Betwixt and Between: Adolescent Transitions and Social Policy Lacunae in Ethiopia


Many adolescents in Ethiopia face difficulties in successfully transitioning to healthy adulthood. This can stem from challenges experienced by two unique phenomenon: ‘early adulthood’ where adolescents are forced into adult responsibilities too early; and ‘waithood’ where adolescents are unable to obtain the foundations they need to successfully move into adulthood. This paper uses the lens of these two opposing challenges to explore adolescents’ ability to successfully transition into adulthood and examine how far social policies support these transitions. It uses qualitative and quantitative data from the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) study on adolescents and young adults, their caregivers and key informants, from diverse rural, urban and pastoralist settings in Ethiopia. Our findings show that adolescent transitions are impacted by a range of diverse barriers with high levels of unsupported adolescents facing early adulthood or waithood. As such, we find that adolescents are being failed by social policies at each end of the spectrum. Social policies could provide a foundation to support these adolescents, yet we find that many are insufficiently age-disaggregated to take into account their diverse needs. In order to appropriately support these individuals in transitioning to healthy adulthood, social policies need to be targeted at adolescents throughout each stage of their transition. Furthermore, such comprehensive age- and gender-responsive social protection should be complemented with wider programming, such as awareness building, skills training, and adolescent-friendly health and mental health services.

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Fig. 1

Data Availability

The datasets produced and analysed during this study are available here: SN 8597—Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence: Ethiopia Baseline, 2017–2018


  1. 1.

    ‘Youth bulge’ describes the common phenomenon of a high proportion of children and youth in the population, which has the potential to provide a large youth labour force but without adequate support will result in high levels of youth unemployment.

  2. 2.

    For example, the Ministry of Women, Child and Youth (MoWCY) GTP II Sectoral Plan (2015/16–2019/20); the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II) (2015/16–2019/20; and the National Costed Roadmap to.

    End Child Marriage and FGM/C 2020–2024.

  3. 3.

    The name of the company is anonymised.

  4. 4.

    The African Charter on the Welfare and Rights of the Child, which is included in the Ethiopian Constitution, states that adolescents can be involved in work which does not interfere with their education and health as of age 14.

  5. 5.

    Means in all tables are weighted to make results representative of the study areas. Differences between subgroups that are statistically significant at p < 0.05 are denoted with an X, while those that are statistically significant at p < 0.10 are denoted with an O.


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The authors wish to thank Paul May for his copy-editing work.


GAGE is a longitudinal research programme funded by Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) as part of UK Aid.

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Megan Devonald, Nicola Jones and Workneh Yadete: qualitative data analysis and writing. Joan Hamory Hicks quantitative data analysis and writing.

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Correspondence to Megan Devonald.

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Devonald, M., Jones, N., Hamory, J. et al. Betwixt and Between: Adolescent Transitions and Social Policy Lacunae in Ethiopia. Childhood Vulnerability (2021).

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