There are an estimated 451,000 people living in modern slavery in Eritrea (GSI 2018). The small country has a unique system of compulsory, open-ended military service for citizens that makes it one of the most oppressive states in the world. The government has enforced its current policy of sending all secondary school students to serve for a minimum of twelve months since 2003. While Eritrean law puts the minimum conscription age at 18, many teenagers find themselves recruited during high school at age 16 or even younger. In rural areas, where formal education is rarer, the army will visit villages to round up young girls and boys who look roughly of age, to begin their program of combat training and forced labour.
Haile was 17 years old when he was taken for military training. He recalls the other minors in the training camp with him and how they were subjected to physical abuse and suffered from a lack of food.
In 2008 I was taken to Sawa for military training when I was 17. I stayed there until September 2009. I passed my exam and was sent to Mai Nefihi College. I studied until 2011. I fled Eritrea in July 2013.
There was another minor with me, he was 16 years old. He had a kidney problem, but did not get medical treatment. He died in August 2009.
There were 17 other minors in the training camp with me, among the 160 people in my unit. Life was very harsh, not enough food, harsh punishments, all sorts of abuses. Those who tried to escape were dealt with brutally.
Narrative provided by Human Rights Concern Eritrea