Eritrea is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor domestically, and to a lesser extent, forced prostitution and labor abroad. Tens of thousands of persons continue to flee the country, many escaping the government’s mandatory national service program. Under the Proclamation of National Service (No. 82/1995), persons aged 18 to 50 years must perform national service. For persons aged 18 to 40 years, this consists of six months of military training and 12 months of service in a government-run work unit, including the Eritrean Defense Forces, for a total of 18 months; persons over 40 are considered to be on reserve status if they have performed active duty service. The emergency situation declared in 1998 as a result of a border war with Ethiopia remained in effect during the year. Despite the 18-month limit on active duty national service under the 1995 proclamation, many persons are not demobilized from government work units as scheduled after their mandatory periods of service ended, and some are forced to serve indefinitely in the military under threats of detention, torture, or punishment of their families. Persons performing national service are prohibited from resigning from their jobs or taking new employment, generally receive no promotions or salary increases, and often cannot leave the country legally because they are denied passports or exit visas. Those performing national service in the Eritrean military carry out standard patrols and border-monitoring, in addition to public works projects such as agricultural terracing, road maintenance, and laying power lines. Working conditions are often harsh and sometimes involve physical abuse. In the past, there were reports that some Eritrean conscripts were forced to build private homes for army officers, perform agricultural labor on farms owned by the ruling party, or work in privately-owned mines, functions that fall outside the scope of the proclamation.
All 12th-grade students, including some younger than 18, are required to complete their final year of education at the Sawa military and educational camp; those who refuse to attend cannot receive high school graduation certificates, go on to higher education, or be offered some types of jobs. The first six months consist of military training prior to military service. Though the government made an effort to ensure that no persons under 18 engaged in military training at Sawa, it was difficult to determine whether all those performing the military training component had reached 18 years of age. The media reported that male and female recruits at the Sawa military training camp were beaten, and female recruits reported being sexually abused and raped; however, the number of claims of abuse reportedly declined in the last year as parents put pressure on school administrators to correct abusive practices. In 2012, the government instituted a compulsory citizen militia, requiring adults not already in the military or being trained at Sawa, including many who had been demobilized or exempted from military service in the past, to carry firearms and attend military training. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Education continued Mahtot, a national service program in which secondary-school children are assigned to work in public works projects including anti-litter campaigns and building school furniture. Eritrean children work in various economic sectors, including domestic service, street vending, small-scale manufacturing, garages, bicycle repair shops, tea and coffee shops, metal workshops, and agriculture; some of these children may be subjected to forced labor, including forced begging. Eritrean women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within the country.
Eritreans fleeing national service, persecution, or seeking economic opportunities abroad primarily migrate to Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, and Yemen; in 2013, new migration routes extended from Sudan to Libya and from Libya to Europe. The government’s strict exit control procedures and limited issuance of passports and exit visas effectively oblige those who wished to travel abroad to do so clandestinely, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. As of December 2013, Sudan hosted an estimated 114,900 Eritrean refugees and asylum-seekers, with 400-600 Eritreans arriving to Sudan per month. Eritreans accounted for 78,974 of Ethiopia’s registered asylum-seeker population; from October to December 2013, 3,496 new Eritrean asylum-seekers registered in Ethiopia. Smaller numbers of Eritrean refugees and asylum-seekers were registered in Uganda, Yemen, and Djibouti in the reporting period. Some fleeing Eritreans face being shot and killed by Eritrean or Egyptian authorities or are forcibly repatriated to Eritrea, where they are sometimes detained without charge by the Eritrean government, or recalled into national service. Adolescent children who attempt to leave Eritrea are sometimes detained or forced to undergo military training despite being younger than the minimum service age of 18. Some Eritreans become victims of forced labor, primarily domestic servitude, in Sudan, Egypt, Israel, Yemen, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, or other Gulf countries. Eritrean women and girls are sometimes recruited to travel to Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states for domestic work with employment contracts that provide them with visas and work permits but are forced to engage in prostitution after they arrive. Smaller numbers of Eritrean women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking in South Sudan, Sudan, Israel, and Gulf countries; some Eritrean men are reportedly vulnerable to sex trafficking in Israel. International criminal groups seek out and—more frequently over the last couple of years—kidnap vulnerable Eritreans inside and outside of refugee camps, particularly in Sudan, and transport them to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. In the Sinai, migrants and refugees are subjected to severe abuses, including human trafficking, at the hands of criminal groups. Abuse often consists of being forced to call family and friends abroad to pay ransom for release; some migrants and refugees report being forced to work as cleaners or on construction sites during their captivity. Victims of these criminal groups also report being chained together, whipped and beaten regularly, deprived of food, and repeatedly raped.
The Government of Eritrea does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government did not report data regarding efforts to combat human trafficking, as distinct from human smuggling. The government continued to subject its citizens to forced labor of a non-military nature in its compulsory national service, often for periods of indefinite duration, and in its citizen militia, whose members were also sometimes obliged to carry out public works such as tree-planting and dam- building. The government failed to identify and adequately protect victims of forced labor and sex trafficking, and it continued to arrest and detain unidentified victims for acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as immigration and prostitution violations. Although the government continued to warn its citizens of the dangers of trafficking, authorities largely lacked understanding of the crime, conflating it with all forms of transnational migration. The government took no effective measures to stem the exodus of thousands of Eritreans fleeing the country every month to seek economic opportunities abroad via clandestine migration that increased their vulnerability to forced labor and sex trafficking abroad.
