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.Heyab was caught trying to flee the country in 2009 when she was 16 years old and imprisoned for eight months. While in prison she was subjected to physical abuse and beatings.
I was born in Segeneyti in 1995. When I was a 10th grade student, I was caught trying to flee the country in 2009, when I was 16. I was sentenced to 8 months’ imprisonment, and was jailed in Tserona prison. After release, I was taken to May Sewra camp for military training. I completed this training in February 2011, and was assigned to the military unit in Egri Mekel.
The prison in Tserona was harsh. The prison authority asked me to pay 5,000 Nakfa (USD equivalent $250). Those who paid were released, but as my parents did not have money to pay, I served the 8 months’ sentence.
There were other four girls in the same prison, aged 16-17. Like me, they did not have money to pay the fine, so they served their sentences.
In prison, if you went to urinate without permission, they punished you. They told us to lie on the ground and crawl on our bellies while they beat us with sticks. When I was caught, for three days they poured buckets of water on me and beat me with a stick. I told them that my father died fighting in the border war with Ethiopia, and I had 4 young siblings and my mother had no one else to support her, but they did not care at all.
Narrative provided by Human Rights Concern Eritrea