New book: Children's Work and Labour in East Africa

Submitted by remote on Fri, 06/05/2015 - 09:54

This book brings together contributions by academics and practitioners interested in strengthening the role of research in improving policies relatied to children and poverty in Africa. It presents evidence from working children's lives and perspectives in cases from Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan, spanning a variety of types of children's work, from agriculture to mining to petty trade, paid and unpaid work, inside and outside household contexts.

Beyond the Girl Summit: creating a legacy of health, education and empowerment

Life events

 As someone who spends most of my time involved in the nitty-gritty of research, from fieldwork through data analysis to publishing papers and producing policy briefs for consultation with government and other stakeholders, coming to London to attend the Girl Summit was an extraordinary experience. The energy and excitement was palpable and the general enthusiasm especially from vocal young women was infectious.

Brave girls at the forefront

The Girl Summit on 22 July was an inspiring event held in a south London school with girls at the forefront. Four brave young campaigning women made moving speeches: Farwa who got her aunt to persuade her parents in Bangladesh to stop her early marriage, Alimatu who spoke out about coming to terms with the FGM she underwent in Sierra Leone, Malala who took on the Taliban in Pakistan and was standing up for the girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and 16 year old Hanah, UNICEF ambassador for Ethiopia, whose plea at the end of the summit for everyone to get involved got a standing ovation.

Galvanising support

The Summit was important for obtaining commitments for action from more than 20 countries, including by ten African ministers and the Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister, and from major national and international donors. The Charter was signed by leading organisations (including Young Lives Ethiopia) and, though the event was mainly preaching to the converted, it reached out worldwide through social media.

Mindful of twin sensitive issues

Tackling culturally sensitive issues head on is complex and sensible suggestions were made, notably by women from countries where the practices are common, about the need to avoid blaming or ostracising the victims and the risk of sparking a backlash, and about avoiding fuelling Islamophobia and muddying the waters with references to terrorism, both mentioned by British women from immigrant communities.

Tougher measures giving teeth to laws

The British government unveiled plans for tougher sanctions and prosecution of people involved in the practices, making parents in the UK liable if they marry off or circumcise their daughters, and imposing legal sanctions against health professionals who fail to report FGM. However, some concerns have been expressed, for instance by the Royal College of General Practitioners, that this may discourage women who have been circumcised from seeing a doctor (The Guardian, 26 July 2014).

‘The numbers don’t lie’

At a pre-summit meeting organised by DFID about research on these issues, one participant echoed the general sentiment that the statistics were compelling and ‘the numbers don’t lie’. Yet others pointed out that we do not have reliable figures. Perhaps more worrying is that establishing the facts about such sensitive topics may be difficult if not impossible when people are worried about acknowledging involvement in illegal practices, and where ‘checking’ about FGM would raise ethical issues. The alarming projections unveiled by UNICEF at the Summit may be based on shaky foundations and also do not factor in the likelihood that the practices are likely to decline dramatically, even without all the recent media attention, government commitments and funding.

Unintended adverse consequences: field evidence

Evidence from Young Lives in Ethiopia suggests that the imposition and strict enforcement of legislation banning child marriage and FGM/C may lead to the practices going underground or being circumvented by those who are not convinced that they are harmful. Unless parents and girls believe that FGM is harmful and are protected from adverse risks, they may hold the ceremonies at night or in the bush to avoid prosecution, or may circumcise girls earlier than is customary or pretend the ceremony is for a male circumcision to avoid detection. Likewise, they may pretend girls are older to marry them before the legal age of 18, particularly since birth registration is only just starting to be implemented in Ethiopia. We came across cases of girls arguing that it was their right to decide to be married and/or circumcised, and who had organised their own ceremonies despite parents’ and teachers’ opposition. Moreover, imposing a legal age of marriage of 18 (when it is 16 in the UK) may put adolescent girls who are sexually active at risk.

Older adolescent girls at risk

The recent expansion of education, particularly for girls, has brought new risks with it. The current shortage of secondary schools means more girls have to travel further from their communities for school, and some parents fear that their daughters may be abducted and raped. With restricted access to contraceptives for teenagers, consensual sex before marriage may expose them to risks from STDs, notably HIV/AIDS. Parents fear that their daughters may become pregnant and have unsafe abortions, or that they risk being rejected by their boyfriend and bring shame on the family if they decide to have a child before marriage. Girls themselves also worry that they are at risk of abduction or rape, and that they cannot access contraception or safe abortion. They fear rejection and ostracism if they have a child outside marriage, as well as face the daunting challenge of bringing up a child singlehandedly, often having to migrate away from their communities to seek work while caring for an infant without support (usually without any childcare facilities).

