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Rethinking the ‘Maid Trade’: Experiences of Ethiopian adolescent domestic workers in the Middle East

Research report

Written by Nicola Jones

Research report

​Recent research on child migration has largely departed from the early trafficking narrative and tends to highlight agency and the ways 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. However, while 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.

This briefing synthesises findings from a report investigating the relationships between poverty, migration and children’s wellbeing 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.

Our research is unique in that it is located in rural origin communities, rather than Addis Ababa or destination countries, and it is focused on adolescent girls and young women. In order to better triangulate drivers and experiences, we include a broader spectrum of respondents than is typical for research of this type – not just migrants and government officials, but also parents, siblings and peers.

Nicola Jones, Elizabeth Presler-Marshall, Bekele Tefera