Child labor and childhood behavioral and mental health problems in Ethiopia


  • Atalay Alem
  • Ababi Zergaw
  • Derege Kebede
  • Mesfin Araya
  • Minilik Desta
  • Tefera Muche
  • Debela Chali
  • Girmay Medhin


Abstract Background: According to ILO estimates, at least 180 million children aged 5 to 14 years are currently engaged in fulltime work in the developing countries. However, very little information exists about childhood behavioral and mental disorders in Ethiopia. Objective: The objectives of this study are to estimate the prevalence and describe the nature of behavioral and mental health problems, as well as child abuse, nutritional problems, gross physical illness and injury among child laborers aged 8 to 15 years in Ethiopia. However, only the behavioral and mental health problems of the study population are examined here. Method: A cross-sectional survey of children aged 8 to 15 years, and who were engaged in fulltime work in different formal and informal sectors non-laborers, was conducted in four major towns of Ethiopia. The screening instrument known as Reported Questionnaire on Children (RQC) and a diagnostic instrument known as the Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescents ( DICA) were used to detect symptoms and signs of behavioral and mental problems in the children. Results: A total of 2000 child laborers and 400 non-laborers were interviewed using RQC to screen for probable cases of behavioral and mental problems. Of these, 50% of the laborers and 42% of the non-laborers were males. The mean age of the laborers was 13.8 ± 1.8 years while that of the non-laborers was 12.2 ± 2.1 years. More females (76.8%) were found to have been engaged in domestic labor than males. The RQC interview screened 9.4% (n=226) of the children as probable cases of mental/ behavioral disorders, (14.0% non-laborers and 8.5% laborers). The second stage DICA interview gave an overall prevalence of 5.5% (4.9% in laborers and 8.8% in non-laborers). Conclusion: The prevalence of childhood behavioral and mental disorders in this study is within the range reported in previews studies conducted on children of the same age group. However, the lower prevalence of childhood disorders in the child laborers compared to that of the non-laborers found in the current study is probably due to selection bias or healthy workers effect. Thus, further study is recommended to explain this unexpected finding. [Ethiop.J.Health Dev. 2000;20(2):119-126]




How to Cite

Alem, A., Zergaw, A., Kebede, D., Araya, M., Desta, M., Muche, T., Chali, D., & Medhin, G. (2016). Child labor and childhood behavioral and mental health problems in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Journal of Health Development, 20(2). Retrieved from

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