Slavery in Ethiopia

Ethiopia, a developing nation on the horn of East Africa, has suffered a stagnant economy for the past two decades. Food scarcity is a daily struggle for most of the nation’s 102 million inhabitants.

From child to slave

In Ethiopia, child slavery takes on different forms but often starts the same way: A promise is made, then broken.

Men travel from the city to the countryside, where they prey on families who want the best for their children but question their own means to provide it.

The men, called “recruiters,” offer to escort children to the city in exchange for a fee. In the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, the families are promised their children will find better schooling and better jobs – a better opportunity.
What happens is much different: The boys and girls are transported to the city and sold to businesses involved in brothels, factories and forced labor. Every day, a blunt message is relayed: Your life is worth only the profit it yields.

The children, lost in a city of 3 million, don’t speak its dialect and don’t know their way home. They see the more than 60,000 homeless youths who wander Addis Ababa without food and shelter. Many draw the same conclusion: It’s better to live in slavery than die on the streets.

slav·er·y n. pl. slav·er·ies – “A relationship in which one person is controlled through violence, the threat of violence, or psychological coercion, has lost free will and free movement, is exploited economically, and paid nothing beyond subsistence.”

Slavery in different forms

Beza Threads targets three forms of slavery through a partnership with Hope for Children in Ethiopia, an on-the-ground nonprofit:


More than 70,000 prostitutes live in Addis Ababa, many of them children. The city’s prostitution district consists of alleys lined with tin shacks, each holding little more than a bed. Here, girls as young as five live and pay their rent by selling themselves for about $1 per encounter. Some are sold as many as 10 times in a night.


Boys from rural areas in Ethiopia are sold to factory houses producing textiles. Local governments turn a blind eye to such houses, where enslaved boys live and work in dark, cramped and unsafe conditions. Some houses offer little more than dirt floors with just enough space for a loom, and a cardboard mat to sleep under.

Forced labor:

Other girls sold into slavery are forced to collect and carry firewood down Mount Entoto, the highest peak outside Addis Ababa. Girls awake at dawn and begin the 10-mile trip up the mountain, hauling 80-pound bundles of wood on their way down. The full day of labor typically yields $2-3 dollars for the slave owner.