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.
Kidane was 16 years old when he was sent for military training at Sawa. After training he was forced to work in farming and construction, until he was able to flee the country in 2012.
I was 16 years old when I was rounded up in March 2008 in May Dema in Zoba Debub region. I was sent for military training in Sawa, and when I finished I was assigned to Military Unit 33. I was forced to work in government farms, in construction and digging trenches. There were 27 other under-age children who were trained with me. In November 2012, I fled the country.
Narrative provided by Human Rights Concern Eritrea