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

  • Population:
    – total: 61,095,000
    – under-18s: 32,108,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 352,500
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 18
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 18
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated in government and opposition forces
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II; ILO 138
  • Thousands of children were recruited, many forcibly, during the recent border conflict with Eritrea. Testimonies of former child soldiers, NGO and journalists provide evidence of child deployment on the front lines and in massive waves across mine fields. The absence of a system for verifying the age in Ethiopia exacerbates the problem of underage recruitment. Internal armed opposition groups have also been known to recruit children, some as young as 11 years old.


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 2001.684 Ethiopia is also confronted by internal armed opposition groups.


National Recruitment Legislation

Military service is not compulsory in Ethiopia.685 Article 4 of the Defence Force Proclamation No. 27/1996 states that "[t]he Ministry [of Defence] may, in accordance with criteria issued by it from time to time, recruit persons fit and willing for military purposes." These criteria have been made public in notices calling recruits, and have included a minimum age of 18 years.686

Article 36(1) of Ethiopia's Constitution specifically states that children will "not be subject to exploitative practices, neither to be required nor permitted to perform work which may be hazardous or harmful to [their] health or well-being."

Military Training and Military Schools

There are at least six known military training camps in Ethiopia, all operational. They are located in Birr (Gojjam), Tolay (Shoa), Hursso (Hararge), Blatte (SNNPR), Dedessa (Wellega) and Tatek, in addition to officer's and specialised training schools. A new defence force engineering college was established in 1996, but information on age of recruitment is not available.

Child Recruitment

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that national recruitment practice has followed clear guidelines since May 1991. These guidelines include inter alia that recruits must be between ages 18 and 25, a minimum of 1,60m tall, and over 50kg. To foster the participation of marginalised regions, recruits from less developed areas (Gambella, Afar, Somalia and Benshangul) must have completed 8th grade education while others must have completed 12th grade education.687

However, there is no system of verifying age in Ethiopia, which is left to recruitment officers to determine and leaves minors at high risk.688 There have been credible reports that thousands of children have been forcibly recruited into the Ethiopian army, particularly during the build-up to a major offensive in May 2000.

Recruitment reportedly focused on Oromos and Somalis, ethnic groups that traditionally formed the backbone of political opposition to the government, and on grades 9 to 12 of secondary schools. However there were also reports of children pressganged from marketplaces and villages. Peasant associations and kebelles (urban-dwellers associations) were given recruitment quotas to fill and initially targeted unemployed youth. A number of schools in the Oromo region were closed in 1999 while heavy conscription took place. One boy from the area who was recruited at age 16 reported there were over 1,000 students – more students than adults – in his group in Hursso, where one of six main military camps is located. Several hundred minors from the Hursso training camp escaped to Yemen but were reportedly in danger of being classified as deserters and severely punished by Ethiopian authorities if they return.689 17-year-old Dowit Admas reported that he was playing football in Gondar High School when Ethiopian government soldiers rounded up 60 boys and sent them to Bershelk Military Training Camp in Gojam.690

In June 2000 Oromo students demonstrated in the streets "against the massive and forceful conscription of teenagers into the army", and the opposition Oromo Liberation Front denounced the massive forced conscription and detention taking place, including the detention of traditional leaders and elders "for opposing the conscription of their children to be used as cannon fodder".691 Minors were reportedly used on the frontline, including in massive human waves across minefields to clear a path for the regular standing army. Many of these children reportedly were also were recruited from regions in which internal opposition groups operate (see below).

Large numbers of Ethiopian youths have been reported at prisoner of war camps in Eritrea. The majority of the 940 Ethiopians in a camp in Digidta were thought to be between 14 and 18 years of age.692 Ethiopian authorities claimed that previous testimonies of underage Ethiopian prisoners of war documented in February 1999 were false.693


Internal armed opposition is posed by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF, created in 1973 and with an estimated strength of several hundred), the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in the Somali region, and Al-Itihad, an Islamist group allied to the ONLF.694 At the end of 1999 some 10,000 suspected opposition supporters were in detention, some of whom had been held for several years without charge or trial.695

Child Recruitment

The OLF was alleged to have recruited children and peasants by force before 1995.696 The recent testimonies of young veteran soldiers in the OLF however suggest that many young boys and girls voluntarily joined the OLF. Two 22-year-olds who claimed they had been fighting in the OLF for 11 years additionally reported the existence of a battalion of about one hundred women and girls. They described fighting against many other young boys "tricked or forced to fight for the TPLF [government forces]", many of whom are killed.697

Ethiopian representatives at the African Conference on the Use of Child Soldiers in April 1999 stated that throughout the protracted war "child soldiers have always remained a large factor and consequently a serious social and political matter ... while government policy recognised the 18-year age limit for recruitment into its armed forces, armed groups continue to conscript youngsters from school and from villages."


In July 2000 the Coalition appealed to the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea to end the recruitment of children under 18, to rehabilitate children who have served as soldiers, and to sign and ratify international instruments on children in armed conflict, in particular, the CRC-OP-CAC. The Ethiopian government has not responded to the appeal nor has it to date signed the Optional Protocol.


Ethiopian representatives at the African Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers in April 1999 stated that the government had put in place programmes to demobilise children and to reintegrate them, but that efforts have been hampered by the conflict with Eritrea. Ethiopia, like Eritrea, plans to demobilise only about 60,000 troops in 2001.698 There is no available information on special plans to demobilise child soldiers.

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

685 Summary Records of the 350th Meeting of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of the Report of Ethiopia, UN Doc. CRC/C/SR.350, 16/1/97, para. 20.

686 Information provided by Radda Barnen.

687 Letter of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent to CSC, 28/4/99.

688 Radda Barnen op. cit., citing War Resisters International.

689 AI Report 2000.

690 Lucy Hannan, The Independent, 10 and 11/2/99.

691 IRIN, "Oromo Liberation Front claims forced conscription and mass detentions", 9/6/00.

692 RB ChildWar database: HRW Report 2001.

693 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 28/4/99 op. cit.

694 IISS, The Military Balance, op. cit.

695 AI op. cit.

696 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

697 Radda Barnen, Children of War Newsletter No. 1/01, March 2001.

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


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