2013 Trafficking in Persons Report
Tier 2

Ethiopia is a source and, to a lesser extent, a destination and transit 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. Ethiopian girls are forced into domestic servitude and prostitution outside of Ethiopia, primarily in Djibouti and South Sudan, 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. Many young women 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 even murder. Although the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) reported that licensed Ethiopian overseas recruitment agencies received 198,000 applications for work in 2012, more than double the amount received in 2011, the ministry estimated that this represents only 30 to 40 percent of all Ethiopians migrating to the Middle East. The remaining 60 to 70 percent are either trafficked or smuggled with the facilitation of illegal brokers. Ethiopian women are sometimes 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 and boys migrate to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and other African nations, where some are subjected to forced labor. During 2012, nine Ethiopian victims of sex and labor trafficking were also identified in the United States and seven in the United Kingdom.

Eritreans residing in Ethiopia-based refugee camps, some of whom voluntarily migrate out of the camps, and others who are abducted from the camps, face instances of human trafficking perpetrated in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. In addition to being a transit country, Ethiopia also serves as a destination country for trafficking victims. For example, a small number of Rwandan nationals were transported from Kigali to Addis Ababa where they were exploited in forced labor or forced prostitution; some were transported further to European nations and forced into prostitution. In another instance, Tanzanian courts convicted three trafficking offenders in two separate cases of transporting six Tanzanian men to Ethiopia for exploitation in forced labor.

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 government ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol and the Federal High Court convicted an increased number of trafficking offenders, government action infrequently distinguished between trafficking in persons and smuggling; this lack of differentiation stymied anti-trafficking efforts. The government opened an emergency response center in the Afar Region that provided emergency services and logistical support to migrants in distress, who may include trafficking victims, and regional governments within Ethiopia hosted workshops to raise awareness of human trafficking and established taskforces to coordinate their work on trafficking cases. Although the government reported it conducted investigations into internal trafficking and prosecuted offenders using trafficking-specific provisions of Ethiopian law, its failure to compile data on such efforts from local jurisdictions remained a concern. Its provision of assistance to trafficking victims was compromised by its reluctance to partner with or otherwise support 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; Ethiopia’s parliament did not allocate funds for the establishment of labor attache positions in these missions, despite such positions being mandated by law.

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, explicit coverage for male victims, and enhanced penalties that are 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; allocate 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 or regulate employment agencies; incorporate information on human trafficking and labor rights in Middle Eastern and other countries into pre-departure training provided 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, include allocating funding to enable the continuous operation of either a government or NGO-run shelter; improve the productivity of the national anti-trafficking taskforce; and launch a campaign to increase awareness of internal trafficking at the local and regional levels.


The Government of Ethiopia maintained its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Ethiopia prohibits sex and labor trafficking through Criminal Code Articles 596 (Enslavement), 597 (Trafficking in Women and Children), 635 (Traffic in Women and Minors), and 636 (Aggravation to the Crime). Article 635, which prohibits sex trafficking, 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. Articles 596 and 597 outlaw slavery and labor trafficking and prescribe punishments of five to 20 years’ imprisonment, penalties which are sufficiently stringent. Articles 597 and 635, however, lack a clear definition of human trafficking, do not include coverage for crimes committed against adult male victims, 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. The continued lack of a legal definition of human trafficking impeded the Ethiopian Federal Police’s (EFP) and Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) ability to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases effectively.

The EFP continued to make progress in investigating human trafficking cases, as well as cooperating with the Federal Prosecutor’s Office to bring an increased number of cases to trial and conclusion. During the reporting period the EFP’s Human Trafficking and Narcotics Section, located within the Organized Crime Investigation Unit, investigated 166 trafficking offenders (representing 133 cases); at year’s end, eight individuals remained under investigation. The remaining 158 individuals were prosecuted in the court, of which 58 prosecutions remain ongoing. The Federal High Court’s 11th Criminal Bench secured 100 convictions (compared to 77 in 2011) and ordered punishments ranging from two to 16 years’ imprisonment without parole. The government did not provide information to substantiate its efforts to investigate and prosecute internal trafficking crimes. Regional law enforcement entities throughout the country continued to exhibit an inability to distinguish human trafficking from human smuggling and lacked capacity to properly investigate and document cases, as well as to collect and organize relevant data. The government did not provide law enforcement officials with trafficking-specific training, though police and other officials received training from international organizations during the year. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of public officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses.


