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 impoverished rural areas are exploited in domestic servitude and prostitution within the country, while boys are subjected to forced labor in traditional weaving, construction, agriculture, and street vending. Addis Ababa’s central market is the site of numerous brothels, where girls as young as 8 years old are exploited in prostitution. Ethiopian girls are exploited in domestic servitude and prostitution in neighboring African countries—particularly Sudan—and 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; many are subsequently subjected to forced labor. Child sex tourism is a growing problem in major tourist hubs, including Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar, Hawassa, and Bishoftu; reports identify both foreign and domestic perpetrators, with links to local hotels, brokers, and taxi drivers.

Officials reported up to 1,500 Ethiopians departed daily as part of the legal migration process in search of better economic opportunities. Many young Ethiopians transit through Djibouti, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, and increasingly Yemen, seeking work in the Middle East; some are exploited in these transit countries. Reports continue to document the transportation of Ethiopians to South Africa, via Kenya and Tanzania, as well as large numbers of Ethiopians who have died in boat accidents crossing the Red Sea from Djibouti to Yemen, many of whom are attempting irregular migration and are vulnerable to trafficking in onward destinations. Many Ethiopian women working in domestic service in the Middle East endure severe abuse, including physical and sexual assault, denial of salary, sleep deprivation, passport confiscation, and confinement. Ethiopian women who migrate for work or after fleeing abusive employers in the Middle East are also vulnerable to sex trafficking. Ethiopian men and boys migrate to the Gulf States and other African nations, where some are subjected to forced labor. Previous reports suggest district-level officials accepted bribes to alter ages on identification cards, allowing children to acquire passports without parental consent and enabling minors to leave the country for work. The Ethiopian government’s 2013 ban on domestic worker employment in Gulf countries remained in effect at the end of the reporting period; irregular labor migration to the Gulf has increased. Saudi Arabia remains the primary destination for irregular migrants; reportedly, over 400,000 Ethiopians reside there, including some trafficking victims.

The Government of Ethiopia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. In 2015, the government enacted a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, which overhauls existing legislation to define and punish trafficking offenses and to enact measures to support victims of trafficking. It also passed a revised overseas employment proclamation, which, if fully implemented, would penalize illegal recruitment, improve oversight of overseas recruitment agencies, and extend greater protections to potential victims. During the reporting period, the government assisted in the identification of more than 3,000 trafficking victims and convicted 69 traffickers, an increase from 46 convicted during the previous year. The government sustained its efforts to prevent and raise awareness on trafficking and trafficking-related crimes through its community conversations project. The government did not specifically address internal trafficking, including child sex trafficking, and focused largely on transnational cases. During the year, the development of income generation plans to support victim reintegration was stymied. The government continued to rely on NGOs and international organizations to provide assistance to both internal and transnational trafficking victims; however, it did provide in-kind support for such efforts.


Continue to increase efforts to convict traffickers, including for internal cases, and compile and share trafficking statistics; improve the investigative capacity of police throughout the country to increase prosecutions of internal child trafficking offenses; implement, distribute to, and train law enforcement and judicial officials on the anti-trafficking proclamation; partner with local NGOs to improve services available to trafficking victims, including allocating funding to enable the continuous operation of either a government or NGO-run shelter; enact legislation to ensure penalization of illegal recruitment and improved oversight of overseas recruitment agencies; implement the overseas employment proclamation, assign and train labor attaches, and investigate and prosecute illicit recruiters; institute trafficking awareness training for labor officials who validate employment contracts or regulate employment agencies; improve screening procedures in the distribution of national identification cards and passports to prevent their fraudulent issuance to children; allocate appropriate funding for the deployment of labor attaches to overseas diplomatic missions 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 increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and improved its legal structure to facilitate effective law enforcement. It continued to focus on transnational labor trafficking, with negligible evidence of investigation or prosecution of sex trafficking or internal forced labor cases. In August 2015, the Proclamation to Provide for the Prevention and Suppression of Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants, No. 909/2015, went into effect to overhaul its existing anti-trafficking prohibitions. The 2015 proclamation broadly defines trafficking crimes consistent with international law, to include exploitation for the purpose of forced labor and sex trafficking by means of force, fraud, or coercion; with regard to children, the use of coercive or fraudulent means is not relevant. Under the proclamation, traffickers are subject to 15-25 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 to 300,000 birr ($7,000 to $14,000), penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Aggravated trafficking offenses carry a prison term of 25 years’ to life imprisonment, in addition to a fine of 200,000 to 500,000 birr ($9,000 to $24,000). The government passed amendments to the Employment Exchange Services Proclamation No. 632/2009, which governs the work of licensed labor recruitment agencies, but did not fully implement it during the year.

