Child Labor and Forced Labor Reports
No Advancement – Efforts Made But Complicit in Forced Child Labor
In 2022, Eritrea is receiving an assessment of no advancement. Despite initiatives to address child labor, Eritrea is assessed as having made no advancement because it demonstrated complicity in the use of forced child labor. Government officials continued to force students in grade 12, some of whom are under the age of 18, to participate in military training elements of the government's compulsory national service program. Otherwise, the government made efforts by increasing the number of its child wellbeing committees from 43 in 2021 to 67 in 2022. Children in Eritrea are subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including in forced military training associated with national service, forced agricultural labor, and forced recruitment by state armed groups for use in armed conflict. In addition, Eritrea's minimum age protections do not apply to children working outside formal employment relationships, and laws do not criminally prohibit the use of a child for prostitution; the use, procuring, or offering of a child in illicit activities; or the procuring or offering of a child for pornography or pornographic performances. Moreover, the government does not publicly release information on its criminal law enforcement efforts.
Table 1 provides key indicators on children’s work and education in Eritrea. Data on some of these indicators are not available from the sources used in this report.
|Working (% and population)||5 to 14||Unavailable|
|Attending School (%)||5 to 14||Unavailable|
|Combining Work and School (%)||7 to 14||Unavailable|
|Primary Completion Rate (%)||55.6|
Source for primary completion rate: Data from 2019, published by UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2023. (1)
Data were unavailable from International Labor Organization's analysis, 2023. (2)
Based on a review of available information, Table 2 provides an overview of children's work by sector and activity.
|Agriculture||Farming, activities unknown (3,4)|
|Herding livestock (3-5)|
|Industry||Small-scale manufacturing, including recycling, remanufacturing, and repurposing metal (4,6)|
|Services||Domestic work, including fetching water and firewood (3,6)|
|Working in auto mechanic shops, bicycle repair shops, tea and coffee shops, metal workshops, grocery stores, the Asmara bowling alley, and open markets (6-9)|
|Street work, including vending, cleaning cars, and begging (3,4,6,7)|
|Categorical Worst Forms of Child Labor‡||Compulsory participation in national service or military training associated with national service prior to age 18, and in forced agricultural and domestic work (4,10-12)|
|Forced recruitment of children by state armed groups for use in armed conflict (13,14)|
‡ Child labor understood as the worst forms of child labor per se under Article 3(a)–(c) of ILO C. 182.
In order to graduate from high school and meet the compulsory training component of national service prescribed by the Proclamation on National Service No. 82/1995, students are required to complete their final year of schooling (grade 12) at the Warsay Yikealo Secondary School located at the Sawa military complex. Each year, 11,000 to 15,000 students enter grade 12 at Sawa, and while many of these students have typically reached age 18 by the time they participate in the military training component of 12th grade schooling, some are reportedly as young as age 16. (4,10,15,16) During the year at Sawa, 4 months are devoted to mandatory military training, which includes military discipline and procedures, weapons training, a survival exercise, and a 2- to 4- week war simulation, and some conscripts are forced to perform agricultural labor on government-owned farms. (11,15,17) During the reporting period, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Education reinstituted a compulsory summer campaign program in which high school students implement “greening” programs for little to no pay, and failure to comply could result in students being fined or being unable to enroll in school the following term. (18)
Without completion of (and official release from) national service assignments, Eritrean children face a future of indefinite national service. They endure notoriously harsh conditions and corruption at Sawa, including allegations of military commanders offering food and better treatment to female students in exchange for sexual acts. (12,19) These factors underlie an ongoing exodus of unaccompanied minors from the country. (3,20,21) Adolescent children, some as young as age 14, who attempted to leave Eritrea were sometimes detained or forced to undergo military training, despite being younger than the minimum age of 18 for compulsory military recruitment. (3,20,22,23) In addition, the military periodically conducts roundups, known as giffas, to perform identity checks. There have been reports that giffas have resulted in the imprisonment of children alleged to be attempting to evade compulsory national service and recruitment into the military. (10,20,24)
The UN Special Rapporteur’s report on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, covering the period from April 2021 to April 2022, collected witness accounts of children as young as 14 years old rounded up off the streets for military conscription. (13,14) The UN Special Rapporteur also received information on the deployment of Eritrean children in military combat in Tigray. Most of the children deployed were 16 and 17 years old. (14,18) A large number of children were allegedly injured or killed during the early stages of the conflict, and dozens sustained grave injuries causing disabilities. (14,18)
Eritrea is particularly vulnerable to climate change, especially flooding and drought, which may make children more vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor. During the reporting period, the Southern Red Sea region was dealing with the effects of drought, including dead livestock, failed crops, and high malnutrition rates. (18) Children, particularly in rural areas, also face numerous barriers to education access, which may increase their vulnerability to child labor, including a lack of access to teachers, lack of personnel due to teachers fleeing the country to avoid open-ended conscription into the national service, and a limited number of classrooms, as well as a lack of transportation, uniforms, and school supplies. (4,20,25) To the address the shortfall, the government recently deployed teachers to less-populated regions to educate rural and nomadic children. (4,7) The government's national development agenda also prioritizes the expansion of schooling in rural areas. (4,26,27)
Eritrea has ratified all key international conventions concerning child labor (Table 3).
