[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

ERITREA (TIER 3)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

Eritrea is a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. In connection with a national service program in which men aged 18 to 54 and women aged 18 to 47 provide military and non-military service, there have been repeated reports that some Eritreans in military service are used as laborers on some commanding officers’ personal properties, as well as in the construction and agricultural sectors, functions outside the scope of the Proclamation of National Service (No. 82/1995). There are also reports that some national service workers are required to continue their service indefinitely, beyond the 18 months specified by law, with many required to serve in their positions for over 10 years. In 2007, approximately 40 national service workers were sent to hotels in the United Arab Emirates. Similar reports in 2008 maintained that the government sent national service employees to work in hotels in southern Sudan. The conditions of such service, including requirements that the workers migrate to other countries for work, go beyond those required of national service participants as outlined in Proclamation No. 82/1995. Reports concerning these workers also noted that, with the exception of a small stipend, pay for their work was remitted directly to the Eritrean government. The government remains complicit in conscripting children into military service.

Each year, large numbers of migrant workers depart Eritrea in search of work, particularly in the Gulf States, where some likely become victims of forced labor, including in domestic servitude, or commercial sexual exploitation. In 2008, six Eritrean women and two Eritrean girls were identified as victims of sex trafficking in Norway. 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 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.

Recommendations for Eritrea: Take steps to curb abuses of Eritrean citizens in the national service program; pass and enforce a comprehensive anti-trafficking statute; provide education to all levels of government and the general public on the issue of human trafficking; and cease the unlawful conscription of children into military service.

The Government of Eritrea made no known progress in prosecuting and punishing trafficking crimes over the reporting period. Articles 605 and 607 of the Eritrean Criminal Code prohibit trafficking in women and young persons for sexual exploitation; procuring women and children to engage in prostitution is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, which is not commensurate with punishments prescribed for other grave crimes. Forced labor and slavery are prohibited, except when authorized by law, under Article 16 of the ratified, but suspended, Eritrean Constitution, but there are no known laws or enabling proclamations specific to trafficking for labor exploitation. Proclamation 11/199 prohibits the recruitment of children under 18 years of age into the armed forces. The government did not publish information on investigations or prosecutions, if any, of human trafficking offenses during the reporting period.

The government did not appear to provide any significant assistance to victims of trafficking during the reporting period. 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 has 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 severely limited the number of foreign NGOs permitted to operate in the country; of the few remaining NGOs, none operated anti-trafficking programs. During the reporting period, the government operated a program to identify children involved in commercial sexual exploitation and reintegrate them with their families. Nearly 300 children engaged in prostitution received support through this program in 2007; the government did not make available similar information on the programs’ accomplishments in 2008. 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 victims are not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.

The government made no known efforts to prevent future incidences of trafficking during the reporting period. Eritrean media, all state-owned, made neither public announcements nor media presentations regarding human trafficking during the reporting period. There were no anti-trafficking education campaigns. However, the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students actively warned the populace of the dangers of leaving the country, including the prospects of being sold into slave labor or sexual servitude. The National Confederation of Eritrean Workers carried out similar campaigns to alert workers of the dangers of entering a country illegally. 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; the accomplishments of this office during 2008 are unknown. Limited resources and a small number of inspectors impeded the ministry’s ability to conduct investigations; the government did not provide information on the number of child labor inspections it carried out in 2008. The government is implementing a national plan of action on child labor that primarily focuses on integrating or reintegrating children with families, communities, and schools as a means of preventing child labor, or rehabilitating children engaged in child labor. The Ministry of Labor reportedly reviewed all applications for permits to grant passports and exit visas to legal migrant workers, and immigration agents closely monitored anyone entering or leaving the country. Eritrea has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.