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Rethinking girls on the move: The case of Ethiopian adolescent domestic workers in the Middle East - Full report

Research reports

Written by Nicola Jones

​Recent research on child migration has largely departed from the early trafficking narrative and has tended to highlight agency and the ways in which children’s migration can play a key role in their ‘future-seeking’. Migration is increasingly regarded as a vehicle for improving children’s opportunities for schooling and work, enabling them to build more secure futures for themselves and their families. While we acknowledge that Ethiopian girls migrating to the Middle East in order to undertake domestic work primarily move voluntarily for economic reasons, our research findings highlight the tightly constrained environment in which this choice is made, suggesting that the earlier trafficking narrative may, in this case, represent the most appropriate lens through which to view girls’ choices and experiences.

Family pressure borne of poverty, combined with limited employment opportunities for young people that are reasonably remunerated, leaves an increasing number of girls feeling as if they have few options other than migration. Their reliance on illegal brokers –  who provide at best partial information about the employment girls are entering into – combined with the overwhelming exploitation that most young girls face upon their arrival, means the line which separates Ethiopian girls’ voluntary migrationfrom traffickingall but fades into invisibility.

This report investigates the relationships between poverty, migration and children’s well-being in Ethiopia. It is one of three country case studies undertaken as part of a two-year research programme funded by the Oak Foundation to explore the potential for greater linkages between child protection and anti-poverty work in low- and middle-income countries. The research draws on qualitative and participatory methodologies to explore the drivers of migration, to assess the key threats girls face in destination countries, and to consider improvements in programming that could afford better protection, reflecting the views of the girls and families involved in the research.

Nicola Jones, Elizabeth Presler-Marshall, Bekele Tefera, Guday Emirie, Bethelihem Gebre, Kiya Gezahegne