|ILO C. 138, Minimum Age||✓|
|ILO C. 182, Worst Forms of Child Labor||✓|
|UN CRC Optional Protocol on Armed Conflict||✓|
|UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography||✓|
|Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons||✓|
The government has established laws and regulations related to child labor (Table 4). However, gaps exist in Eritrea's legal framework to adequately protect children from the worst forms of child labor, including minimum age protections that do not apply to all children.
|Standard||Meets International Standards||Age||Legislation|
|Minimum Age for Work||No||14||Articles 3 and 68 of the Labor Proclamation (28)|
|Minimum Age for Hazardous Work||No||Articles 3, 35, and 69 of the Labor Proclamation (28)|
|Identification of Hazardous Occupations or Activities Prohibited for Children||No||Article 69 of the Labor Proclamation (28)|
|Prohibition of Forced Labor||Yes||Articles 3 and 9 of the Labor Proclamation; Articles 565 and 570 of the Penal Code of 1957 (28,29)|
|Prohibition of Child Trafficking||No||Articles 94, 565, 604-607 of the 1957 Penal Code (29)|
|Prohibition of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children||No||Articles 604-607, 609, 610, 776 of the Penal Code of 1957 (29)|
|Prohibition of Using Children in Illicit Activities||No|
|Minimum Age for Voluntary State Military Recruitment||No|
|Prohibition of Compulsory Recruitment of Children by (State) Military||Yes||Articles 6 and 8 of the Proclamation on National Service (10)|
|Prohibition of Military Recruitment by Non-state Armed Groups||No|
|Compulsory Education Age||No||14‡|
|Free Public Education||No||Article 21 of the Constitution (30)|
‡ Age calculated based on available information (22,23,26)
In 2015, Eritrea passed into law a new Penal Code that expanded legal protections against human trafficking, forced labor, and the sexual exploitation of children. However, because the 2015 Penal Code was never published in the Gazette of Eritrean Laws, as required under Article 3, the law has not officially taken effect. (12,21,31) The Labor Proclamation's minimum age protections do not apply to children working outside formal employment relationships, such as those who are self-employed, which does not conform to international standards requiring all children to be protected by the minimum age to work. (28) In addition, Article 69 of the Labor Proclamation authorizes the Minister of Labor to issue a list of activities prohibited to children under age 18; however, the government has not determined by national law or regulation the types of hazardous work prohibited for children. (32) Likewise, the Labor Proclamation’s hazardous work protections do not apply to children working outside formal employment relationships. (28)
Laws governing the use of children in illicit activities are not sufficient because the Penal Code does not criminally prohibit the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production and trafficking of drugs. (29) Laws regarding the commercial sexual exploitation of children are also insufficient because the use of a child for prostitution is not criminally prohibited, nor is procuring or offering a child for pornography or for pornographic performances. (29) While the Proclamation on National Service No. 82/1995 requires compulsory national service from all citizens ages 18 to 40, the law is silent on voluntary military service, and thus places no explicit limitations on the voluntary recruitment of children under 18 into the national armed forces. (10)
Eritrea does not appear to have any laws guaranteeing free basic education or setting the compulsory education age, increasing the risk of children's involvement in child labor. However, several government policies provide free and compulsory basic education to all children below the age of 14, including the Education Sector Development Plan, the Nomadic Education Policy, and the Comprehensive National Child Policy. (26,32-34)
The government has established institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and regulations on child labor (Table 5). However, gaps exist within the operations of enforcement agencies that may hinder adequate enforcement of their child labor laws.
|Organization/Agency||Role & Activities|
|Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MoLSW)||Enforces labor laws and investigates labor abuses, including child labor, through its Labor Inspection Division. (13,16)|
|Eritrean Police||Enforce laws and investigate referred cases of child trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the use of children in illicit activities. (6,13)|
Labor Law Enforcement
In 2022, labor law enforcement agencies in Eritrea took actions to address child labor (Table 6). However, gaps exist within the operations of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MoLSW) that may hinder adequate labor law enforcement, including a lack of labor law enforcement data.