Linking to poverty reduction and women’s empowerment

The focus of the Girl Summit 2014 on child marriage and FGM has galvanised political will and public attention around these issues in a way that was unimaginable a decade ago. Maria Eitel, the CEO of the Nike Foundation recalled what a ‘hard sell’ focusing on adolescent girls had been in starting up what became the Girl Hub. The energies generated by the Summit should enable better social protection systems to be established for girls at risk and already affected, and hopefully also for those likely to suffer from the unintended adverse consequences of legislation. If this first Girl Summit becomes a springboard to broaden the agenda to adolescent reproductive health and improving girls’ access to affordable, quality and relevant education and pathways to training and employment, so much the better. If this spotlight on adolescent girls is just a beginning and leads to more attention on the fundamental underlying issues of intergenerational transmission of poverty, young women’s empowerment and the broader international poverty reduction agenda, it will have a lasting legacy. Otherwise, these inspiring energies and commitments may fizzle out as other concerns take the limelight or the massive investments committed may be tackling issues that are in any case on the wane and are symptoms of much more deep-rooted gender and poverty issues.  

Girl Summit 2014 – the Ethiopian perspective

View the video produced by the Ethiopian Embassy in London with footage from the Summit and in-depth interviews with HE Demeke Mekonnen (Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia) and HE Zenebu Tadesse (Minister of Women, Children and Youth Affairs) (YouTube video 20 mins in Amharic)

Why does Child Trafficking Policy Need to be Reformed?

Mobility and migration
Child protection
Journal Article

This article challenges policy discourses that frame children's independent movement as intrinsically exploitative and threatening to their development. Drawing on research with children and adults in Benin and Ethiopia, two countries caught up in current efforts to eradicate child migration and the trafficking with which it has become associated, the article critiques assumptions about children's vulnerability and physical dependence and contests the idea that appropriate childhood is necessarily fixed spatially within stable family structures. It thus situates children's migration within socio-cultural and economic contexts and suggests that it should be understood as part of a moral economy that confounds simplistic paradigms that conflate migration with trafficking. Policy suggestions are offered for how best to secure children?s well-being through acknowledgement of the important relationship between mobility and child maturation.

Keywords: Child independent migration, Benin, Ethiopia, trafficking 

The final published version of the article is available on the journal website.

Harmful Traditional Practices and Child Protection

Jo Boyden
Adolescence and youth
Early marriage and FGM
Child protection
Working paper

Local perspectives on female child marriage and circumcision in Ethiopia are explored in this paper. Both practices are widespread still, despite international and national efforts to eradicate them, and reflect deep-rooted patriarchal and gerontocratic values regulating transactions between kin groups at marriage and women's reproduction. Both have been designated as Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) by the Ethiopian government and are proscribed by law, with designated punishments. This is in line with Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which calls for the prohibition of traditional practices that are prejudicial to the health and well-being of children. Apart from the fact that both practices are labelled ?harmful? and relate only to girls, the main reason for considering female child marriage and female circumcision together is that the latter tends to be seen as a necessary precursor to former.

The paper explores the values that drive these practices and examines whether and in what ways they have been affected by efforts to eradicate them. It points to the complexity of beliefs and practices, highlighting differences associated with ethnicity, religion, generation and gender. It finds that the efforts of government and elite leaders to eradicate them are contributing to the diminution or transformation of female circumcision and female child marriage, although with marked regional variations and considerable contestation and resistance in some places. In mapping these processes of change, the paper identifies trends in premarital sex, clandestine surgeries, and other subterfuges that may demonstrate unexpected consequences and adverse reactions to laws which were intended to protect children. In doing so, it emphasises the challenges confronted by child-protection measures designed to bring about change to long-established customs.

The analysis draws on interviews with 25 children and young people from five communities, as well as their peers, caregivers and community representatives, conducted in 2007, 2008 and 2011. The paper uses both statistical and ethnographic evidence to assess the prevalence of the two customs and the cultural and material logic underpinning them. It gives an overview of the external forces militating for change and presents evidence on trends of change. This is followed by analysis of the personal experiences of Young Lives children and the discourses against the practices, as well as a consideration of the resistance to change. Finally, the discussion reflects on wider issues of modernity and rising aspirations for girls.

Impact of Parental Death in Middle Childhood and Adolescence on Child Outcomes

Child protection
Orphans and vulnerable children
Journal Article

This paper investigates whether the death of a parent during middle childhood (ages 7-8 to 11-12) has different effects on a child's schooling and psychosocial outcomes compared to death during adolescence (ages 11-12 to 14-15) in Ethiopia. The data comes from three rounds of the Young Lives longitudinal survey, conducted in 2002, 2006 and 2009, of a sample of around 850 children across 20 sentinel sites in Ethiopia. The results show that when a child's mother dies in middle childhood it has a significantly negative impact on school enrolment. A parent's death also has a significant negative impact on a child's sense of optimism about the future. These effects are short term in nature and do not persist into adolescence. However, the children orphaned in middle childhood engage in significantly more paid employment and self employment at age 14-15. In contrast to maternal death in middle childhood, maternal death in adolescence has no impacts on any of the outcomes considered in our sample. However, the death of a father in adolescence has a significant negative impact on school enrolment, maths scores and a child's sense of agency. It is unclear as to why this is the case, as these orphans do not seem to engage in more employment than others and there have been no significant disruption to caregiver arrangements. It is likely that the negative impact on enrolment and scores works though the lower sense of self efficacy or agency. 

