Academic journal article Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review

Growing Up Too Fast: Rural Children Working in Addis Ababa

Academic journal article Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review

Growing Up Too Fast: Rural Children Working in Addis Ababa

Article excerpt


Rural poverty has been an issue of discussion and a topic of research in Ethiopia for quite some time now. The majority of the Ethiopian population (about 83.3%) lives in rural areas (Central Statistical Agency-_CSA 2008), depending on rain-fed agriculture, which is vulnerable to both climatic changes and the disruptive impacts of war and civil conflict. Periodic famines caused by recurring droughts leave poor farming families without food and other necessities, one of the major factors for rural-urban migration. Markos (2001) contends that individuals belonging to economically poor households in ecologically vulnerable communities have a higher tendency to out-migrate for economic reasons.

The Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS) (2011) shows that 34.3% of the households in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR), from where 83% of the children in this study came, suffered from food shortage, and 30.9% of the children were engaged in economic activities in and outside the household (CSA 2012, p.53). A study carried out in Cheha, SNNPR, showed that poor families are not able to feed their children adequately, buy them clothes and shoes and send them to school. Hence, the children migrate to Addis Ababa and other urban areas for work (Asham 2010). Similarly, Neda (2007) explained that among the Guraghes found in the Southern Ethiopia, poverty surfaced as a major reason for migration, followed by other factors such as shortage of arable land, having a large number of children, and the perception that one can make a living easily in the city. Similar reasons were outlined by Kifle (2005). Chuta (2014) and Abebe (2009) also argued that shocks such as lack of rainfall, low agricultural yield, and death of parents are factors that push children to work. The studies demonstrated that poverty is a major reason for children's migration to the city.

Poverty is mediated by other factors. Among the Guraghe, from where about 59% of the children came, children are highly valued for their economic contribution, and hence their migration to the cities is encouraged (Neda 2007). In addition, the migration of children in search of opportunities for education and work, and the need to support families has become a norm among the Guraghe population through its long history of migration and the availability of strong social networks (Neda 2007).

The expectation that children have obligations to help out families and contribute in times of need is another factor that pushes children to engage in work. Children feel that it is their duty to work and support families in times of crises. They do not give priority to their own needs because they perceive that their needs are interdependent with those of other family members (Abebe and Kjorholt 2009; Boyden 2009). Work is seen as a moral obligation as well as an affirmation that the children are good, obedient and supportive of their families, values highly upheld in Ethiopian society (Heissler and Porter 2010).

Close family members, relatives and neighbours play a role in facilitating the migration of children to the city (Asham 2010; Neda 2007; Kifle 2005). Confronted by a new way of life in a new environment, children look around and manage to find shelters and employment; some enter school and try to fulfil all their needs. The responsibility of supporting family members in rural areas is a burden every working child with a rural background has to bear (Asham 2010; Aynalem 2010).

Though quite a number of studies have been conducted on working children in Ethiopia (MoLSA 1995; Tirusew, Hayyalu and Ayalew 1997; Lalor 1999; FSCE 2003; Mulugeta 2005; Girmachew 2006; Abebe 2009; Boyden 2009; Abebe and Kjorholt 2009; Addisu 2010; Camfield 2010), most of them focus on the children's current state: their living situation, working conditions, socio-cultural context and meaning of work, challenges and contributions. None of these studies attempted to trace the trajectory of working children's lives, discussing their background, migration, settling in, everyday lives, the link with their families, the bond they nurture, and the support they provide in the light of their economic and cultural contexts. …

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