|Overview of Labor Law Enforcement||2021||2022|
|Labor Inspectorate Funding||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Number of Labor Inspectors||28 (35)||55 (36)|
|Mechanism to Assess Civil Penalties||Yes (28)||Yes (28)|
|Training for Labor Inspectors Provided||Yes (35)||Yes (4,36)|
|Number of Labor Inspections Conducted at Worksite||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Number of Child Labor Violations Found||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Number of Child Labor Violations for Which Penalties Were Imposed||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Number of Child Labor Penalties Imposed that Were Collected||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Routine Inspections Conducted||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Routine Inspections Targeted||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Unannounced Inspections Permitted||Yes (28)||Yes (28)|
|Unannounced Inspections Conducted||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Complaint Mechanism Exists||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Reciprocal Referral Mechanism Exists Between Labor Authorities and Social Services||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
Inspectors, in collaboration with the local administrations and police, are empowered to identify and prosecute child labor violations. Penalties for labor violations are assessed in coordination with inspectors, administrators, and the police, and are adjudicated by judicial authorities. (7)
Labor inspectors are not provided sufficient resources, including transportation, to conduct investigations of sites where child labor is likely to occur. (4) Moreover, the government did not provide information on its labor inspectorate efforts for inclusion in this report, nor did the government provide information on actions taken by enforcement agencies to address child labor. (12,13)
Criminal Law Enforcement
In 2022, criminal law enforcement agencies in Eritrea took actions to address child labor (Table 7). However, gaps exist within the operations of the criminal enforcement agencies that may hinder adequate criminal law enforcement, including a lack of criminal law enforcement data.
|Overview of Criminal Law Enforcement||2021||2022|
|Training for Criminal Investigators Provided||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Number of Investigations||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Number of Prosecutions Initiated||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Number of Convictions||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Imposed Penalties for Violations Related to the Worst Forms of Child Labor||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
|Reciprocal Referral Mechanism Exists Between Criminal Authorities and Social Services||Unknown (35)||Unknown (4)|
Despite evidence that children younger than age 18 are forced to participate in military training, research did not identify measures taken by the government in 2022 to ensure that children were not subjected to compulsory military training. (4,6,11,28)
The government has established a key mechanism to coordinate its efforts to address child labor (Table 8). However, gaps exist that hinder the effective coordination efforts to address child labor, including the lack of a coordination mechanism to address all worst forms of child labor.
|Coordinating Body||Role & Activities|
|Interagency Steering Committee on Trafficking and Migration||Aims to prevent and address human trafficking among vulnerable groups, including children. Includes representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MoLSW, the national police, the Immigration and Nationality Department, the National Union of Eritrean Women, and the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students. (18) The government did not report any action taken by the steering committee during the reporting period. (18)|
Eritrea has 67 child wellbeing committees, 19 of which were established in 2022, that operate at the local level and coordinate representatives from the political, health, educational, legal, and civil society sectors. They are charged with ensuring that children in distress receive specialized care. (4,7) The committee mandates are primarily focused on reducing female genital mutilation and child marriage, and are not directly related to addressing child labor. (4,6) Although Eritrea has a coordinating mechanism to address human trafficking, it does not have a coordinating mechanism to address other forms of child labor. (13)
The government has established policies related to child labor (Table 9). However, policy gaps exist that hinder efforts to address child labor, including a lack of efficacy in carrying out policies.
|Policy||Description & Activities|
|Comprehensive National Child Policy||Addresses underlying causes of child labor through studies of and assessments on the nature and conditions of child labor, designs advocacy and public awareness campaigns on the worst forms of child labor, and empowers communities and the public sector to monitor and prevent child labor from occurring. (33,37) The policy calls for the provision of free and compulsory basic education to all children, irrespective of gender, sex, ethnicity, religion, or disability. (38) The policy outlines the creation of a National Action Plan for the elimination of child labor, but this plan has not been drafted, leaving children vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor. Although reports suggest that components of the policy are being implemented, research was unable to identify activities undertaken to implement the policy during the reporting period. (12,33)|
In 2022, the government funded and participated in programs that include the goal of eliminating child labor (Table 10). However, gaps exist in these social programs, including inadequate efforts to address the problem in all sectors.