During the reporting period, federal and regional justice officials investigated 294 trafficking cases and convicted 69 traffickers under the new anti-trafficking law, an increase from 46 convictions in 2014; 58 cases from the previous reporting period remained ongoing. A March 2015 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, remained open. Financial and capacity constraints continued to impede regional police’s ability to compile data. The government partnered with civil society stakeholders and international organizations to conduct four trainings for regional justice officials and relevant government personnel on the newly passed anti-trafficking proclamation. The government paid for 27 judges and prosecutors to attend training, facilitated by an international organization, covering how to conduct victim interviews and court proceedings for trafficking cases, and provided facility space for the training of more than 140 judicial personnel on victim-centered investigative techniques and the anti-trafficking proclamation. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of public officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses.


The government made modest efforts to protect trafficking victims. The proclamation established a national committee, chaired by the deputy prime minister, to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts and authorized the Council of Ministers to issue implementing regulations; none have been issued to date. It continued to partner with international organizations and NGOs to provide services to victims; although it did not allocate funding for these entities, it provided some in-kind support, including shelter and security when feasible. During the reporting period, the government identified 3,163 victims of trafficking in routine partnership with international organizations and NGOs; the vast majority of these victims were intercepted before departing for South Africa and Gulf States. It remained without standard procedures for front-line responders to identify trafficking victims and refer them to care. The government provided some assistance to migrants at border crossings, including food and water, medical assistance, temporary accommodation, and transportation; the government continued to jointly operate an emergency response center in the Afar Region with international organizations. One organization in Addis Ababa identified and provided familial reunification services to more than 300 child trafficking victims, while another organization reunified more than 1,500 potential victims; the government did not provide any financial or in-kind support for these services. Many NGO-run facilities depended on project-based funding to operate, which resulted in unpredictable availability of care. The 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, restricted some NGOs’ ability to provide protective services to trafficking victims.

The government operated child protection units in the 10 sub-cities of Addis Ababa and six major cities; staff were trained in assisting vulnerable children, including potential trafficking victims. While officials sometimes 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; if fully implemented, the 2015 proclamation would extend to trafficking victims protections outlined under the Witness and Whistleblowers Protection Proclamation (No. 699/2010). Ethiopian law does not prevent the deportation of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. There were no reports of trafficking victims being detained, jailed, or prosecuted in 2015, although some victims may have been criminalized based on lack of standardized victim identification procedures. The 2015 proclamation provides extensive protections and rights for trafficking victims, including protection from prosecution for acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking. The government reported the scope of its repatriation assistance to Ethiopian nationals subjected to trafficking abroad was insufficient.

The government continued to assist Ethiopians deported from Saudi Arabia since 2013; progress on income generation programming for returnees, produced via partnerships between international organizations and the anti-trafficking taskforce, was stymied during the reporting year. Most returnees cited local government as their main source of support, including job creation and psychological care; however, many also reported disappointment in their ability to obtain expected microcredit or arable land, due to the government’s low capacity and budget in this area.


The government continued efforts to prevent trafficking. In August 2015, officials approved and endorsed a five-year national action plan to combat trafficking that incorporated feedback from civil society stakeholders; however, the government did not release information on funding for its implementation. The national committee, advised by international organizations, convened seminars to guide local officials and citizens in the establishment of anti-trafficking units and disseminated the 2015 anti-trafficking proclamation. Local governments, employing community conversations as an awareness-raising mechanism, hosted and facilitated hundreds of sessions throughout the country, including in four regions where outward labor migration was common. Government-owned media companies continued to support local NGOs in broadcasting awareness campaigns on child labor in the agricultural sector in film and on radio. In contrast to the previous year, the government did not distribute informational materials outlining the causes or consequences of child labor in 2015.

The government maintained its 2013 ban on the recruitment of low-skilled domestic workers to the Middle East, which it planned to keep until the establishment of bilateral work agreements with recipient countries and the enactment of a revised employment exchange proclamation, which would allow for greater oversight of private employment agencies, mandate the placement of labor attaches in Ethiopian embassies, and establish an independent agency to identify and train migrant workers. In 2015, the government conducted over 37,500 scheduled and random labor inspections; however, it failed to suspend any licenses of agencies for labor law violations, whereas it suspended 10 in 2014. Officials made some progress on negotiating new agreements with Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, South Sudan, or the United Arab Emirates; such agreements 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. Memoranda with neighboring African countries—particularly Djibouti, and on an ad hoc basis with Kenya and Sudan—aim to provide joint border management to include repatriation assistance for trafficking victims; however, workers’ rights are not explicitly addressed.

Ethiopian officials continued efforts to implement a 2012 law requiring registration of all births nationwide; however, the lack of a uniform national identity card continued to impede implementation of the law and allowed for the continued issuance of district-level identity cards, whose dispersion is subject to fraud. The government made modest efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor during the reporting period. In conjunction with civil society organizations, officials identified and referred to care an unknown number of children vulnerable to sex tourism in major tourist hubs. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel as part of their basic diplomatic training. A foreign donor and facilitator provided Ethiopian troops with anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.