The government provided only limited assistance to trafficking victims during the reporting period, instead relying almost exclusively on international organizations and NGOs to provide services to victims and not providing any care specific to trafficking victims, as opposed to victims of other crimes. In July 2012, the EFP and IOM opened an emergency response center in the Afar Region where police and local health professionals provided life-saving medical and nutritional care, temporary shelter, transport to home areas, and counseling to migrants in distress, including trafficking victims. Healthcare and other social services were generally provided to victims of trafficking by government-operated hospitals in the same manner as they were provided to other victims of abuse. The government’s reliance on NGOs to provide direct assistance to most trafficking victims, while not providing financial or in-kind support to such NGOs, resulted in unpredictable availability of adequate care; many facilities lacked sustainability as they depended on project-based funding for continued operation. There were no reports of trafficking victims being detained, jailed, or prosecuted in 2012.

Limited consular services provided to Ethiopian workers abroad continued to be a weakness in government efforts. Although the Employment Exchange Services Proclamation No. 632/2009, which governs the work of approximately 300 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 Ministry of Foreign Affairs (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 neither appropriated funds for MOLSA to establish these positions nor did it create a plan or timeframe for implementation of the proclamation’s mandate. During the reporting period, Bole International Airport Authority and immigration officials in Addis Ababa informally referred 145 female victims to a trafficking-specific local NGO, though typically such referrals were made only at the behest of self-identified victims of trafficking.


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 the Technical Working Group on Trafficking and had limited success in identifying patterns and tactics of traffickers, as well as in identifying source regions of trafficking victims. The Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking met quarterly, but failed to produce tangible results; its draft national anti-trafficking action plan remained pending with the Council of Ministers for a third year. The government did, however, approve a National Action Plan to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor in December 2012, which includes provisions for preventing the trafficking of children. Although the government enacted a law in June 2012 requiring registration of all births nationwide, the lack of a uniform national identification card impedes implementation of the law. Official documents are also highly vulnerable to fraud.

In July 2012, the Tigray Regional State Bureau of Youth and Sport Affairs co-hosted with IOM two seminars for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and other government officials to raise awareness on irregular migration and human trafficking. The regional government of Oromia and ILO hosted a workshop for law enforcement and government officials on the Oromia region’s response to the threat of human trafficking in April 2012. Officials in the Gamo Gofa Zone formed a taskforce with members from the court, police, zonal council, civil service offices, and the Bureau of Justice that met quarterly to coordinate trafficking cases; similar taskforces were created at the woreda and kebele levels in Gamo Gofa that met more frequently. 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.

During the reporting period, the government concluded labor migration agreements with Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia; an agreement with the United Arab Emirates remains in negotiation, though none of the parties have reported that these agreements contain protections from human trafficking. Ethiopia’s agreement to send 45,000 female domestic workers per month to Saudi Arabia will address the labor shortage created by Indonesia and the Philippines’ withdrawal of their workers due to alleged abuses; the new agreement increases the likelihood of traffickers directing victims to Saudi Arabia to meet the growing demand for cheap labor there. Despite documented abuse of Ethiopian migrant workers, the government showed only limited signs of engaging destination country governments in an effort to improve protections for Ethiopian workers.

In 2012, MOLSA reviewed and approved 198,000 contracts for overseas employment, predominantly for women emigrating as domestic workers. Although the Ministry of Education launched a six-week pre-departure training for all workers migrating through this process, the training focused on job-related skills and communication and did not include a human and labor rights component. MOLSA’s inspection unit increased in size during the reporting period from 130 to 380 inspectors, expanding its ability to inspect work places, identify violations, and suggest remedial actions. MOLSA inspectors are not trained to combat trafficking because it is considered outside their mandate. Law enforcement closed six Ethiopian Overseas Recruitment Agencies (EORAs) in Dessie for charging money for services they did not perform. Despite these closures, MOLSA reported that there were no systematic investigations of EORAs and that it was difficult for law enforcement to track illegal side activities by EORAs. Ethiopia ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol in June 2012.