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Child Labour in Somalia – A Legal Analysis

Source: UNICEF

ANALYSIS Lisa Strube 04 June 2021

According to UNICEF, there are 218 million working children between the ages of 5 and 17 years worldwide. 152 million of these working children are so-called child labourers[1], meaning they are children who are forced to work under conditions which violate their rights and endanger their development. Child labour is an enormous problem, particularly in countries of the Global South. This is also the case in the East African country Somalia; a country dominated by numerous civil wars in the past[2], which have had a significant impact on the current political and social situation in the country. Politically, the country is in a volatile situation, and Somalia continues to face environmental and humanitarian challenges. Furthermore, extremist groups continue to cause unrest in the country. These are some of many circumstances that enable and foster child labour.[3]

Current figures show that in the north eastern zone of Somalia 9.5% of all children between the ages of 5 and 14 are working. In Somaliland, the percentage is even higher, 13.2%.[4] The most common sectors in which children work in Somalia include agriculture, households and industry. However, “Children in Somalia engage [also] in the worst forms of child labor, including in armed conflict. Children also perform dangerous tasks in street work.”[5] The perpetrators who benefit from child labour are therefore farmers, companies, sex traffickers, non-state armed groups like the al Shabaab and in the past also the Somali national army. But also consumers from the Global North are involved, when it comes to child labour in the industry, from which especially the western countries make profit. Only the children do not profit from the exploitation of their labour. Many poor Somalian families feel forced to send their children to work because theyare dependent on the additional income. In addition to this, many schools have been destroyed during the civil wars. In many cases in which children have the possibility to receive an education, this is made unavailable through the prevalence of armed conflicts. This is why especially children who grow up in rural areas often have no other option than to work at a young age. Therefore, it is important not to simply prohibit child labour, because this would not tackle the problem at its roots. Rather, a legal framework needs to be established that ensures the protection of children, especially working children suffering from exploitation and undignified work that endangers their physical and mental development.[6]  In the same way, alternatives to child labour must be created for poor families. If measures against general poverty are implemented, this simultaneously strengthens the children’s environment and lowers the risk that they have to work at an early age.

International Law and Somalia’s Lack of Ratification

Regarding the existing legal framework, there are numerous international and regional agreements which address child labour. In the case of Somalia, it is problematic that the state has ratified only a few of these documents. Consequently, documents which have not been ratified will not be applied in national law and cannot take effect in Somali society. International key documents include protocols of the International Labor Organization (ILO) such as the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment Convention (C 138), which is not yet ratified by Somalia or the Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (C 182) which, on the other hand, has been ratified by Somalia. So has been the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  At the regional level of the African Union the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter) is the only treaty regarding child labour Somalia has ratified. The Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), as well as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRC) and the African Youth Charter (AYC) are also important regional treaties when it comes to child labour, but they have not been ratified by Somalia.[7] At the national level, it is worth mentioning that the Somali Constitution of 2012 refers to child labour in Article 29 (3): “No child may perform work or provide services that are not suitable for the child’s age or create a risk to the child’s health or development in any way.”[8] In addition, there are some policies that combat child labor. These include the Child Soldier Action Plan, the National Development Plan, and the United Nations Strategic Framework

As we can see, there is a legal framework in place regarding child labour, albeit one that can still be developed further.[9] Nonetheless, no legal framework can take effect without ratification. Therefore, an important step for the future must be, that Somalia ratifies existing international and regional agreements and also adheres to them. The worst form of child labour must be banned. Children have the right to grow up in a child-friendly environment. Under no circumstances children should have to do work that affects their physical or mental well-being. In most cases, child labour has a serious negative impact on children’s development, which they have to deal with for the rest of their lives. And yet, the Somali government is currently very reluctant to act, although in order to bring about long-term change, the government in particular must become more involved. A comprehensive legal framework is already in existence, ratification must follow and more importantly, implementation must be guaranteed. The state must do everything in its power to ensure that degrading and dangerous child labour is prohibited by law and that the respective authorities ensure the protection of children’s rights.

Lisa Strube is a former student assistant at the Chair of African Legal Studies at the University of Bayreuth. At the moment she is persuing her Master degree of Human Rights Studies at the University of Fulda.


[1] Cf. UNICEF (n.d.).

[2] See: Is Civil War Coming to Somalia? – africanlegalstudies.blog

[3] Cf. Balthasar, D., (2020).

[4] Cf. US Department of Labor (2019), p. 1.

[5] US Department of Labor (2019), p. 1.

[6] Cf. Balthasar, D., (2020).

[7] Cf. US Department of Labor (2019), p. 3f.

[8] Somali Constitution 2012, Art. 29 (3).

[9] Cf. US Department of Labor (2019), p. 6f.

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