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2012 State Department Trafficking Report


Source : U.S. Department of State

Ethiopia is a source country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Girls from Ethiopia’s rural areas are exploited in domestic servitude and, less frequently, prostitution within the country, while boys are subjected to forced labor in traditional weaving, herding, guarding, and street vending. Brokers, tour operators, and hotel owners in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR) facilitate child prostitution for tourists.

Ethiopian girls are forced into domestic servitude and prostitution outside of Ethiopia, primarily in Djibouti and South Sudan – particularly in Juba, Bor, and Bentiu – while Ethiopian boys are subjected to forced labor in Djibouti as shop assistants, errand boys, domestic workers, thieves, and street beggars. Young women, most with only primary education, are subjected to domestic servitude throughout the Middle East, as well as in Sudan and South Sudan, and many transit through Djibouti, Egypt, 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, including physical and sexual assault, denial of salary, sleep deprivation, withholding of passports, confinement, and murder. Many are also driven to despair and experience psychological problems, with some committing suicide. Although the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) reported a fourfold increase – from 20,000 to 80,000 – in applications to work overseas in 2011, it estimated that this represents only 30 to 40 percent of Ethiopians migrating to the Middle East; 60 to 70 percent of labor migration is facilitated by illegal brokers, increasing migrants’ vulnerability to forced labor. 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 and South Sudan – or after fleeing abusive employers in the Middle East. Low-skilled Ethiopian men migrate to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and other African nations, where some are subjected to forced labor. In 2011, Ethiopian victims of sex and labor trafficking were also identified in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ecuador.

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. Although the Federal High Court convicted an increased number of transnational labor traffickers, the government’s continued failure to investigate and prosecute internal labor or sex trafficking crimes, to compile data on such efforts from local jurisdictions, and to utilize the criminal code’s trafficking-specific provisions remained a concern. The government’s provision of assistance to trafficking victims remained stymied by its reticence to partner with NGO service providers actively and consistently. The limited and inconsistent assistance provided to trafficking victims by Ethiopian diplomatic missions in the Middle East was inadequate compared to the scale of the problem; the parliament did not allocate funds for the establishment of labor attaché positions in these missions.

Recommendations for Ethiopia: Strengthen criminal code penalties for sex trafficking, and amend Criminal Code Articles 597 and 635 to include a clear definition of human trafficking and explicit coverage for male victims and to enhance penalties to make them commensurate with other serious crimes; 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 to prosecute cases of labor and sex trafficking; appropriate funding for the deployment of labor attachés to overseas diplomatic missions; 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 protections for Ethiopian workers; partner with local NGOs to increase the level of services available to trafficking victims returning from overseas, including by allocating funding to enable the continuous operation of either a government or NGO-run shelter; improve the productivity of the National Anti-Trafficking Task Force; and launch a campaign to increase awareness of internal trafficking at the local and regional levels.


Although the government convicted and punished an increased number of transnational trafficking offenders during the reporting period, it failed to utilize the trafficking-specific articles of its criminal code to deal with these crimes and did not provide information on its efforts to address internal trafficking cases. Regional law enforcement entities throughout the country continued to exhibit an inability to distinguish human trafficking properly from human smuggling crimes and lacked capacity to properly investigate and document cases, as well as to collect and organize relevant data. Ethiopia’s criminal code criminalizes sex trafficking in Article 635 (Trafficking in Women and Minors) 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 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 continued lack of a legal definition of human trafficking impeded the Ethiopian Federal Police (EFP) and Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) ability to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases effectively. Despite recent improvements in overall law enforcement capacity, Ethiopian police remained unable to respond adequately to the high rate of incidence of human trafficking in the country.

The EFP continued to make progress in investigating transnational labor trafficking cases, as well as cooperating with the Federal Prosecutor’s Office to bring an increased number of cases to trial and conclusion. The EFP’s Human Trafficking and Narcotics Section, located within the Organized Crime Investigation Unit, investigated 136 suspected cases of transnational labor trafficking during the reporting period; at year’s end, 13 cases remained under investigation, 38 had been initiated as prosecutions in the court (compared to 33 in 2010), and eight were dropped due to lack of evidence. The Federal High Court’s 11th Criminal Bench secured 77 convictions (compared to 71 in 2010) under Articles 598 and 571 and ordered punishments ranging from one year’s to 12 years’ imprisonment, with no suspended sentences. In contrast to the previous reporting period, the government did not prosecute any sex trafficking offenses last year. Local law enforcement bodies, including regional governments, had responsibility for investigating and prosecuting internal trafficking cases and there was minimal liaison between federal and local law enforcement entities on data collection and information sharing. Regional police in the SNNPR arrested six suspected trafficking offenders in the vicinity of Arba Minch in 2011 and local judicial officials prosecuted and convicted all six under the criminal law, imposing sentences of one year’s imprisonment for each trafficker. The government did not provide any trafficking-specific training to its law enforcement officials in 2011. The government did not report taking law enforcement action against any public officials complicit in human trafficking.


