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.
Hiwot was taken to a military training camp when she was 17 years old. She was subjected to starvation, rape and beatings for six months until her parents came looking for her and brought documentation to prove she was not yet 18.
In 2011, I was 17 years old, and I quarrelled with my family who live in Seneafe, and went to Asmara. As soon as I got off the bus in Asmara, I was caught by security people and taken to Wia military training camp. I told them that I was only 17, but they did not care.
There, I did military training. In one battalion there were 29 other children with me. I did not have any change of clothes. I was starving. They gave us one small piece of bread each and a cup of tea for breakfast and inadequate food for lunch and dinner. If we arrived late for meals, there was nothing.
The officer in charge raped me twice. He told me no one should know about it. He said if I told people, he would punish me severely.
The guards beat us without any reason. I missed my family a lot. I was terrified, depressed and desperate.
Six months later, in 2012, my parents came looking for me and they came with some documentation to show them that I was still a minor. At that time my health was seriously deteriorating, so I was allowed to go home with my parents.
Narrative provided by Human Rights Concern Eritrea