Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons


Ethiopia is a source and, to a lesser extent, destination and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Girls from Ethiopia’s rural areas are exploited in domestic servitude and prostitution within the country, while boys are subjected to forced labor in traditional weaving, herding, guarding, and street vending. The central market in Addis Ababa is home to one of the largest collection of brothels in Africa, with girls as young as 8 years old in prostitution in these establishments. Ethiopian girls are forced into domestic servitude and prostitution in neighboring African countries and in the Middle East. Ethiopian boys are subjected to forced labor in Djibouti as shop assistants, errand boys, domestic workers, thieves, and street beggars. Young people from Ethiopia’s vast rural areas are aggressively recruited with promises of a better life and are likely targeted because of the demand for cheap labor in the Middle East.

Officials reported up to 1,500 Ethiopians departed daily as part of the legal migration process. Many young Ethiopians transit through Djibouti, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, or Kenya as they emigrate seeking work in the Middle East; some become stranded and exploited in these transit countries and are subjected to detention, extortion, and severe abuses en route to their final destinations. Increasing numbers of reports describe Ethiopians transported along southern routes towards South Africa, as well as large numbers of Ethiopians who have died in boat accidents crossing the Red Sea to Yemen, many of whom are attempting irregular migration and are vulnerable to trafficking in these onward 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. Ethiopian women sometimes are subjected to sex trafficking after migrating for labor purposes 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. Reports suggest district level officials accepted bribes to change the ages on district-issued identification cards, enabling children to receive passports without parental consent, which causes minors to leave the country for illegal work. The Ethiopian government’s October 2013 temporary ban on overseas labor recruitment currently remains in effect. Over 400 employment agencies were licensed to recruit for work abroad; however, government officials acknowledged many agencies are involved in both legal and illegal recruitment, leading to the government’s temporary ban on labor export. Following the ban, irregular labor migration to the Gulf has reportedly increased. Between November 2013 and March 2014, the Saudi Arabian government deported more than 170,000 Ethiopians lacking proper visas or employment papers; international organizations and Ethiopian officials believe thousands were likely trafficking victims. Eritreans transiting Ethiopia-based refugee camps, some of whom voluntarily migrate out of the camps and others who are lured or abducted from the camps, face situations of human trafficking in Sudan and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

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. The government continued to facilitate the reintegration of thousands of Ethiopians deported from Saudi Arabia and coordinated with NGOs and international organizations to provide employment. Considering the long-term impact of deportation and the desire of many Ethiopians to seek employment overseas, the government increased its efforts to prevent and raise awareness on trafficking and trafficking-related crimes at a grassroots level through its community conversations project. It also began an analysis of the socio-economic needs of Ethiopian deportees and development of income generation plans to support reintegration. During the reporting period, the government publicly pledged to lift the ban on overseas employment and continued to revise the relevant employment proclamation to ensure improved oversight of recruitment agencies and better protection of its citizens working abroad; however, these protections have yet to be applied and the temporary ban remained in place. The government relied solely on NGOs to provide direct assistance to both internal and transnational trafficking victims and did not provide financial or in-kind support to such organizations. There was a slight decrease in law enforcement efforts; the government did not report the number of victims it identified in 2014 and lacked a formal system to collect and share data on cases and victims. The government also did not effectively address child prostitution and other forms of internal trafficking through law enforcement, protection, or prevention efforts.


Complete amendments to the employment exchange proclamation to ensure penalization of illegal recruitment and improved oversight of overseas recruitment agencies; institute regular trafficking awareness training for labor officials who validate employment contracts or regulate employment agencies; strengthen criminal code penalties for sex trafficking and amend criminal code Articles 597 and 635 to include a clear definition of human trafficking that includes the trafficking of male victims and enhanced penalties commensurate with other serious crimes; improve the investigative capacity of police 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, including of complicit officials; partner with local NGOs to increase the level of services available to trafficking victims, including allocating funding to enable the continuous operation of either a government or NGO-run shelter; improve screening procedures in the distribution of national identification cards and passports to ensure children are not fraudulently acquiring these; allocate appropriate funding for the deployment of labor attachés to overseas diplomatic missions and institute regular trafficking awareness training for labor officials who validate employment contracts or regulate employment agencies to ensure the protection of Ethiopians seeking work or employed overseas; and incorporate information on human trafficking and labor rights in Middle Eastern and other countries into pre-departure training provided to migrant workers.