|Program||Description & Activities|
|Complementary Elementary Education†||Program created by the government in partnership with UNICEF in 2007 that addresses the educational needs of out-of-school children ages 9 to 14 in remote and rural areas. Condenses 5 years of elementary education into a 3-year program to allow students to either mainstream into formal education at the secondary level or access vocational education. (3,17,39) During the reporting period, the Ministry of Education established 11 complementary elementary education centers with essential teaching and learning materials. (40)|
|Better Migration Management||EU-led program encompassing 11 countries in North, Central, and East Africa; aims to address the international labor market, including trafficking of children. The Government of Eritrea joined the program on May 28, 2019. (6,41) Research was unable to determine whether activities were undertaken to implement the policy during the reporting period.|
|Education Sector Development Plan (2018–2022)||Established 8 years of free and compulsory education for all children. (39,42) Included a strategy to ensure equitable access to education for all children, including in nomadic communities, through the provision of portable classrooms. (37,39) Research was unable to determine whether activities were undertaken to implement the program during the reporting period.|
For information about USDOL’s projects to address child labor around the world, visit https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/ilab-project-page-search
† Program is funded by the Government of Eritrea.
‡ The government had other policies that may have addressed child labor issues or had an impact on child labor. (40,43)
During the reporting period, the MoLSW supported more than 5,000 children to enroll and resume their education in an effort to prevent children from engaging in child labor. The MoLSW provided children with education materials and cash to cover their school uniforms, registration fees, and books. (4) Despite this effort, research found no evidence of programs to assist children working in agriculture, domestic work, and street work, or that address all worst forms of child labor in the country.
Based on the reporting above, suggested actions are identified that would advance the elimination of child labor in Eritrea (Table 11).
|Area||Suggested Action||Year(s) Suggested|
|Legal Framework||Publish the Penal Code of 2015 in the Gazette of Eritrean Laws and ensure its full implementation.||2022|
|Ensure that minimum age protections extend to all children working outside of formal employment relationships, including those who are self-employed.||2010 – 2022|
|Determine the types of hazardous work prohibited for children and ensure that all children are protected by hazardous work prohibitions, including children in the informal sector and those working outside of formal employment relationships.||2015 – 2022|
|Criminally prohibit the use, procuring, and offering of a child for illicit activities.||2013 – 2022|
|Criminally prohibit the use of a child for prostitution and procuring and offering of a child for pornography and pornographic performances.||2014 – 2022|
|Ensure that the law establishes age 16 as the minimum age for voluntary recruitment by the state military with safeguards for voluntariness.||2022|
|Criminally prohibit the recruitment of children under age 18 by non-state armed groups.||2016 – 2022|
|Ensure that the law establishes 16 as the minimum age for voluntary recruitment by the state military with safeguards for voluntariness.||2022|
|Establish by law free basic public education.||2016 – 2022|
|Establish by law an age up to which education is compulsory that extends to 14 years, the minimum age for employment.||2016 – 2022|
|Enforcement||Cease the practice of imprisoning children discovered evading compulsory national service during military-led giffas.||2022|
|Publish information on labor inspectorate funding; total number of inspections conducted at worksites; number of violations found; number of violations for which penalties were imposed and collected; number of targeted, routine, and unannounced inspections conducted; and whether complaint mechanisms and referral mechanisms are in place.||2009 – 2022|
|Ensure that labor inspectors are provided with sufficient resources, including transportation, to access sites where child labor is likely to occur.||2019 – 2022|
|Publish information on criminal law enforcement efforts, including initial and refresher training for new investigators; the number of criminal investigations, violations, prosecutions, and convictions related to the worst forms of child labor; the number of penalties imposed; and whether a reciprocal referral mechanism exists.||2019 – 2022|
|Ensure that there are reciprocal referral mechanisms between labor authorities and social services.||2021 – 2022|
|Publish activities undertaken by agencies responsible for child labor law enforcement to address child labor on an annual basis, including activities by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, and the Eritrean Police.||2022|
|Coordination||Publish information on the Interagency Steering Committee on Trafficking and Migration's efforts to coordinate government activities to address human trafficking on an annual basis.||2022|
|Establish a key coordinating mechanism to address all worst forms of child labor.||2009 – 2022|
|Government Policies||Take actions to ensure that children under age 18 are not placed in military training or agricultural labor assignments as part of national service.||2009 – 2022|
|Cease government programs that force high school children to engage in agricultural labor and other public works as a requirement to enroll in school.||2022|
|Publish information on actions taken to implement government policies relevant to child labor, including the Comprehensive National Child Policy.||2021 – 2022|
|Enact policies to address all forms of child labor using the framework outlined in the Comprehensive National Child Policy, including child labor in agriculture, manufacturing, the services industry, and in armed groups.||2022|
|Social Programs||Collect and publish data on the extent and nature of child labor in all sectors in which it is known to occur, including farming, to inform policies and programs.||2009 – 2022|
|Enhance efforts to make education accessible for all children, including children in rural areas, by building schools, removing financial barriers to attendance, and improving safety to ensure the retention of qualified teachers and students.||2010 – 2022|
|Publish information on actions taken to implement the Better Migration Management program on an annual basis.||2019 – 2022|
|Institute programs and publish information regarding efforts to address child labor, including in agriculture, domestic work, street work, and the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation.||2009 – 2022|
- UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Gross intake ratio to the last grade of primary education, both sexes (%). Accessed March 15, 2023. For more information, please see "Children's Work and Education Statistics: Sources and Definitions" in the Reference Materials section of this report.
