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Majdi Mohammed Sabahelzain

Text reviewed by Lynn Gertiser

The Constitution

  • Article 5 - Gender Reference: Without consideration to the wording of any provision in this Constitution with reference to gender, all of its articles shall apply equally to both genders.
  • Article 7 - Democratic Principles Section 2: Any act that violates the human rights of women or limits or otherwise thwarts their role and participation is prohibited.
  • Article 21 - Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Responsibilities Section 1: Every citizen shall have the right of equal access to publicly funded social services. The State shall endeavor, within the limit of its resources, to make available to all citizens health, education, cultural and other social services.
  • Article 22 - Family: Men and women of full legal age shall have the right, upon their consent, to marry and to found a family freely, without any discrimination and they shall have equal rights and duties as to all family affairs.

Sexual and reproductive rights implementation


Although Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, abortion practices are still governed by the abortion law of the Ethiopian Penal Code of 1957 (Eritrean Transitional Penal Code). According to this Penal Code, termination of pregnancy is prohibited except when it is performed to save the pregnant woman from grave and permanent danger to her life or health that cannot be averted in any other way (Article 534, section 1).  However, article 533 of the penal code made some general extenuating circumstances justifying for mitigation of the punishment if the pregnancy has been terminated as a result of a grave state of physical or mental distress, especially following rape or incest, or if caused by extreme poverty.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

In March 2007, the Government of Eritrea issued the proclamation No. 158/2007 aimed at abolishing female genital mutilation. This proclamation provides a detailed definition of FGM/C that encompasses all forms of the practice. Even Criminal penalties for FGM/C have been included which range from prison sentences and fines, to suspension of medical practitioners who perform FGM/C from practicing their professions for a maximum of two years. The proclamation also imposes jail sentences and fines for requesting, inciting or promoting FC. Finally, fines are imposed on individuals who fail to notify authorities about FCs that are about to take place or that have already taken place. For more information on FGM/C practice in Eritrea, see UNFPA.

Rights of sexual minorities

According to Article 600 of the 1957 Penal Code, same-sex sexual acts are illegal in Eritrea: they are strictly prohibited under “unnatural carnal offences” and are punishable by simple imprisonment which may extend for a period of ten days to three years (Article 105). For more information about legality of homosexuality in Eritrea you can go to The Fahamu Refugee Programme.

Violence against women

Rape: Eritrean Penal Code of 1957 (Articles 594-599) prohibits rape and provides harsh penalties for sexual violence against women.

Human Traffic: As described in Article 605 of the same Penal Code, the trafficking of women, whether by seducing them, by enticing them, or by procuring them or otherwise inducing them to engage in prostitution, even with their consent; or keeping such a person in a disorderly house or to send her out to prostitution, is punishable with rigorous imprisonment not exceeding five years and a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars.

Sexual and reproductive rights challenges

Female Genital Mutilation and early marriage are a result of religious requirements and family or social pressures. Cultural and traditional attitudes towards the crime of rape against women and girls focus on shame leading to silence or partial reporting by victims. The Eritrean government alleges the probability of a recurrence of armed conflict with Ethiopia, thereby justifying its forcible recruitment of male and female soldiers under the age of 18. This puts young women in a difficult and vulnerable situation. An additional problem is that many people are living with HIV/AIDS. Despite legacy Ethiopian legislation being part of Eritrean law, especially the Penal Code, legislators in Eritrea still face many challenges in dealing with the above issues.