Education is a key weapon in preventing girls from falling victim to child trafficking, Bjorn Ljungqvist, the head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Ethiopia, said on Thursday.
Ljungqvist said that many children drop out of school and are forced into dangerous work or prostitution simply because they have no alternatives. His comments marked the 2003 UN World Day Against Child Labour – which aims to stop child trafficking.
"The most at risk are girls who have dropped out of school and do not have alternative options for supporting themselves or their families," said Ljungqvist. "This problem has to be addressed by multiple actions, including that girls have equal access to education."
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), some 7.5 million children under the age of 15 are currently working in Ethiopia. Most work around 34 hours a week in often poor or
dangerous environments, and two thirds do not go to school. The ILO says there is evidence of child prostitution.
The UN says that child labour is a result of a massive demand for cheap and malleable labour. Often work involves domestic duties, or it can be prostitution. The ILO, UNICEF and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) aim to combat the danger of children being exploited through promoting education and ensuring better law enforcement.
The organisations welcomed Ethiopia’s recent adoption of the 1999 ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention as a step in the right direction, but added action was now needed.
Michel Gozo, head of the ILO in Ethiopia, said: "This sends a strong signal, domestically as well as internationally, that the government is committed to tackling this problem of child labour. We now need to move forward with concrete action."
The IOM says that illegal traffickers who prey on women could make up to 7,000 Ethiopian Birr (more than US $800) for each victim they send overseas. The IOM say women aged between 18 and 25 are targeted by traffickers at colleges and in poor districts in towns and cities.
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