The government maintained its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, but continued to focus wholly on transnational labor trafficking, with little evidence of investigation or prosecution of sex trafficking or internal labor trafficking cases. 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, 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, which are sufficiently stringent. Articles 597 and 635 lack a clear definition of human trafficking and do not criminalize trafficking against adult male victims. The government does not provide detailed case information on the articles used to prosecute suspected traffickers; however, a local NGO reported the conviction of nine individuals under Article 597 within the reporting period. In general, 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 absence of a clear legal definition of human trafficking impeded the government’s ability to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases effectively. Officials continued drafting amendments to the Employment Exchange Services Proclamation No. 632/2009, which governs the work of licensed labor recruitment agencies.

During the reporting period, the Ethiopian Federal Police’s (EFP) Human Trafficking and Narcotics Section investigated 99 suspected trafficking cases, compared with 135 cases in 2013. The federal government reported prosecuting 93 cases involving 118 defendants; of these, the Federal High Court convicted 46 individuals, compared with 106 traffickers convicted in the previous reporting period. Officials indicated 58 cases remained ongoing in court. The government did not provide consistent details regarding average sentencing; sporadic NGO reports indicated some sentences ranged from two to 11 years’ imprisonment. Courts in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR) reportedly investigated 468 alleged child trafficking cases at the district level; however, no information was reported on the number of prosecutions or convictions or the details of these cases. In March 2015, the government began an investigation of two Ethiopian smugglers suspected of moving 38,000 Ethiopians to South Africa and the Middle East for unknown purposes, potentially including trafficking victims.

In 2014, the government did not initiate any sex trafficking prosecutions, including for children subjected to prostitution. It also did not demonstrate adequate efforts to investigate and prosecute internal trafficking crimes or support and empower regional authorities to effectively do so. Regional law enforcement entities were trained to identify trafficking victims; however, they continued to lack capacity to properly investigate and document cases, as well as to collect and organize relevant data. During the year, government officials partnered with international organizations to train police and other officials; including 456 police officers, 115 labor inspectors, and 139 judges who received training on child labor issues, identification, investigation, and reporting of human trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of public officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained a significant concern, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Reports suggest district-level officials accepted bribes to change the ages on district-issued identification cards, enabling children to receive passports without parental consent; passport issuance authorities did not question the validity of such identification documents or the ages of applicants.


The government did not provide adequate assistance to trafficking victims, relying almost exclusively on international organizations and NGOs to provide services to victims without providing funding to these organizations. The government continued its assistance reintegrating over 170,000 Ethiopian returnees resulting from the Saudi Arabian government’s closure of its border and massive deportation of migrant workers beginning in late 2013. The anti-trafficking taskforce partnered with international organizations to produce a detailed analysis of the socio-economic status and needs of Ethiopian returnees and began the development of income generation plans to reintegrate deportees; it is unclear when these plans will be implemented. Eighty-one percent of returnees cited local government as their main source of support, including job creation and psychological care; however, many returnees also reported disappointment in their inability to obtain expected microcredit or arable land, due to the government’s low capacity and budget in this area.

