In 2012, 15-year-old Ciham Ali Ahmed was imprisoned for attempting to cross the Eritrean border in an effort to escape a policy that requires young people in Eritrea to serve in the national military service upon turning 18 years old. According to Amnesty International, Ciham, who is a U.S. citizen born in Los Angeles and raised in Eritrea, is being held in incommunicado detention, which means that no one has seen or been in contact with her in more than five years.
Thousands of teenagers like Ciham try to quietly escape Eritrea before they come of age. Described as “enslavement” by a UN Commission of Inquiry in 2016, forced Eritrean national service often lasts up to a decade or more even though the national requirement is 18 months. According to Human Rights Watch, “Abuse in [Eritrean] national service is rampant and is the principal reason why thousands flee the country annually…Conscripts are subjected to 72-hour work weeks, severe arbitrary punishment, rape by commanders if female, and grossly inadequate food rations.” Due to Eritrea’s oppressive government and national service, approximately 12% of citizens have escaped Eritrea. Exiting the country legally requires a government-issued exit visa.
Read more at teenvogue.com.