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Teach me! Education, health, and Ethiopian children who are entangled in the khat trade

Date:22 June 2021
Ethiopia's obligation to educate about khat 
Ethiopia's obligation to educate about khat 

By Michael Woldeyes, LLM student International Human Rights Law,  m.mengistu

In my previous blog post, I argued that disseminating health information to children is one of the simple obligations that Ethiopia is required to fulfill under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter the CRC) to protect them from khat. In the blog, I linked the right to information of the child with his/her right to health by laying out the adverse health effects of the drug.[1] Building up on my previous work, this blog post first explores the condition of Ethiopian children who are entangled in the khat trade. It then argues that, by virtue of articles 28, 29, and 32 of the CRC, the State is obliged to emancipate these children from the khat business and send them to school in order to protect them from khat and its health effects.

Ethiopian children and the khat trade

Ethiopian children are vulnerable to khat and its adverse health effects because of the lack of legislation that regulates the trade of khat to and its use by them. However, the trade of khat by itself has increased their vulnerability to the drug as child labor is used across the khat value chain in the country. For example, a research published in 2017 revealed that children as young as 8 and 12 years of age were involved in the khat industry in Wondo Genet and Aweday towns, respectively.[2] The trade is hazardous to these children because it is very easy for them, even as someone who carries out errands, to pick up the khat chewing habit quickly.[3] In addition, children who are involved in the Khat value chain refuse to go to school because they get lured by the money the business offers them.[4] Nevertheless, without proper education, children will not be able to grow into a healthy adulthood. Therefore, the State, as discussed below, is obliged to emancipate children from the khat trade and send them to school.

Ethiopia’s obligation to educate children who are entangled in the khat trade

Exposure to health risks depends on, among other factors, “the extent to which appropriate preventive measures have been incorporated into one’s daily life”.[5] Education empowers individuals to get control over their health. It can be used to provide children and adolescents with relevant and helpful information on the health effects of khat. In this regard, the right to education is enshrined under articles 28 and 29 of the CRC. According to article 29 (1) of the CRC, the aims of education include the development of the “child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential”. Schools help grow the child’s personality and abilities and in the process, are required to give him/her basic skills. These basic skills include “not only literacy and numeracy but also life skills such as the ability to … develop a healthy lifestyle”.[6]  In order to fulfill this, States are required to make education available, accessible, acceptable, and adaptable.[7] In addition, they are required to ensure that “communities and families are not dependent on child labor”.[8] Hence, Ethiopia needs to make sure that children will not get entangled in businesses such as the khat trade which keep them away from school.

In addition to preventing children from going to school, khat by itself is detrimental to their health. Article 32 of the CRC protects children from “performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development”. By virtue of this article, States are required to enact regulations which govern working conditions and ensure that children are protected from economic exploitations and hazardous work.[9] The adverse health effects of khat and the fact that the trade deters children from getting proper education render the business hazardous to children since they are easily made vulnerable to the drug abuse. Therefore, the working conditions of the khat trade needs to be regulated.[10] In this regard the Committee on the Rights of the Child (hereafter CteeRC) urged Brazil to “take all necessary measures to expeditiously remove children of all ages from hazardous work situations … and ensure that the persons responsible for such exploitation are promptly prosecuted with commensurate sanctions”.[11] The CteeRC also added that Brazil should “ensure, by means of clear instructions to the judiciary, that authorizations are not issued for children under 18 years of age to be employed in hazardous work”.[12] I believe that what has been recommended to Brazil also has to be replicated in the Ethiopian khat business.

To conclude, it is clear that the khat trade is hazardous to children because of its negative health effects and because it keeps them away from school. A child must be properly educated if we want him/her to become a healthy adult. As a result, Ethiopia needs to honor the promises it has made to children when ratifying the CRC. It should take meaningful measures to protect them from the khat trade and send them to school.

[1] Some of the negative health effects of khat are acute myocardial infarction, elevation of blood pressure and pulse rate, heart failure, and depression.

[2] Girma Negash Ture, The Education of Children Entangled in Khat Trade in Ethiopia: The Case of Two Khat Market Centers, (2013), 22.

[3] Ibid 51. See also Yeraswork Admassie, The Khat Conundrum in Ethiopia, Socio-economic Impacts and Policy Directions, (2017), 52.

[4] Girma Negash Ture (n 2), 38. See also David Anderson, Susan Beckerleg, Degol Hailu, and Axel Klein, The Khat Controversy: Stimulating the Debate on Drugs (1st edn, 2007), 58 and Gessesse Dessie, “Favoring a Demonized Plant: Khat and Ethiopian Smallholder Enterprises” (2013), 22.

[5] Obiajulu Nnamuchi, “Health and Millennium Development Goals in Africa: Deconstructing the Thorny Path to Success”, in Brigit Toebes, Rhonda Ferguson, Milan M. Markovic, and Obiajulu Nnamuchi (eds), “The Right to Health, A Multi-Country Study of Law, Policy, and Practice” (2014), 31.

[6] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, “General Comment No. 1: Article 19 (1) – The Aims of Education” (17 April 2001) CRC/GC/2001/1 para 9. See also United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Tuvalu (March 2020) CRC/C/TUV/CO/2-5 para 18.

[7] UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, “General Comment No. 13: The Right to Education (Art. 13)” (December 19990) E/C.12/1999/10 para 6.

[8] Ibid para 15.

[9] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, “General Comment No. 16 on State Obligations Regarding the Impact of the Business Sector on Children’s Rights” (17 April 2013) CRC/C/GC/16 para 37.

[10] See Ibid para 37. 

[11] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Brazil (October 2015) CRC/C/BRA/CO/2-4 para 82 (a).

[12] Ibid para 82 (b).