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.
Binyam was 17 years old when he was imprisoned for planning to flee Eritrea.
I was 17 when I was imprisoned for 20 months until February 2013. I was accused of planning to flee the country. After my release, I was refused access to education. There were two 17-year-old girls in prison with me. They were imprisoned for four months and then sent to a military training camp called Miter. I had no news of them by the time I managed to escape Eritrea.
Narrative provided by Human Rights Concern Eritrea