The government did not report the number of victims it identified and assisted during the year. It remained without standard procedures for front-line responders to guide their identification of trafficking victims and their referral to care. Most victim assistance focused on temporary services to migrants at border crossings including food and water, medical assistance, temporary accommodation and transportation back to their home village; the government continued to jointly operate an emergency response center in the Afar Region with international organizations. One organization in Addis Ababa provided psychological and reintegration assistance to over 400 returnees from Saudi Arabia, while another NGO reported assistance to at least 85 child trafficking victims; however, these organizations did not receive government support for their efforts. Various district-level women and youth departments supported child trafficking victims by providing psycho-social support and placing them in temporary child-safe homes until their families were located. Many NGO-run facilities depended solely on project-based funding for continued operation, which resulted in unpredictable availability of care. At times, the government created additional challenges for these organizations as a result of its 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation, which prohibits organizations receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources from engaging in activities that promote human rights. These restrictions had a negative impact on the ability of some NGOs to adequately provide a full range of protective services, including assistance to victims in filing cases against their traffickers with authorities and conducting family tracing.

The government operated child protection units in the 10 sub-cities of Addis Ababa and six major cities; staff were trained in assisting the needs of vulnerable children, including potential trafficking victims. While officials reportedly encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, there were no protective mechanisms in place to support their active role in these processes. Ethiopian law does not prevent the deportation of foreign victims to countries where they might face hardship or retribution. There were no reports of trafficking victims being detained, jailed, or prosecuted in 2014. Limited consular services provided to Ethiopian workers abroad continued to be a weakness in government efforts. The current Employment Exchange Services Proclamation requires licensed employment agencies to place funds in escrow to provide assistance in the event a worker’s contract is broken; however, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has never used these deposits to pay for victims’ transportation back to Ethiopia.


The government demonstrated progress in its efforts to prevent human trafficking, particularly through increased organization of both regional and national awareness raising campaigns coordinated by the national taskforce. In addition to the national anti-trafficking taskforce, with officials from federal ministries and agencies, each region has its own technical working group that is scheduled to meet quarterly. In 2014, the national trafficking taskforce collaborated with international organizations to launch a community conversations trafficking awareness program, conducted in over 325 neighborhoods with the participation of 25 to 40 residents in each neighborhood session, including local and district officials. The national trafficking taskforce also conducted two monitoring trips to the four primary regions of the country where the majority of trafficking victims have originated. Nationally owned media companies supported local NGOs in airing a court-based drama series, which portrayed child labor in the agricultural sector. The government, in partnerships with NGOs, distributed 42,000 leaflets outlining causes and consequences of child labor, as well as 6,500 manuals portraying personal stories of victims of child labor. The government participated in the production and broadcast of both a documentary and weekly radio program addressing the causes and consequences of child labor and human trafficking.

Officials continued to acknowledge licensed employment agencies were involved in facilitating both legal and illegal labor migration and, as a result, continued the ban on the legal emigration of low-skilled laborers initiated in 2013. The ban is set to remain in place until draft amendments to the employment exchange proclamation are enacted to allow for greater oversight of private employment agencies, to mandate the placement of labor attachés in Ethiopian embassies, and to establish an independent agency to identify and train migrant workers. The government monitored the activities of labor recruitment agencies by conducting both scheduled and random inspections; the government suspended 10 licenses of recruitment agencies for noncompliance during the reporting period. Due to a lack of employment opportunities within the country and a cultural dependence on overseas remittances, officials acknowledged the ban on overseas migrant labor may encourage illegal migration; as a result, the EFP mobilized resources to monitor Ethiopia’s borders. The government completed bilateral labor migration agreements with Djibouti, Sudan, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen and Qatar and is negotiating new agreements with Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, South Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. Agreements with neighboring African countries aim to provide joint border management to include repatriation assistance for trafficking victims; however, workers’ rights are not explicitly addressed. Agreements with destination countries predominantly in the Middle East require governments to commit to ethical recruitment, legal remedies against those who violate the law, and equal protection of Ethiopian workers, to include equal wages for equal work, reasonable working hours, and leave time.

The government continued its efforts to implement a 2012 law requiring registration of all births nationwide; however, the lack of a uniform national identification card continued to impede implementation of the law and allowed for the continued issuance of district-level identification cards subject to fraud. The government did not make any efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor during the reporting period. The government provided anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel as an element of their basic diplomatic training. Ethiopian troops were provided with anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions, though such training was conducted by a foreign donor.