Child labour in Addis Ketema, Ethiopia : a study in mental health

Abstract: Background: Child labour is a very common global problem. There are an estimated over 250 million in the world, and about 7.5 million child labourers in Ethiopia. Most of the studies available to date focus on the social, political, and economical issues, but very little on mental health or psychosocial problems of child labourers. There is no study describing the epidemiology of psychiatric disorders among this group of children. Aims: 1. to assess the level of awareness and attitude of an urban community on child labour. 2. to describe the patterns of child labour and the experiences of child labourers in the informal sector with emphasis to child domestic labour. 3. to determine the risk factors contributing to child abuse and psychiatric disorders in child labourers. Method: An initial qualitative survey, using key informants in a Rapid Assessment Procedure, was conducted in a central urban area of Addis Ababa, to determine the knowledge, attitude, and intervention priorities of the people on child labour. A cross-sectional quantitative study informed by this initial survey was conducted in a sampled population of 5-15 year old child labourers and non-economically active controls. Information about possible risk factors, socio-demography and child abuse were gathered using a questionnaire different from that used for mental health assessment. An Amharic translation of the Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescents (DICA) was used to collect data for symptoms of mental disorders and diagnosis was made according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 3rd edition (DSM-III-R) criteria. Data analysis was done using Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) software. Results: Domestic labour, working in the streets, and in private enterprises were the three main types of child labour identified. These types of child labour were identified by 82% (n=158) key informants, who thought child labour was a social problem, mainly resulting from poverty, and associated with abuse. In the quantitative study (5-15 year old sample) 528 child labourers and 472 non-labourers were included in the study. Of the child labourers, 34% were engaged in domestic labour, 57% working in the streets, and 9% in private enterprises. Over half of the child labourers worked for more than 9 hours daily. The prevalence of child abuse was 43.9% and 17.2% among child labourers and controls, respectively (OR=3.7, 95% CI: 2.74, 5.09; p<0.001). Emotional abuse was the commonly encountered abuse compared to other types (OR=3.06, 95% CI: 2.23-4.20; p< 0.001). Child domestics and street labourers were the most vulnerable group. The prevalence of any DSM-III-R psychiatric disorder was 20.1% and 12.5% among child labourers and controls, respectively and the difference was statistically significant (OR=1.89, 95% CI: 1.34-2.67, p<0.01). Controlling for all socio-demographic factors, child labour status was the only significant factor in determining DSM-III-R diagnosis. Discussion: In a comparable group of child labourers and controls, child labourers were found to be a high-risk group for different types of abuse and psychiatric disorders. Although parental unemployment and low maternal education were associated with child labour, the only factor that was associated with psychiatric morbidity was being a child labourer. It seems that poverty is not the only reason for child labour; hence its mere alleviation alone is unlikely to dramatically improve the risk for child labour and mental health of the children. There are many motivating reasons to be a child labourer, and likewise various positive and negative maintaining factors. Therefore, not all child labourers are prepared to stop their paid job altogether in order to become a full time student. Recommendation: Education of all children and parents is a keystone to prevent child labour and the associated consequences. In enforcing legislations on child labour, the government, non-governmental organisation (NGO), and the public should view child labour as a menace in children’s development, with risk of psychiatric disorders. Policy design should accommodate the interests of children. It is recommended to do a cohort and a larger size study, in order to further examine the association of various risk factors, and psychiatric disorders in a comparative and similar vulnerable group of children.