Bullying in Eritrea

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Eritrea is a small country on the Horn of Africa and one of the most politically isolated places in the world.  It is often dubbed “The North Korea of Africa” and is also accused of many human rights abuses.  Because of this there is no information regarding facts or statistics of bullying in the country from the Ministry of Education or the media, which is controlled by the government.

How History Has Made Eritrea a Closed Country

The end of WWII, the United Nations annexed Eritrea, who had been occupied by Italy, to become part of Ethiopia resulting in a bloody civil war that lasted thirty years. Although outnumbered, the Eritreans won the war against Ethiopia who had backing from the USSR and became their own sovereign country.  However, only a few years later, in 1999, a border dispute ensued and the two countries were back at war for a few years until the matter was resolved peacefully.  This brief historical account is important to understand the current education system and political climate in Eritrea, both of which contribute to bullying in Eritrea.

Because of the constant tension between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Eritrean government has the entire country prepared. This is done through enforced conscription that lasts for many years and begins in the 12th grade. Students, both girls and boys, spend their last year of secondary school in the army. Afterwards, they either stay in the army or are assigned a job chosen by the Eritrean government where they must work for a measly salary for as long as the government says so, which can be many, many years. Because of this, many girls choose to marry young to avoid conscription and many other youth flee the country at a rate of 5,000 a day.

Eritrea’s Extreme Isolation 

Since the government dictates everyone’s future in Eritrea, many students and teachers do not take school seriously. There is just no incentive. With no constitution, no elections,  no legislature, and independent press, the youth in Eritrea see no future. President Afewerki has held absolute power since 1993.  Most of the students are boys and understand that they will become life-long soldiers. Therefore, they often purposely fail so that they can stay in school longer and avoid conscription.

Due to the extreme isolation of the country, there is very no information on the topic of bullying in Eritrea.  Also, as one of the poorest countries in Africa, few people have access to the Internet that would allow them take part in cyberbullying.  There are Internet cafes in the capital of Addis Ababa as well as some of the larger towns, like Keren. Whether or not Eritreans use the Internet to cyberbully is not known. Also, few people have mobile phones which are seen as a status symbols rather than as a tool to cyberbully, although this can not be ruled out entirely.  There is simply no evidence of this.

Bullying in Eritrea

According to an American teacher who taught at Agordat Junior School as a VSO Volunteer in the small, desert town of Agordat, Eritrea, “Bullying is not something teachers even think about.  Corporal punishment is widely used throughout the country and with class sizes reaching up to seventy or more, overworked and underpaid teachers are not concerned about bullying.”

She goes on to say, “As a teacher, I didn’t witness any peer on peer bullying in the classroom,  but with thousands of students in the school yard and few teachers to supervise, it was hard to keep track of everything. Once in a while there would be a school yard fight but the male teachers always handled it.”

“What students really complained about was being bullied by the government,” she goes on to say.  “The government did a sweep of the town one day looking for students who weren’t in school and who were avoiding conscription service. They searched everyone’s home, including my own, and any young person found without a school ID was rounded up and housed in a run down gymnasium for days before being sent to a military base in Assab. This is a place people don’t want to go to.  It’s one of the hottest and most humid places on Earth and where conscriptions dodgers are sent.  Parent’s brought their children food and tea and cried and cried.”

On the other hand, Eritrea is in some ways a more progressive country when it comes to women’s equality compared to other countries in the region and because of this, girls are encouraged to pursue an education and aren’t bullied for going to school like girls in other African countries.  What else makes Eritrea unique when it comes to what seems to be a little or no instances of bullying in Eritrea, is the Eritrean culture.  People look out for others in the small towns and villages and the youth need to grow up fast to help support families financially or marry.

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