Trafficking in Persons Report 2011

ERITREA (Tier 3)

Eritrea is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and, to a lesser extent, sex trafficking. During the reporting period, acts of forced labor occurred in Eritrea, particularly in connection with the implementation of the country’s national service program. Under the parameters set forth in 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 public works and services 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 over 10 years under the threat of inhumane treatment, torture, or punishment of their families. There have been 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 outside the scope of the proclamation. The military’s four command zones reportedly 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 using conscripted labor. National service conscripts could not resign from their jobs or take new employment and could not leave the country, as those under national service were often denied passports or exit visas.

By government policy, children are required to attend mandatory military training for their senior year of high school under threat of failure to receive a diploma; some children with academic problems are conscripted directly into military service regardless of their age. Some sources report that military training is effectively military service in Eritrea since children are required to perform military exercises in lieu of education. The Eritrean government is reportedly targeting increasingly younger children for military conscription and training; in 2010, for example, a 9-year-old child escaped military service and fled to Ethiopia for assistance. Up to 80 percent of unaccompanied Eritrean minors fleeing into neighboring countries are children between 15 and 17 years old escaping military conscription and training.

Eritrean children also work in various economic sectors, including domestic service, street vending, small-scale factories, and agriculture; child laborers frequently suffer abuse from their employers and some may be subjected to conditions of forced labor. In addition, children may face commercial sexual exploitation in Eritrea. Each year, large numbers 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. For example, in December 2010, smugglers reportedly held 250 Eritrean migrants hostage in the Sinai Desert and forced some to build homes and provide domestic labor. Smaller numbers of Eritrean women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking inside the country and potentially in Gulf countries. In addition, thousands of Eritreans flee the country illegally, mostly to Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya, where their illegal status makes them vulnerable to situations of human trafficking.

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 published neither data nor statistics regarding its efforts to combat human trafficking; it did not respond to requests to provide information for this report. It is therefore unclear whether the government prosecuted or punished any individual for trafficking offenses, provided protection to any victims of trafficking, or took any measures to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period.

Recommendations for Eritrea: Pass and enforce a comprehensive anti-trafficking statute that prohibits all forms of trafficking, including forced labor, and prescribes stringent criminal penalties; take measures to reform provisions of the national service requirement that lead to conditions of involuntary servitude, such as indefinite lengths of service and threats and use of physical punishment for non-compliance; launch a campaign to increase the general public’s awareness of human trafficking at the local, regional, and national levels; 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 protection services to victims of trafficking.


The Government of the State of Eritrea made no known efforts to prosecute or punish trafficking offenses during 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 fines and up to five years’ imprisonment, or from three to 10 years’ imprisonment if aggravating circumstances are present; these penalties are 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 is prohibited under Article 16 of the ratified, but suspended, Eritrean Constitution; this provision, however, does not prescribe any penalties. Proclamation 11/199 prohibits the recruitment of children under 18 years of age into the armed forces. Nevertheless, there are no documented penalties for such recruitment and the government has never used these statutes to prosecute cases of human trafficking. The government did not publish information on investigations or prosecutions, if any, of human trafficking offenses during the reporting period. Eritrea similarly failed to 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 efforts to abate or eliminate this practice. The government provided no known training to its law enforcement on identifying and responding to trafficking crimes.


The government made no discernible efforts to protect victims of trafficking during the reporting period. The government continues to have no known facilities dedicated to trafficking victims and does not provide funding or other forms of support to NGOs for services to trafficking victims. The government continued to severely limit the number of foreign NGOs permitted to operate in the country; of the few remaining NGOs, none operated anti-trafficking programs. It is not known whether the government encouraged victims’ assistance in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes or whether it provided legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they would face hardship or retribution. The government did not ensure that identified victims were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. There is no evidence that the government proactively screens migrants for signs that they have been trafficked. 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 in persons during the reporting period. The government did not report any 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 those involving human trafficking; the accomplishments of this office during 2010 are unknown. Limited resources and a small number of inspectors reportedly impeded the ministry’s ability to conduct investigations; the government provided no evidence that it conducted inspections for forced labor, including forced child labor, during the reporting period. 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.

Associated documents

  • Document ID 1166832 Related / Associated
  • Methodology associated with Trafficking in persons report 2011

    Trafficking in Persons Report 2011 (Periodical Report, English)