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Eritrea 'turning teenagers into slave conscripts'

BBC Africa/Maximilian Kasseh, Jr.

Eritrea has been accused of turning school pupils and teachers into slaves through a repressive system of indefinite national service despite hopes that a peace deal with Ethiopia would end conscription.

The agreement ending a two-decade border dispute was signed more than a year ago.

The BBC’s Emmanuel Igunza says Eritreans have been running online campaigns calling for the closure of the notorious and isolated Sawa military training academy.

But a Human Rights Watch report says thousands of young people each year are forced into compulsory military training even before they finish their education.

It says all final year secondary pupils are sent to a Sawa, where they are subjected to military-style discipline and harsh punishments for even minor mistakes.

Some are sent into the army, others into teaching or other government jobs where they remain indefinitely.

Teachers are also forced to work at Sawa for an indefinite period where they receive poor pay.

The report -"They Are Making Us into Slaves, Not Educating Us"
- says this has is having a devastating impact on the quality of the country’s education system, prompting large numbers of both teachers and students to flee the country.

“It’s unlimited service,” a 25-year-old, who had to teach at Sawa and fled last year, told the HRW.

“If you are conscripted to teach physics, you will be a physics teacher for life.”

Last week, Eritrea marked 25 years since the start of national service, saying it had greatly benefited the country.

But campaigners say Eritrea needs to change given that relations with its neighbor have improved.

“Now that peace with Ethiopia is restored, reforms on human rights, starting with the rights and freedom of the country’s youth, need to follow,” said HRW's Laetitia Bader in statement.


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