droughts in the 90s, and since greatly improved its economy. Also, due to the transition to democracy and years of civil war, regional disparities increased and led to insufficient resources and infrastructure which resulted in the unideal functioning of many social services.

The country’s economy largely relies on agriculture, contributing to almost half of its GDP. Manufacturing and power sources are also major contributors to the country’s economy. It is still greatly improving.

But today, poverty and the problems it causes pose a significant threat to a greater segment of the population. Poverty results in problems in sanitation, access to water and health services, malnutrition, and land tenure which are detrimental to the majority of the population. Additionally, Ethiopia is prone to climate-related shocks and disease outbreaks.

These have had bearing on the children of Ethiopia. As a result, certain children throughout the country are unable to enjoy all of the rights proclaimed by the International Convention of Children’s Rights. However, great improvements are being made by the government and non-governmental organizations to ameliorate these standards which will have positive implications on the children of Ethiopia over time.

Status of Children Rights [1]

The population of Ethiopia is mainly composed of children. The median age is only 17.9 years which is significantly low compared to the world. It is even predicted that by 2050, there will be 58 million children in Ethiopia which is 6 percent of Africa’s population.

In Ethiopia, 88 percent of children, who are mostly concentrated in rural areas, live in multidimensional poverty lacking access to at least three of the fundamental needs such as adequate nutrition, education, health, and shelter. There are high disparities through rural and urban areas in terms of the prevalence of deprivations. Rampant poverty, which many children in Ethiopia face, obliges many parents to restrict their children from attending school for them to work full time and contribute financially to the family.

A study named SITAN, conducted in 2019, revealed that there was an improvement in the general conditions of children when compared to a decade ago. It is evident that child rights is gaining more recognition from the public and the government is working to improve it. However, since the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, few commitments have been made in favor of rights and lives of children of Ethiopia.

Still, there are gaps and insufficiencies in policy frameworks, implementation of programs, and mindset that must be improved to correctly address the needs of the children in Ethiopia and provide them an opportunity to benefit from all of their rights.  

Child-Sensitive Social Protection

Social protection is essential for preventing and reducing poverty for children and families, for addressing inequalities, and for realizing children’s rights. In addition, it is essential that social protection programs respond to children’s vulnerabilities by optimizing positive effects on children and minimizing potential adverse consequences. Given its positive contribution to reducing poverty, vulnerability, and risk social protection has gained interest in the last years.

Especially if ​child-sensitive social protection is put into action correctly, it has the opportunity to address chronic poverty, social exclusion, and external shocks which can irreversibly affect children. Social protection programs are established in Ethiopia but there are few that focus on children’s rights.

The central public work program in Ethiopia provides direct transfers of resources to family members physically unable to work which includes children. This initiative has resulted in improvements in child nutrition by increasing the quantity and quality of food sources that are provided to families. Similarly, Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme has improved school enrollments and attainments for children from poor backgrounds.

Although some forms and policies of social protection in Ethiopia as such are becoming more child-sensitive, it is still inadequate for their needs. It is evident that when such programs are being implemented, children significantly benefit from them. Thus, it is important that policies, legislation, and regulations effectively consider the viewpoint of children and their caregivers so that children’s rights are adequately met.   

Addressing the Needs of Children

Right to Health

Ethiopia has and is prone to many health concerns including malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. Such issues are mainly rooted from severe malnutrition and lack of access to clean water and sanitation.

The average life expectancy is 66 years, and the infant mortality rate is at 63.25 deaths per 1,000 live births which is one of the highest in the world. There are limited amounts of health centers and professionals in addition to the high demand for insufficient resources which makes access to health care very difficult, especially from rural regions.

One effective solution in place is the Health Extension Program which gives the opportunity to access health care cost-efficiently to address for the physician shortage focused on rural regions. Health Extension Workers are people from lower grades of education that undergo a short training program to maintain community hygiene, sanitation, provide family health services, and disease prevention. This program still continues to benefit communities and especially mothers and children who become more involved and educated about health.

Right to Identity

In Ethiopia, there is a significant number of “invisible” children, children who are not recognized by the Ethiopian law because their births are not recorded. Only 7 percent of all of the children of Ethiopia have official papers and are officially declared to the authorities, primarily due to difficulty of access to public identity registration services and poverty.

The deficiency of regulations on births and a scarcity of information about the need to register children are the biggest obstacles in front of the realization of a complete birth registry. There is a great necessity to inform the general public about the problems that this could cause, such as the absence of official identity, nationality, or even the failure to respect the rights and practical needs of children.

Birth registration is a fundamental right as it provides the child a name, parentage, nationality, and age. It also represents a proof of identity, a sign of existence in the eyes of society, granting them automatic protection from the government against trafficking and forced labor.