- ILO. Analysis of Child Economic Activity and School Attendance Statistics from National Household or Child Labor Surveys. Analysis received March 2023. Please see “Children's Work and Education Statistics: Sources and Definitions” in the Reference Materials section of this report.
- Government of Eritrea. 2018 Child Labour Report: Prepared as part of the USA-TDA (20000) Requirements. Asmara, January 11, 2019. Source on file.
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara. Reporting. January 26, 2023.
- UN General Assembly Human Rights Council. Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Eritrea. New York, April 18, 2019: A/HRC/41/14.
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara. Reporting. February 3, 2020.
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara. Reporting. January 13, 2021.
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara. Reporting. January 24, 2018.
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara. Reporting. February 6, 2019.
- Government of Eritrea. Proclamation of National Service, Proclamation No. 82/1995. Enacted October 23, 1995.
- Human Rights Watch. "They Are Making Us into Slaves, Not Educating Us". August 2019.
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara official. E-mail communication to USDOL official. May 25, 2023.
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara. Reporting. January 10, 2023.
- UN Human Rights Council. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. May 6, 2022.
- U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices- 2019: Eritrea. Washington, D.C., March 11, 2020.
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara. Reporting. April 17, 2019.
- U.S. Department of State official. E-mail communication to USDOL official. July 12, 2019.
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara. Reporting. February 8, 2023.
- Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International. Eritrean women call for an end to state-sanctioned rape. December 10, 2020.
- U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report- 2020: Eritrea. Washington, D.C., June 25, 2020.
- Government of Eritrea. The Penal Code of the State of Eritrea 2015. Sabur Printing Services, 2015.
- UNESCO. Education System- Eritrea. 2021.
- ILO Committee of Experts. Individual Observations concerning Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) Eritrea (ratification: 2000). Published 107th ILC session (2018).
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara. E-mail communication to USDOL official. January 31, 2018.
- UN General Assembly Human Rights Council. Summary of Stakeholders' submissions on Eritrea. New York, November 7, 2018: A/HRC/WG.6/32/ERI/3.
- CIA. The World Factbook. Accessed March 2019.
- UN. World Economic Situation and Prospects 2023 Statistical Annex. New York, 2023. Please see "Labor Law Enforcement: Sources and Definitions" in the Reference Materials section of this report.
- Government of Eritrea. The Labour Proclamation of Eritrea, No. 118/2001. Enacted: 2001. Source on file.
- The Penal Code, No. 158 of 1957. Enacted: 1957. .
https://www.refworld.org/docid/49216a0a2.html#:~:text=The Penal Code of 1957,as of 9 May 2005
- Government of Eritrea. The Constitution of Eritrea. May 23, 1997.
- ILO Committee of Experts. Direct Request concerning the Forced Labor Convention, 1930 (No. 29) Eritrea (ratification: 2000). Published: 2023.
- ILO Committee of Experts. Individual Observations concerning Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) Eritrea (ratification: 2000). Published: 2021.
- Government of Eritrea. Comprehensive National Child Policy. February 2013. Source on file.
- UN. The Strategic Partnership Cooperation Framework (SPCF) Between the Government of the State of Eritrea and The United Nations 2017–2021. January 2017.
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara. Reporting. February 8, 2022.
- ILO Committee of Experts. Individual Observation concerning the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) Eritrea (ratification: 2000). Published: 2023.
- Government of Eritrea. Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. Department of Labor TDA Report 2019. 2019. Source on file.
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara. E-mail communication to USDOL official. March 21, 2019.
- Government of Eritrea. Education Sector Plan 2018–2022. February 1, 2018.
- UNICEF. Country Office Annual Report: Eritrea. 2022.
- European Union. Better Migration Management Programme Phase II. May 28, 2019.
- U.S. Embassy- Asmara. E-mail communication to USDOL official. May 16, 2019.
- United Nations. UN Eritrea Cooperation Framework (2022-2026).