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. In 2007, like other adolescents in the Northeast African country of Eritrea, Luwam Estifanos was taken to Sawa, a military camp near the Sudanese border. Luwam was forced to get up 5.30am, run for two hours before sunrise, followed by 12 hours of weapons training, marching and cleaning. She recalls how girls were forced to engage in the same activities as boys however they are also subjected to sexual assault. Luwam was finally able to escape in 2010, making a 12-hour trek through the desert into Sudan. After a year in Sudan, Luwam travelled to Uganda and following one refusal and months of waiting, was eventually granted asylum in Norway with the rest of her family.
Sabitha-Jayanthi became a child soldier in Sri Lanka at the age of 13. In Sri Lanka, children as young as nine have been abducted and used in combat by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE used children as soldiers throughout its conflict with the Sri Lankan government, between 1983 and 2002. Children—most aged 14 or 15 and over 40 percent girls—were used for massed frontal attacks in major battles, and some between the ages of 12 and 14 were used to massacre women and children in rural villages. Others were used as human mine detectors, assassins and suicide bombers. A ceasefire was implemented in February 2002, but this didn’t halt the LTTE’s use of child soldiers. In fact, children were more likely to be forcibly recruited: people saw no reason to give their children to the LTTE if they did not perceive themselves at risk by the government, and so the LTTE resorted to abduction. In 1994, one in 19 child recruits was abducted. By 2004, only one in 19 was a volunteer.