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Ethiopian adolescent Sheshig writing on blackboard at school in Amhara Region. Plan International / Petterik Wiggers


Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous country, is highly diverse in terms of cultures, languages and religion—making generalisations difficult. That said, on a national level it has made remarkable economic progress since the turn of the millennium.  The world’s poorest country in 2000, high growth rates have slashed its poverty rate to only 26%.  Many Ethiopians, however, remain highly vulnerable. The country’s per capita income in 2015 was not quite one-third the regional average (about $600 versus $1,600).  Furthermore, severe land fragmentation, which is driven by high fertility, is forcing an increasing number of families to survive on “micro-farms”, meaning that future progress is likely to slow.

Ethiopia’s population is young; over 50 per cent of Ethiopians are children younger than 18.  Furthermore, it is one of seven countries that account for half of all adolescents worldwide.

Education and learning: over the past two decades, Ethiopia has made remarkable progress in expanding the public education system. The female primary school net enrolment increased from 20% to 84% between 1996 and 2012. However, girls still have higher dropout and repetition rates, and their higher education participation rates are still low.

Bodily integrity: although the law sets the legal minimum age of marriage at 18, child marriage continues to be widespread, with 41% of women aged 20–24 having married before the age 18 and 16% having married before age 15. In a large-scale survey of nearly 10,000 youth aged 12–24 years, 17% of urban female respondents reported having experienced domestic violence compared with 11% of rural respondents.

Sexual and reproductive health: although overall use of contraception is increasing, only 5% of girls—including those who are married--aged 15–19 years use contraception.

Nutrition: women who married before the age of 15 are 16 times more likely to be undernourished than those who married between the ages of 18 and 19. This has devastating consequences not only for themselves, but also for their children, as their bodies are too malnourished to support a healthy pregnancy. 

Psychosocial wellbeing: according to Ministry of Health data, mental illness affects between 12% and 25% of children and adolescents in Ethiopia.

Voice and agency: due to economic factors and progressive government laws and policies, the social norms that restrict girls’ lives are slowly changing. Compared to a generation ago, girls today can join girls’ clubs and have positive female role models.

Economic empowerment: young people in general are more likely to be un- and under-employed than adults, and girls and young women are disadvantaged compared with their male counterparts. They are largely confined to the informal economy, which offers poor pay and few protections.