Up to 20,000 children, some 10 years old, are sold each year by their parents and trafficked by unscrupulous brokers to work in cities across Ethiopia, the IOM added.
The figures were announced as the Ethiopian government, the UN and the IOM launched a campaign to highlight the suffering endured by vulnerable children in this Horn of Africa nation.
Dubbed “Ethiopia`s Campaign for Vulnerable Children”, the campaign encourages candidates running in local elections scheduled for early 2006 to push the issue onto the agenda.
Top athletes – including Ethiopian Olympic gold medallist Kenenisa Bekele – have also joined the campaign to highlight the plight of vulnerable or orphaned children.
There are an estimated 4.6 million orphans in Ethiopia, about 13 percent of all the country`s children. Some 200,000 children are believed to live on the streets of the capital, Addis Ababa.
“While this crisis of vulnerable children is depriving children of their rights to human development, it is also proving to be a growing burden on already impoverished communities,” Bjorn Ljungqvist, head of the UN Children`s Fund in Ethiopia, said.
A legal expert with the IOM`s counter-trafficking unit in Addis Ababa, Alem Brook, said internal trafficking of children in Ethiopia was one of the highest in the world.
“The parents are often deceived with promises of money or that the child will be educated,” Alem told journalists. “Traffickers pay around 10 to 20 Ethiopian birr ($1.20 to $2.40) for each child. We are talking about thousands of children each year.”
She said the specific numbers were almost impossible to calculate due to the clandestine nature of the trade, but estimated that it could be up to 20,000 each year.
Around two-thirds of the children are trafficked by brokers who take a percentage of the child`s earnings, while one-third are trafficked by friends and family.
According to the IOM, trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world; it is believed to net those involved around $10 billion a year.
Alem said the majority of boys and girls ended up as domestic labourers, commercial sex workers, weavers or professional beggars.
The IOM warned that thousands of Ethiopian women were also trafficked abroad. At least 10,000 have been sent to the Gulf States to work as prostitutes, the agency said.
“There are increasing numbers of young women being recruited from here for sexual purposes,” Alem said.
Traffickers in Ethiopia expect to earn around 7,000 birr (around $800) for each victim they send overseas, she added. However, if caught, they are liable to 20 years imprisonment but few are ever prosecuted.
Reuters Foundation AlterNet, source IRIN, 20.10.2005