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2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Eritrea

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Eritrea, 19 June 2012, available at: [accessed 22 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

ERITREA (Tier 3)

Eritrea is a source country for men, women, and children subjected forced labor and, to a lesser extent, sex trafficking. During the reporting period, forced labor occurred in Eritrea, particularly due to the country's national service program. Under the Proclamation of National Service (No. 82/1995), men aged 18 to 54 and women aged 18 to 47 are required to provide 18 months of military and non-military service in any location or capacity chosen by the government. Some national service conscripts, however, are required to continue their service indefinitely, beyond the duration specified by law, with many required to serve in their positions for more than 10 years under the threat of inhuman treatment, including harsh working conditions, torture, or punishment of their families. There continue to be reports that some Eritrean conscripts are forced to build private homes for army officers, as well as to perform agricultural labor on farms and construction activities for firms owned by the state, the ruling party, senior army officers, and private investors, functions that fall outside the scope of the proclamation. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Education continued Mahtot, a national program in which schools send children to build stone terraces, maintain roads, and lay power lines. The military's four command zones reportedly use conscripted labor to undertake diversified economic activities, including trading, farming, property development, and infrastructure construction, for the enrichment of the government, the ruling party, and high-ranking army officers. National service conscripts could not resign from their jobs or take new employment, received no promotions or salary increases, and could not leave the country because they were denied passports or exit visas. Some national service members were assigned to return to their civilian jobs while nominally kept in the military because their skills were deemed critical to the functioning of the government or the economy; these individuals continued to receive only their national service salary and were required to forfeit to the government any money they earned above and beyond that salary.

Eritrean children work in various economic sectors, including domestic service, street vending, small-scale manufacturing, and agriculture; child laborers frequently suffer abuse from their employers and some may be subjected to forced labor. In addition, children may be exploited in Eritrea's sex trade. Each year, tens of thousands of Eritrean workers migrate in search of work, particularly to the Gulf States and Egypt, where some become victims of forced labor, primarily in domestic servitude. Smaller numbers of Eritrean women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking inside the country and potentially in Gulf countries.

Over the past decade, large numbers of Eritreans have fled the country to find work or escape indefinite conscription. During the past three years, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Eritreans have escaped to refugee camps in eastern Sudan each month; traffickers seek out vulnerable Eritreans in the camps, some of whom were extorted and tortured as they were transported through the Sinai Peninsula. A significant number of fleeing Eritreans encounter serious risks of being shot and killed by Eritrean authorities, or forcibly repatriated to Eritrea, where they are at times tortured or killed by the Eritrean government. Adolescent children that attempt to leave Eritrea have been forced into military service despite being younger than the minimum service age of 18. As part of the requirements to complete their senior year of high school, adolescent children are also sent to Sawa, Eritrea's military academy, prior to their eighteenth birthday. Over the reporting period, there were numerous reports of Eritrean nationals being brutalized by smugglers operating in the Sinai; victims were often chained together, whipped and beaten regularly, deprived of food, raped, and forced to do construction work at gunpoint at smugglers' personal homes. Eritrean refugees were concerned that Eritrean and Sudanese officials colluded with smugglers to abduct Eritreans from Sudanese refugee camps, targeting those refugees that voiced dissent against the government or were prominent military figures.

The Government of the State 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 Eritrean government does not operate with transparency and did not publish data or statistics regarding any effort to combat human trafficking; it did not respond to requests to provide information for this report.

Recommendations for Eritrea: Pass and enforce a comprehensive anti-trafficking statute that includes prohibitions against forced labor; launch a campaign to increase the general public's awareness of human trafficking at the local, regional, and national levels; cease indefinite conscription and the use of threats and physical punishment for non-compliance; cease sending children to Sawa, the military school; allow international NGOs to assist in combating trafficking in Eritrea; institute trafficking awareness training for diplomats posted overseas; provide training to all levels of government, particularly law enforcement officials, on identifying and responding to trafficking crimes; and in partnership with NGOs or religious entities, ensure the provision of short-term protective services to child trafficking victims.


The Government of the State of Eritrea made no known progress in prosecuting and punishing trafficking crimes over the reporting period. 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. Proclamation 11/199 prohibits the recruitment of children younger than 18 years of age into the armed forces. Though the penalties are sufficiently stringent, the government has never used these statutes to prosecute cases of human trafficking. The government did not publish information on its investigations or prosecutions, if any, of human trafficking offenses during the reporting period. Eritrea similarly did not report any law enforcement efforts against official complicity in trafficking offenses, such as the use of forced labor to build personal homes or for other personal gain of military officers and government officials. Forced labor of conscripts within the national service continued without any government effort to abate or eliminate this practice. The government provided no known training to its law enforcement officials on identifying and responding to trafficking crimes.


The government made no discernible efforts to protect victims of trafficking during the reporting period. The government did not report identifying any trafficking victims, and it has no known facilities dedicated to trafficking victims. During 2011, the government forced the few remaining international NGOs to leave Eritrea. It is not known whether the government encouraged victims' assistance in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes. The Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare oversees the government's trafficking portfolio, but individual cases of transnational human trafficking are reportedly handled by the Eritrean embassy in the country of destination; information regarding embassy efforts to assist trafficking victims was not provided. The government reported no efforts to train its diplomatic officials on identifying and responding to trafficking situations involving Eritreans overseas.


The government made no known efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. Eritrean media, all of which is state-owned, made neither public announcements nor media presentations regarding human trafficking during the reporting period. There were no anti-trafficking public awareness or other education campaigns. Although the government does not publicly acknowledge human trafficking as a problem, an office exists within the Ministry of Labor to handle labor cases, including human trafficking cases; the accomplishments of this office during the reporting period are unknown. The government made no known efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Eritrea is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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