Right to Education

As mentioned by the World Bank, Ethiopia is “one of the most educationally disadvantaged countries in the world” due to scarcities, conflict, and crises. Since the 1990s Ethiopian education system improved significantly, however for the last decade, it has overburdened and this resulted in new problems such as depreciating qualities and funding deficiencies.

Dropout rates are significantly high resulting in decreased transitions from primary to secondary school. The gender disparities are also very evident. Because of the lower value attributed to girls’ education, familial duties, and marriage expectations, it is very prevalent to see more boys compared to girls in secondary education. There are barriers students and their families face, such as additional fees, long distances, sanitation, and many more.

Additionally, the quality and adequacy of education still remains a problem. Cases of corporal punishment, mistreatment, and even sexual abuse are causes for serious concern and decreased education levels.

Risk Factors → Country-Specific Challenges

Malnutrition and access to water

Malnutrition prevents millions of Ethiopian children from reaching their potential. Especially for children under the age of five, malnutrition is a big threat. The diet of most children lacks basic nutritional elements essential for a healthy life. These nutritional deficiencies negatively affect their immune systems and render them extremely vulnerable to illnesses.

In 2016, more than 38% of Ethiopian children that were under the age of five were stunted and many were underweight mainly due to malnutrition thus setting the stage for a lifelong of substandard health. Additionally, access to clean and abundant water is a challenge for many Ethiopians. Based on the 2019 Joint Monitoring Programme report, just 11 percent of Ethiopia’s population utilises safely managed drinking water, more prevalent in urban areas. This is also a large threat considering that this source is essential for sanitation, hygiene, and survival.


According to UNAIDS, Ethiopia has the highest percentage of AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, concerning about 886,820 children. These are children who have lost their families or caregivers due to AIDS which leaves them orphaned with a lack of resources. A small number of them do have access to psychosocial, educational, and nutritional care, but the current efforts fall short. These orphans are forced to undertake the worst types of work in order to fulfill their own needs.

Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation is a common practice in Ethiopia. In 2018, the prevalence of FGM in women aged 15 to 49 was 65.2%. Although encouraging or performing FGM is punishable by prison, many people continue to do so. The practice is not as controlled and inspected by authorities in rural areas compared to those in urban areas.

Today, more and more parents are becoming aware of the health risks associated with this practice. Some districts have begun campaigns to abolish this practice, such as in Amibara and Awash Fentale.

Child Labour

A large portion of Ethiopian children are engaged in economic activity, including very dangerous tasks in agriculture. Generally, boys are sent into the fields, while girls sell spices in the market or work as domestic servants. Underground economy (prostitution, drug or contraband trafficking) is also a major user of child labor.

The high amounts of children who are living on the streets or are not continuing their education are forced to bring income to cover their essential needs. These children undergo a miserable existence: long working hours in accident-prone conditions, subsistence wages, dietary shortcomings, lack of shelter, etc. Moreover, besides exposure to the elements and disease, they are chronically vulnerable to dangers such as prostitution, discrimination, mistreatment, trafficking, and substance abuse.

Child Trafficking

Ethiopia has one of the highest rates of slave trade in the world. Each year, thousands of children, some as young as 10, are sold by their parents. According to the International Organization for Migration, impoverished Ethiopian families sell their children for the measly sum of around 1.50 US dollars.

Each year many Ethiopian children are forced into domestic service or, more frequently, into sex commerce or forced labor in the fields, the mines, or fabric factories. Child marriage is one of the factors which contribute to this trade. Generally, young girls for sexual exploitation and young boys for weaving, farming, and agriculture.

In addition, many Ethiopian children are illegally adopted. Adoption agencies team up with national authorities to round young Ethiopians up for international adoption.

Written by Yagmur Ozturk

Last updated on 1 June 2020


UNICEF, (2019) Ethiopia Annual Report 2019 (Rep.).

UNICEF, Children in Ethiopia.


Kaplan, J., & Jones, N. (n.d.). Child-sensitive Social Protection in Africa (Rep.). THE AFRICAN CHILD POLICY FORUM (ACPF) and OVERSEAS DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE (ODI).

WHO. (n.d.). GHO | Key Country Indicators | Ethiopia – key indicators.

Ouattara, D. N. (2019, February 9). The Reporter. Invisible Children.

Trines, S. (2019, March 19). Education in Ethiopia (WENR).

Global Nutrition Report. (2020, May 11). Ethiopia Nutrition Profile.

28 Too Many, & Thomson Reuters Foundation. (2018, July). ETHIOPIA: THE LAW AND FGM (Rep.).

[1] This article by no means purports to give a full or representative account of children’s rights in Ethiopia; indeed, one of the many challenges is the scant updated information on Ethiopian children, much of which is unreliable, not representative, outdated or simply non-existent.