The paper explores the views of caregivers and other adults on the nature and timing of transitions made by children aged 11 to 13 in five Ethiopian communities, spanning rural, peri-urban and urban locations. The three transitions selected are schooling, work and 'early' marriage for girls, which provides a gendered example of rites of passage that are engaged in alongside institutional transitions and affect their success or failure. Adult perspectives are the focus as these are assumed to be more strongly reflective of the community norms that shape children's transitions. The paper provides a summary of the legislative and programmatic background to key transitions (for example, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the structure of the Ethiopian schooling system and secondary data on school attendance, grade retention, etc.) before exploring each in turn.
It concludes that the rejection of government policies on marriage and education represents a critique of these rather than an attachment to 'traditional practices' which have become increasingly fragile as people respond to material poverty and environmental challenges. Policymakers need to understand and in some cases challenge 'invisible norms', but also recognise the visible economic constraints and limited opportunity structures that increase the appeal of child work or early marriage. In these communities, children's transitions are rarely linear, singular, or focused solely on 'learning', but are instead multiple and often contradictory. While children from poor communities and households are said to be constrained by their lack of opportunities, in fact their likelihood of making successful transitions is reduced by having too many potentially contradictory opportunities, too soon.