Child Labor Issues in Eritrea

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In 1993, Eritrea became its own state after a grueling war for Independence. Eritrea was officially liberated from Ethiopia in 1991. During their fight for freedom, the Eritrean people knew that they had to work together, despite some of their vast differences. Eritrea consists of many different ethnic groups that speak nine different languages and they have two major religions. They ended up being ruled by a provisional government that consisted of members of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF).

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Agriculture is one of the most important areas for their economy, around 4/5ths of the Eritrea population rely on their small-scale cultivation and traditional pastoralism to get survive. To provide for their families and for their country, many landowners will resort to child labor in order to maximize the work being done without having to pay as much as they would an adult. The World Atlas posted an article in 2017 stating that Eritrea has the most child labor out of any country, and the countries runner up to Eritrea are primarily in Africa as well; facts that were justified by the data found by the International Labor Organization. Child labor is a worsening problem in Eritrea due to the type of labor that fuels its economy. Agriculture, mining, and prostitution are foundations of Eritrean revenue. It is much easier to enlist children in jobs considering that they won’t fight against their oppression through labor unions, and will work longer days and nights for less pay. Children are known to have more stamina, more dexterity, and more naivety toward the working conditions they are subjected to. Eritrean government entertains this child labor by holding a program in which teenage children are forced to offer to work in the agricultural fields for two months of summer. These kids, along with the ones working all year round, are on the job for over 44 hours a week and will only get one day off.

There are laws that the government has in place for the illegal employment of children, the implementation of these laws are considered weak and easily broken, therefore not followed. This is because the Eritreans are ruled by fear, not their laws. Despite that these laws are in place, the government has not established any mechanisms to effectively address the issue, so the Eritrean people have no reason to follow. A theory that could explain this child labor in Eritrea is rational choice. Rational choice is about group self interest which leads to collective (often positive) actions of the country as a whole. The issue with this rational choice in Eritrea is that everyone’s self interest is against the interest of the children. The adults are doing what they have to do to survive. The World Health Organization states that 53% of Eritrean Citizens are living below the poverty line. They aren’t concerned with the fact that their kids aren’t getting the education that could change their lives. They don’t consider that child workers are more seriously affected by the dangers of working because they are still growing, unlike adults. Families are more focused on surviving rather than getting an education that would allow for more effective upward economic mobility. The issue with rational choice is that in this case, not everyone is working together for the greater good of their country, even if they think they are; they are working towards the greater good of themselves leaving thousands of lives unaccounted for.

A second theory that could help explain the issues surrounding child labor in Eritrea is the elite theory. The elite theory is a device that explains that society is ruled by a small group that has control over virtually all power. In Eritrea the government would be in this power position, the more power someone holds, the more social control they exude on society. When the Eritrean people first received liberty in 1991, they worked cohesively as a team even though there were many separate religions and ethnic groups that would not usually get along. The hope was that after this victory, they would stay strong together, however that was not the case. They formed the provisional government of the EPLF. With the addition of the National Service, and the fact that they have had the same president, Isaias Afwerki Tigrinya, since 1993, the citizens lives have been left uncared for. The National Service was supposed to contribute to the countries growth and development while enhancing national unity to turn the society into a valuable one, however, the lack of change in legislature and leadership left Eritrea suffering from the same pre-revolutionary problems.

Eritrea’s totalitarian government holds too much power over their people. Their youth are spending their time working, instead of focusing on their education. The fact that more children are dying from exposure to pesticides in the mines and the agricultural fields than from all the most common childhood diseases shows that the people in control are not using their power for good, but taking their control and ensuring that everyone knows who to fear.

Overall, the rational choice theory would be a better option to explaining the child labor crisis in Eritrea because rational choice gives an explanation as to how these people could justify their actions. No matter where you are from or what your life looks like, humans are born to think and do things that will benefit their lives and the lives of the people they love.

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