Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 3,719,000
    – under-18s: 1,885,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 200,000-250,000
    – reserves: 120,000
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 18
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 18
  • Voting age (government elections): transitional system
  • Child soldiers: indicated
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: ACRWC; CRC ; ILO 138
  • It is widely acknowledged that children were used as soldiers by Eritrea in the war of independence against Ethiopia. Children may have participated in the border conflict since 1998, in part due to lack of systematic birth registration. Recruits as young as 14 were reportedly used as reinforcements after Eritrea experienced massive military losses. Reports of a major new recruitment drive including children since the signing of the December 2000 peace accord have not been confirmed.


Border disputes between Eritrea and Ethiopia erupted into armed conflict in the Bamde region in May 1998 and turned into a full-scale war by 1999, resulting in an estimated 100,000 deaths and massive population displacement. In June 2000 Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a ceasefire agreement and a UN peacekeeping mission (UNMEE) was deployed. After signing a peace accord on 12 December 2000 Ethiopia and Eritrea began withdrawing troops, however in response to remaining tensions over the disputed buffer zone the UN announced the extension of its mandate to mid-September 2001.660

Eritrea faces sporadic internal armed opposition from the Sudan-based Islamic Salvation Movement, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and other Eritrean exile opposition groups.


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

Article 25 of Eritrea's constitution (July 1996) states that all citizens shall have the duty to: "(2) be ready to defend the country; (3) complete one's duty in the National Service."661 According to Articles 8 and 9 of the National Service Proclamation (No. 82/95, 23 October 1995), national service is obligatory for all Eritrean citizens between the ages of 18 and 40, both male and female.662 National service is 18 months, including a six-month induction period at Sawa in the north-west of the country.663 Military service includes non-military tasks such as development work, but is carried out within the armed forces and run by the Ministry of Defence. By October 1998, 120,000 people had undergone the 6-months training.664 Some 35% of the Eritrean armed forces are female.665

Child Recruitment

It is widely acknowledged that children were used as soldiers ("Red Flags") by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) during Eritrea's 30-year war of independence against Ethiopia. At the 1999 African Conference to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, the representative of Ethiopia denounced the use of hundreds of children by Eritrea, both before and after Independence, and circulated a list of Eritrean prisoners of war between ages 15 and 18.666 The Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied this, claiming that the EPLP was consistently against the use of child soldiers and had abided by the 1995 Proclamation regarding minimum age.667 In July 2000 the Eritrean government, while denying the use of children as soldiers in the most recent conflict with Ethiopia, acknowledged that lack of systematic birth registration could lead to oversights in recruitment practice.668

However there is evidence that the Eritrean Government continued to use children as soldiers in the recent border conflict. After the war with Ethiopia erupted, Eritrea reportedly accelerated the pace of training and called all those who had been trained earlier – typically some 20,000 who are enlisted every six months – resulting in the mobilisation some 250,000 in addition to the regular army. Intensive fighting and massive losses in 2000 further increased pressure on personnel levels.669 During the massive attack by Ethiopia in May 2000, Eritrean troop convoys reportedly brought in reinforcements that included recruits as young as 14.670 Recent interviews with female combatants in the recent border conflict also revealed that some had joined the EPLF as children during the war of independence.671

Shortly after the Eritrean government signed the December 2000 peace accord, the internal opposition group Alliance of Eritrean National Forces (ELF) claimed the EPLF launched massive forced military conscription of civilians, including people over the age of fifty and underage children, beginning 16 January 2001. According to the ELF news bulletin many civilians were fleeing to Sudan to escape conscription. Refugees were quoted as saying that the EPLF cadres were telling the people that Eritrea continues to be surrounded by avowed enemies, and therefore the regime must continue building its military capability.672 Armed opposition groups have also provided evidence of underage recruitment by the Eritrean government at other times; for example it was reported that ELF insurgents in the Danakil region came into conflict with government officials over young men refusing conscription.673 The Coalition has not been able to confirm these reports.


Internal opposition groups include the Sudan-based Islamic Salvation Movement (formerly known as the Islamic Jihad Movement), and the recently formed Alliance of Eritrean National Forces (ELF) (estimated strength 3,000), which includes the Eritrean Liberation Front of Abdullah Idris (ELF-AI) and Eritrean Liberation Front – National Congress (ELF-NC). There is no information regarding underage recruitment among these opposition groups.


Government Position

The representative of Eritrea at the African Conference to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers in April 1999 stated that Eritrea recognised 18 years as the age limit for recruitment and involvement in warfare.674 The Eritrean government also responded to an appeal issued by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers in July 2000, denying underage recruitment but acknowledging difficulties related to insufficient birth registration.

The Eritrean government invited further dialogue with the Coalition, including on ratification and implementation of the CRC-OP-CAC.675


Eritrea, like Ethiopia, plans to demobilise only about 60,000 troops in 2001.676 There is no information on special plans to demobilise child soldiers.

International Standards

Eritrea ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, prohibiting all forms of recruitment under 18, in December 1999. Eritrea has not yet signed the CRC-OP-CAC.

660 BBC World Service, "UN Monitors to stay in the Horn", 16 March 2001.

661 Text provided at:

662 Letter of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressed to CSC, 31/5/99.

663 Other sources claim that military service lasts 16 months with 4 months of military training. See IISS, The Military Balance, 2001.

664 BBC World Service, Focus on Africa Magazine, 10/98.

665 Ourdan, R., "Pas de haine apparente, en depit des combats et des victimes civiles...", Le Monde, 16/2/99.

666 Statement of the Representative of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Mr Y. Kidane, at the African Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers, Maputo, 19-22/4/99.

667 Ministry of Foreign Affairs op. cit. 31/5/99.

668 CSC Update 6: 19/10/00.

669 CSC Update 3/7/00: Appeal to the Governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea: A peace dividend for child soldiers?.

670 RB Newsletter, 7/00, quoting Newsweek, 5/6/00.

671 Lamb, Christina, "Eritrea puts its women in thick of the battle", Dehai News 1/6/00.

672 Walta Information Centre, "Eritrean regime recommences massive forced conscription", 25/1/01. Awate, a monthly news bulletin of the rebel group ELF, described these acts as "human rights violation".

673 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

674 Report of the African Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers, Maputo, 19-22/4/99.

675 CSC Update 6: 19/10/00.

676 Economist, "Hope in the Horn", 15/2/01.


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