The government provided limited assistance to trafficking victims during the reporting period, continuing to rely on the services of international organizations and NGOs almost exclusively. The January 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation prohibits charities, societies, and associations that receive more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources from engaging in activities that promote, among other things, human rights, the rights of children and persons with disabilities, and justice. These restrictions continued to have a negative impact on the ability of some NGOs to adequately provide a full range of protective services during the reporting period, including assistance to victims in filing cases against their traffickers with appropriate authorities. As a result of the proclamation, the joint police-NGO identification and referral units ceased operation in all Addis Ababa police stations in 2010. In contrast to what was previously a 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 2011. Local police and officials in the regional administrations continued to identify trafficked children and assist in the return of these victims to their home areas. For example, police and civil society organizations in Arba Minch and Gamo Gofa jointly rescued and reunited 345 trafficked children with their families. Healthcare and other social services are generally provided to victims of trafficking by government-operated hospitals in the same manner as they are provided to other victims of abuse. The government’s over-reliance on NGOs to provide direct assistance to most trafficking victims resulted in unpredictable availability of adequate care in the country. Many of these facilities lacked sustainability as they depended 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 2011.

Limited consular services provided to Ethiopian workers abroad continued to be a weakness in government efforts. The Ethiopian consulate in Beirut reportedly provided assistance with mediation between domestic workers and their employers, issuance of new travel documents, visitation of workers held in a detention center, law enforcement and immigration proceedings, and referrals to NGOs in Lebanon. It also continued operation of a small safe house that provided shelter to trafficked women in 2011, but did not make available information regarding the shelter’s capacity or services. In March 2012, Ethiopia’s consulate in Beirut filed a lawsuit against a Lebanese employment agent accused of beating an Ethiopian domestic worker in front of the consulate. Specific information regarding the victim services provided by the Ethiopian missions in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen was not made available. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) reported that 6,500 stranded or detained Ethiopian migrants returned from abroad in 2011, but did not maintain records as to how many were victimized by trafficking or directly assisted by its overseas missions. Although the Employment Exchange Services Proclamation No. 632/2009, which governs the work of approximately 200 licensed labor recruitment agencies, requires licensed employment agencies to place funds in escrow to provide assistance in the event a worker’s contract is broken, the MFA has never used these deposits to pay for victims’ transportation back to Ethiopia. Furthermore, while the proclamation mandates the establishment of labor attaché positions in diplomatic missions abroad, the parliament did not appropriate funds for MOLSA to establish these positions. During 2011, airport authorities and immigration officials at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa routinely referred female victims returning from the Middle East to a local NGO consortium that provided shelter and services for trafficking victims, though such referrals were made only at the behest of self-identified victims of trafficking and not always in a timely fashion.

In 2011, Ethiopia granted asylum to more than 10,000 Eritrean refugees, including an increasing number of unaccompanied children, who allegedly fled Eritrea to escape situations of forced labor associated with the implementation of the country’s national service program or were deported from Egypt after being brutalized by smugglers in the Sinai, including under conditions of forced construction or domestic labor.


The government sustained its efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. Working-level officials from federal ministries and agencies met weekly as part of a newly formed Technical Working Group on Trafficking, which identified patterns and tactics of traffickers and selected source regions for targeted public awareness campaigns. The Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking, which in previous years failed to meet or produce tangible results, built on momentum created by the technical working group and convened its first meeting in January 2012 to review MOLSA-drafted bylaws intended to guide its work; the bylaws await approval by the prime minister. Its draft national anti-trafficking action plan, however, remained pending with the Council of Ministers for a second year. In June 2011, MOLSA, with other stakeholders, organized an event at Chencha Woreda (Gamo Gofa Zone) – a major source area for child trafficking – to campaign against child trafficking and identify and assist potentially trafficked children at bus stations during times of peak labor migration to the capital. During the year, a six-woreda (district) steering committee in SNNPR partnered with the Bureau of Education and the regional school system to raise awareness of human trafficking among school students and provide protective services. Every kebele (local administration) in these six woredas, as well as the woredas themselves, have local anti-trafficking bylaws, which were stringently enforced, with fines collected from parents caught sending their children away to work 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. The SNNPR Tourism and Culture Bureau did not take action to implement or enforce its 2009 tourism code of conduct that bans facilitating or participating in sex tourism by tour operators or tourists. The country’s primary school textbooks included instruction on prevention of child labor and trafficking.

Due to the systemic abuses of its nationals in the Middle East, the government continued to bar employment agencies from sending Ethiopian domestic workers to any Middle Eastern country except Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, or Saudi Arabia. During the reporting period, however, it showed only nascent signs of engaging destination country governments in an effort to improve protections for Ethiopian workers. In December 2011, the government attempted to negotiate a bilateral labor agreement with the Government of Saudi Arabia that reportedly included provisions to prevent forced labor. In 2011, MOLSA reviewed and approved 80,000 contracts for overseas employment, predominantly of domestic workers, a fourfold increase from 2010. It provided a day-long pre-departure orientation session to all workers migrating through this process, which consisted of modules on understanding employment contracts, Middle Eastern culture, health, and financial management. As a result of joint EFP-MOLSA investigations to enforce Proclamation No. 632/2009, the government revoked three private employment agencies’ licenses and suspended the operations of four agencies.

MOLSA’s inspection unit – comprised of 130 inspectors – lacked sufficient capacity or resources to enforce labor laws and standards routinely, particularly in rural areas; it removed no children from harmful labor situations in 2011. The national government provided official support, including money and staffing, for some NGO efforts to uproot child labor. One local NGO reported receiving a limited amount of material and logistical support from the Addis Ababa municipal government in 2011, including police protection during unannounced visits to homes where they had reason to believe children were subjected to domestic servitude. A second local NGO spearheaded efforts – in partnership with child protection officers, labor inspectors, police, and local community leaders – to identify and reintegrate child laborers in Addis Ababa and Adama into schools. Ethiopia is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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