As reported over the past five years, Eritrea is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor. To a significantly lesser extent, Eritrean adults and children are subjected to sex and labor trafficking abroad. Perennially, thousands of Eritreans who fled the country sought to escape human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrest and detention, lack of due process, and religious persecution; were in search of better economic opportunities; or hoped to avoid the often indefinite periods of the government’s forced labor through its national policies and mandatory programs. Eritrea’s strict exit control procedures and limited issuance of passports, which compel those who cannot obtain exit visas or documents to travel clandestinely, increase its nationals’ vulnerability to trafficking abroad, primarily in Sudan, Ethiopia, and to a lesser extent Djibouti and Libya, with the ultimate goal of seeking asylum in Europe or at a minimum, obtaining refugee status in Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, or Uganda; some also strive to reach the United States. 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 active military and development tasks in military forces or in a government-run work unit, including the Eritrean defense forces. However, the 18-month timeframe is arbitrary and unenforced; many individuals are not demobilized from government work units after their mandatory period of service but rather forced to serve indefinitely under threats of detention, torture, or familial reprisal. In 2012, the government instituted a compulsory citizen militia, requiring medically fit adults up to age 70 not currently in the military to carry firearms and attend military training or participate in unpaid 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 age 18, are required to complete their final year of secondary education at the Sawa military and training academy; those who refuse to attend cannot receive high school graduation certificates, attain higher education, or be offered some types of jobs. Government policy bans persons younger than 18 from military conscription; however, according to some organizations outside of Eritrea, the government in some instances includes children younger than age 18 in groups sent to Sawa. Reports from an international organization in previous years indicated some recruits may have been subjected to beatings, abuse, and rape, though there are no confirmed cases of this kind in the current reporting period. The government continued Maetot, a national service program in which secondary-school children are assigned to work in public works projects, usually within the agricultural sector, during their summer holidays. Some Eritrean children are subjected to forced labor, including forced begging, and some women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within the country.
Unaccompanied minors are increasingly at risk of being subjected to violence and exploitation. 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 Gulf States for domestic work but are subsequently subjected to sex trafficking. Smaller numbers of Eritrean women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking in Sudan; reportedly, some Eritrean men are vulnerable to sex trafficking in Israel. International criminal groups kidnap vulnerable Eritreans living inside or in proximity to refugee camps, particularly in Sudan, and transport them primarily to Libya, where they are subjected to human trafficking and other abuses, including extortion for ransom. 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 their subjection to trafficking. Some Eritrean military and police officers are complicit in trafficking crimes along the border with Sudan.