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Ethiopia: Information on the recruitment of young Ethiopian males, between 10 to 15 years old, for military service in Ethiopia

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 August 1989
Citation / Document Symbol ETH1961
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ethiopia: Information on the recruitment of young Ethiopian males, between 10 to 15 years old, for military service in Ethiopia, 1 August 1989, ETH1961, available at: [accessed 25 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.


In 1983 Military Service in Ethiopia was made compulsory for males between the ages of 18-30, while those aged 30-50 were required to enlist for reserve duty. The 30 month term of service consists of six months training and two years active duty. [Amnesty International, Conscientious Objection to Military Service, (London: February 1988), Annex 2, pp. 1-19.] All men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 undergo the six month reserve training. [Europa Year Book 1988: A World Survey, (London: Europa Publications, 1988), p. 989.]

However, in its resolve to keep up the pressure against various insurgencies, the Ethiopian government has increasingly resorted to forced military recruitment of teenagers. According to a 26 May 1989 issue of Africa Confidential, "During the night of 23 April, which was Palm Sunday for Eastern Christians and the beginning of the most holy week of the year, it is estimated that 10,000 youngsters were picked up in Addis Abeba alone. It seems each Kebelle (the basic neighbourhood administrative unit) had a quota of conscripts to fill. In the frequent absence of birth certificates, weight was used to determine age. Consequently, boys as young as 13 years old were forced into the army." ["Ethiopia: A blow by blow account", Africa Confidential, 26 May 1989, p.2.] A May 1989 article in The Economist corroborates this reported forced recruitment of young boys; "Mr. Mengestu is set on fighting. To the disgust of some generals, he has kidnapped thousands of teenagers and sent them off to fight with barely any training." ["Ethiopia's Coup: Mengistu's tottering empire", The Economist, 20-26 May 1989, p. 50.]

 Conscientious objection to military service is not recognized and there have been reports of arrests and imprisonment of people refusing conscription. In addition, relatives of those who evade conscription have reportedly faced reprisals like arrest and detention. [Amnesty Report 1988, (London: Amnesty International, 1988), p.38.] According to the U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, there have also been some confirmed reports of summary executions of young males accused of evasion of military service. [Country Reports on Human Rights Practices For 1988, (Washington: U.S. Department of State, 1989), p.109.]

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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