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.
Segen was 14 years old when she tried to flee Eritrea. However she was caught and imprisoned. In prison she was subjected to unhygienic conditions, and physical abuse.
I was 14 when I tried to flee the country. I was arrested and imprisoned in Number 13 Security Prison for 20 months and only released, because I was very ill, after paying 5000 Nakfa. When I was first caught, they gave me a very bad beating.
The prison conditions were so bad. You had to relieve yourself and empty your bowels in a bucket left in the cell, which was shared with others. The bucket might not be removed for a very long time. There were four other minors but I was the youngest. If I had not become very ill, they would have sent me to do military training. On one occasion, the officer in charge of the prison threw me on the ground and trampled on me.
Narrative provided by Human Rights Concern Eritrea