Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons


Eritrea is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor. To a lesser extent, Eritrean adults and children are subjected to sex and labor trafficking abroad. The government continues to be complicit in trafficking through the implementation of national policies and mandatory programs amounting to forced labor within the country; it has also increased citizens’ vulnerability to trafficking abroad. Proclamation 82 of 1995 requires persons aged 18 to 40 years to perform compulsory active national service for a period of 18 months—six months of military training followed by 12 months of service in a government-run work unit, including the Eritrean Defense Forces. However, the 18-month timeframe is arbitrary and unenforced; many persons are not demobilized from government work units after their mandatory period of service and are forced to serve indefinitely under threats of detention, torture, or familial punishment. In 2012, the government instituted a compulsory citizen militia, requiring medically fit adults up to the age of 70 and not currently in the military to carry firearms and attend military training or participate in national development programs such as soil and water conservation projects. Working conditions are often harsh and sometimes involve physical abuse.

All 12th-grade students, including some younger than 18, are required to complete their final year of secondary education at the Sawa military and educational camp; those who refuse to attend cannot receive high school graduation certificates, attain higher education, or be offered some types of jobs. Though government policy bans persons younger than 18 from military conscription, it was undetermined whether all persons compelled to enter Sawa had reached 18 years of age. Reports indicate male and female recruits at Sawa are beaten, and female recruits sexually abused and raped. The Ministry of Education continued Maetot, a national service program in which secondary-school children are assigned to work in public works projects including in the agricultural sector during their summer holidays. Some Eritrean children are subjected to forced labor, including forced begging. Some Eritrean women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within the country.

Thousands of Eritreans continue to flee the country monthly to escape forced labor or governmental persecution, as well as to seek better economic opportunities. The government’s strict exit control procedures and limited issuance of passports and exit visas effectively oblige those who wish to travel abroad to do so clandestinely, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. 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 Eritrean women and girls travel to Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states for domestic work, but are subjected to sex trafficking upon arrival. Smaller numbers of Eritrean women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking in South Sudan, Sudan, and Israel; some Eritrean men are reportedly vulnerable to sex trafficking in Israel. International criminal groups kidnap vulnerable Eritreans living inside and near refugee camps, particularly in Sudan, and transport them to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and to a greater extent Libya, where they are subjected to human trafficking and related abuses, such as 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. Reports allege Eritrean diplomats, particularly those posted in Sudan, provide travel documents and legal services to Eritrean nationals in exchange for bribes or inflated fees, potentially facilitating the trafficking of Eritrean nationals. Some Eritrean military and police officers are complicit in trafficking crimes along the border with Sudan.

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. It continued to subject its citizens to forced labor in compulsory national service, often for periods of indefinite duration, and its citizen militia. The government failed to investigate or prosecute any trafficking offenses and identify or protect any victims. It continued to arrest and detain unidentified victims for acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking or in the course of fleeing forced labor. Although the government continued to warn its citizens of the dangers of trafficking, authorities lacked understanding of the crime, conflating it with transnational migration.


Develop, enact, and enforce an anti-trafficking statute that criminalizes all forms of trafficking, including sex trafficking and forced labor, differentiating between emigration, smuggling, 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 responsible; enforce existing limits on the length of national service to 18 months and cease the use of threats and physical punishment for non-compliance; ensure children under 18 sent to Sawa, the military school, do not participate in activities that amount to military service and are not forced to work; ensure victims are not punished for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking or for fleeing government-sponsored forced labor; extend existing labor protections to persons performing national service and other mandatory citizen duties; with assistance from international organizations, provide training to all levels of government, including law enforcement officials and diplomats, 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; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.


The government failed to investigate, prosecute, or convict trafficking offenders during the reporting year. 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. These penalties are sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 565 prohibits enslavement and prescribes penalties of five to 20 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent. Labor Proclamation 118 of 2001 prohibits forced labor, though Article 3, sub-paragraph 17 of the 2001 Labor Proclamation specifically excludes national and military service or other civic obligations from the definition of forced labor. Existing labor protections were not applicable to persons engaged in compulsory national service. Although the government issued public statements on the arrest of an unknown number of traffickers, it failed to report the details of these cases and continued to conflate transnational migration and human trafficking crimes. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses, nor did it provide anti-trafficking training to law enforcement or military personnel.


The government demonstrated negligible efforts to identify or provide protection to trafficking victims. Government media continued to publicize official efforts to repatriate Eritrean females subjected to sex trafficking or domestic servitude abroad; however, it is unknown if these repatriations were voluntary. The government did not report providing assistance to these or any other victims. It failed to develop procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, including deported Eritreans or persons forcibly removed by Eritrean security forces from neighboring countries. Eritreans fleeing the country and those deported from abroad–including trafficking victims–were vulnerable to being arrested, detained, abused, forced to pay fines, recalled into national service, or shot by military forces. The government did not provide foreign victims with legal alternatives for their removal to countries where they faced retribution or hardship.


The government sustained minimal efforts to prevent trafficking. Its efforts to prevent this crime were difficult to evaluate, as it conflated transnational migration and human trafficking. The government engaged citizens on the dangers of trafficking through awareness-raising events and poster campaigns through the Women’s Association, Youth Association, and Workers’ Federation. While the Proclamation of National Service 11/199 prohibits the recruitment of children younger than 18 years of age into the armed forces and applies sufficiently stringent penalties for this crime, children under 18 allegedly continued to be sent to Sawa for completion of their final year of education. Furthermore, the government did not have procedures for verifying the age of new recruits into governmental armed forces and was not transparent about efforts to ensure that children did not participate in compulsory activities amounting to military service or other forms of forced labor. Though the Ministry of Labor was responsible for investigating labor abuses, the government did not report information on its efforts to punish unscrupulous labor brokers or recruiters. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. Eritrea is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.