Keywords: orphans, shocks, Ethiopia, Young Lives

The final published version of the article is available on the journal website.

Why are Current Efforts to Eliminate Female Circumcision in Ethiopia Misplaced?

Early marriage and FGM
Child protection
Journal Article

This article discusses female circumcision in Ethiopia and the eradication challenges. It argues that despite an overall decline in the practice nationally, eradication efforts have caused significant quandaries for girls and their families. The most common justification by far for its continuance is that female circumcision confirms a girl's social place by proving her readiness for marriage and adulthood and thereby ensures her protection against material want. Often intervention has resulted in the transformation, rather than the elimination, of the practice, the exchange of one type of risk for another, or even increased risk to girls. In discussing policy, the article argues that there has been a misapplication of the risk concept in the promotion of change in Ethiopia. It calls for risk definitions and interventions that are more holistic, correspond more closely with children's social realities, and take into account the phenomenological dimensions of experience.

The final published version of the article is available on the journal website.



Jo Boyden (2012) Why are current efforts to eliminate female circumcision in Ethiopia misplaced?, Culture, Health & Sexuality, 14:10, 1111-1123, DOI:10.1080/13691058.2012.726743

Integrating Children's Human Rights and Child Poverty Debates

Child protection
Journal Article

There are few attempts to link human rights discourses and child poverty debates, though the field is expanding. Within sociology, both the study of rights and of childhood are marginal. This paper utilises a sociological approach to bridge rights and poverty debates in relation to children and explore why there are barriers to implementing children's rights in specific instances. Drawing on Young Lives research, a longitudinal study of children growing up in poverty, the paper explores how discourses of children's rights play out in local contexts and how a narrowly legal perspective fails to engage with children's experiences of poverty. The paper concludes by proposing that a broader, sociological approach to rights as not only rules, but also as structures, relationships and processes (Galant and Parlevliet, 2005) can better engage with the causes and consequences of poverty, while also developing locally relevant responses.

Keywords: child poverty - children's human rights - children's work - Ethiopia - India - orphanhood.

The final published version of the article is available on the journal website.

Rethinking Orphanhood and Vulnerability in Ethiopia

Child protection
Journal Article

"Orphans" became a category of vulnerable children deserving special protection in the context of the global AIDS epidemic, and currently the notion of "Orphans and vulnerable children", or "OVC", dominates much of the policy for protecting children across sub-Saharan Africa. Analysis of survey and qualitative data from Young Lives in Ethiopia found that parental death does not guarantee the often assumed negative impacts on children's experiences, and that inequalities between children are greater along dimensions of poverty and household location, compared to orphan status. "OVC" obscures poverty as a main source of child vulnerability and is therefore an outdated approach.

Keywords: orphanhood, OVC,Ethiopia, child poverty, vulnerability

The final published version of the article is available on the journal website.

Child Protection and Harmful Traditional Practices

Adolescence and youth
Child protection
Journal Article

This article explores divergent perspectives on female early marriage and genital modification in Ethiopia. It contrasts international norms and research evidence with local understandings, the latter focusing on the part these practices play in securing family social heritage, wellbeing of girls, and their transition to adulthood. The article explains persistence of these practices in the face of campaigns to eliminate them and questions assumptions behind the international child protection model. It points to unintended adverse consequences of interventions that do not pay sufficient regard to local meanings and social relations, and suggests how policy might be approached differently.

 Keywords: early female marriage, female genital modification, Ethiopia, child protection policy

The final published version of the article is available on the journal website.

Beyond Orphanhood: Rethinking Vulnerability in Ethiopia

Kirrily Pells
Child protection
Policy paper

"Orphans" as a category of vulnerable children came to the fore in the context of the global AIDS crisis. Currently the notion of "Orphans and Vulnerable Children" (or OVCs) dominates much of the child protection debates across sub-Saharan Africa. Data from Young Lives in Ethiopia challenges the assumption that parental death alone results in poorer life chances for children. While orphanhood can impact on children?s psychosocial well-being, socio-economic deprivation needs to be considered as well. Inequalities between children are greater due to poverty and household location, rather than between orphans and non-orphans. Tackling child poverty more broadly, rather than focusing exclusively on certain categories of children, needs to be at the heart of policies for children.