Recommendations for Eritrea:
Develop and enforce an anti-trafficking statute that prohibits all forms of trafficking, including sex trafficking and forced labor, differentiating between illegal migration and human trafficking; investigate allegations of conscripts being forced to perform duties beyond the scope of the national service program and prosecute and punish, as appropriate, those who subjected recruits to exploitative labor; enforce existing limits on the length of national service to 18 months and cease the use of threats and physical punishment for non-compliance; extend existing labor protections to persons performing national service and other mandatory citizen duties; ensure that children under 18 sent to Sawa, the military school, do not participate in activities that amount to military service and that children under 18 are not forced to perform work of a non-military nature; ensure that victims are not punished for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as prostitution violations and fleeing government-sponsored forced labor; cooperate with UN agencies to combat trafficking and allow international NGOs to operate in the country, including those helping to combat trafficking and identifying and protecting victims; institute trafficking awareness training for diplomats posted overseas; with assistance from international organizations, provide training to all levels of government, particularly law enforcement officials, on identifying and responding to trafficking crimes; in partnership with NGOs or religious entities, ensure the provision of short-term protective services to child trafficking victims; conduct campaigns to increase the general public’s awareness of human trafficking at the local, regional, and national levels; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The government did not make transparent efforts to investigate or prosecute trafficking offenders, which it did not identify as distinct from human smuggling offenders. Article 605 of the Eritrean Transitional Criminal Code prohibits trafficking in women and young persons for sexual exploitation, which is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment or from three to 10 years’ imprisonment if aggravating circumstances are present. These penalties are sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 565 prohibits enslavement and prescribes punishment of five to 20 years’ imprisonment, penalties which are sufficiently stringent. Forced labor and slavery are prohibited except where authorized by law under Article 16 of the ratified, but suspended, Eritrean Constitution. Article 3 (sub-paragraph 17) of the 2001 Labor Proclamation specifically excludes activities performed under national service or other civic obligations from the definition of forced labor. Existing labor protections limiting hours of work and prohibiting harsh conditions did not apply to persons engaged in national service. The Proclamation of National Service 11/199 prohibits the recruitment of children younger than 18 years of age into the armed forces. The penalties are sufficiently stringent.
The government did not report efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking offenders in 2013. Though the government issued public statements on the arrests of an unknown number of traffickers, the details of these arrests are unclear and the government does not distinguish between human smuggling and human trafficking crimes. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking. Some reports indicated that Eritrean diplomats abroad, particularly those in Khartoum, Sudan, allegedly facilitated the provision of travel documents and legal services for Eritrean nationals abroad—some of whom may be trafficking victims—in exchange for gifts or inflated fees. In early 2013, the government established a branch of the National Security Agency to investigate economic crimes of national security importance, including human trafficking, but it was unclear whether this branch initiated any trafficking investigations—distinct from smuggling investigations—during the reporting period. The government did not report providing training to officials on responding to trafficking crimes, nor did it report whether it provided training that addressed any child soldier issues to the Eritrean Defense Forces.
The government made few apparent efforts to identify or provide protection to trafficking victims. The government did not have procedures in place to identify trafficking victims among deported Eritreans or persons forcibly removed by Eritrean security forces from neighboring countries. The government did not ensure that potential trafficking victims were not arrested or detained; Eritrean nationals who were deported back to the country and those fleeing Eritrea—some of whom may be trafficking victims—were highly vulnerable to being arrested, detained, tortured, forced to pay fines, and even shot on sight by military forces. The government did not demonstrate efforts to identify potential victims among this vulnerable group. The government was not transparent about its efforts to ensure that children under the age of 18 did not participate in activities that amounted to military service and were not forced to perform work of a non- military nature. The local Eritrean media continued to report government efforts to repatriate women and girls exploited abroad in domestic servitude or sex trafficking, but it did not provide information on the type of assistance provided to these victims. The government did not provide victims with legal alternatives for their removal to countries where they faced retribution or hardship.
The government made weak efforts to prevent trafficking. Its efforts to prevent this crime were difficult to evaluate as it tended to regard all transnational migration as human trafficking. Warnings issued by government-sponsored organizations such as the Youth Association, Women’s Association, and Workers’ Federation incorporated information about the dangers of trafficking into their regular programming, as well as through mass convocations, television programs, and poster campaigns. Though the Ministry of Labor was responsible for investigating labor abuses, the government did not report information on its efforts to punish labor brokers or recruiters. In January 2014, the MFA accepted a longstanding request from an international organization to visit Eritrea for consultations on issues including forced military conscription and human trafficking, among other issues. In December 2013, the Foreign Ministry invited international organizations to visit Eritrea to discuss humanitarian and development cooperation, including anti-trafficking issues. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor, and it did not take measures to address child sex tourism of Eritrean nationals both domestically and abroad. Eritrea is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.