Is Kenya turning into a human trafficking hub?

The Standard
By Maureen Mudi and Michael Oriedo

Police officers at the Coast Province guard suspected victims of human trafficking who were apprehended in Mombasa. Photos: Maarufu Mohamed/Standard

It was early in the morning when 13 girls were found stranded outside one of the offices to a bus company in Mombasa.

The girls, who were aged between 10 and 16 years, looked dazed, confused and worn out and claimed to be waiting for someone to come and collect them. Unfortunately, no one ever came to collect them.

It only later emerged that they were victims of human trafficking who had been lured from Tanzania on the promise that they would get plum jobs in Kenya.

The girls painfully narrated what had befallen them and how their host had vanished after learning they had been found out. She chickened out after realising she would be arrested.
Luckily, the girls were later ferried back to Tanga after interventions from various human rights agencies.

Although this group was lucky, many other victims of human trafficking in Kenya have not been as lucky.

One such unlucky victim is 11-year-old Martin who is now in an unfamiliar territory after he was brought into the country a month ago on the promise that he would get better education.

Cruel treatment

He, however, landed in the hands of a cruel guardian who subjected him to torture and abuse. He would wake him up by 4am to wash clothes before going to school on an empty stomach.

From school, he would return home to do domestic chores until late in the night. Luckily, a Good Samaritan rescued him and he is currently housed at a children’s home in Mombasa.

Martin is one among a growing number of children, women and men who are being lured by promises of education or employment only to be enslaved as domestic workers in an emerging trend of human trafficking. The victims, mostly from upcountry and outside the country are promised better lives by traffickers but end up confined under difficult conditions to work for little or no pay.

Some are employed in massage parlours where they work as prostitutes.

So rampant is the practice that the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is calling for enactment of an anti-human trafficking legislation to curb the vice.

“Human trafficking is on the increase in Kenya. Vulnerable young women, children and men are caught between more favourable conditions for traffickers recruiting victims and a lack of proper legislation,’’ says Tal Raviv, IOM’s Regional Program Development Officer.

The Kenyan coast has been identified as being a notorious transit point for traffickers where children work as prostitutes and beach boys.

The victims are trapped within three trafficking routes. These are: Mombasa-Diani-Shimoni, Mombasa-Mtwapa-Malindi and Mombasa-Mariakani-Voi.

The marriage connection

Mr Paul Adhoch, the Executive Director of Trace, a counter trafficking organisation based in Mombasa, says most of the victims are school dropouts.

He says that early marriages have also turned into a form of common trafficking in the area and other parts of the country.

“Parents marry off their young children to benefit from the proceeds given as dowry,” he says. “This is human trafficking.”

Investigations have established that trafficking is now being extended to smaller towns like Samburu, Makueni, Marereni and Ukambani due to famine and poverty.

Other places include areas where victims of the post election skirmishes have pitched tents.

“Unscrupulous people go to these areas and try to provide alternatives for the victims hence trafficking them,” says Mr Japheth Kasimbu, IOM counter-trafficking officer.

But Adhoch says that 6,000 to 9,000 people are trafficked annually in Coast Province with a third of them being children.

“Mombasa is a source, destination and route of trafficking. Individuals, especially girls from as far as Uganda, Tanzania and DR Congo come to Kenya with hopes of linking up with rich tourists but some of them unfortunately turn them into sex slaves,” he says.
He cites Mtwapa and Diani as areas where most victims are exploited.

Transit route

“Eighty per cent of the businesses in these areas thrive because of commercial sex workers. Most of those involved are adults who were willing to get good jobs but ended up being trafficked for such purposes,” Adhoch notes.

However, other victims of trafficking and smuggling use Mombasa as a transit route. “They come from Asia and Pakistani through the town and learn Kiswahili. They then work for other Asians and then head to Canada and other European nations,” he adds.

In August this year, a Mombasa court jailed a woman for three years after she was found guilty of human trafficking related case.

The woman was part of a group of people who had ferried 12 children from Nairobi to Mombasa promising them a fascinating holiday. However, on arrival at Mombasa, police intervened and rescued the children.

The Mombasa District Children’s Officer Ms Rose Mumo says trafficking is difficult to detect since it is done in secret and some victims cooperate with traffickers.

She says some long distance truck drivers plying the Malaba, Kisumu, Eldoret route exchange sexual favours with young girls aged between 12 and 15 years so that they ferry them to Mombasa. “They drop them at Jomvu area after having sexual adventures with them,” she says.

According to Tanzania’s Anti-Trafficking Unit, traffickers mostly use two routes to ferry the human cargo. The first route is Shimoni in Mombasa to Pemba, Pangani in Tanzania then to Mozambique before going to South Africa. The other route is Shimoni, Bagamoyo, Mtwara in Tanzania, Mozambique and finally to South Africa.

According to an officer at African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANNAPCAN), an organisation that helps victims of cross-border trafficking at Tarakea, on the Kenya-Tanzania border, trafficking is caused by unemployment.

Most of those who are trafficked between Kenya and Tanzania are in search of greener pastures. The officer says both Kenya and Tanzania have porous borders, which provide great opportunities for human trafficking and smuggling. “There is a big problem among the police in both countries. They cannot distinguish between domestic trafficking, which is perceived to be normal, and international trafficking, which is criminalised but no prosecutions have been effected so far for lack of laws,” he says.
He identifies domestic servitude, street vending, agricultural labour, herding and sexual exploitation as some of the jobs for which children are trafficked in the country.

Kasimbu says brothels and massage parlours are some of the destinations for the women victims of trafficking.

“Brothels and massage parlours have turned to be exploitation dens for foreign young women. Victims are trafficked from Rwanda, Democratic republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda and Somalia and are coerced to work in these establishments, increasing their vulnerability to sexual exploitation or forced into prostitution,” he says.

Destination for victims

He adds that some dubious employment agencies also perpetuate trafficking of Kenyan nationals to the Middle East, Western Europe and the USA.

In November 2008, police smashed a syndicate in Nairobi and rescued 76 women who were being trafficked to Saudi Arabia. The women had been given money to cater for their medical tests and for visas.

These women mainly from Coast, Central and Western provinces had converted to Islam. Ironically, although they were rescued the women were angry with the police for denying them an opportunity to travel abroad where they had hoped to get employment.

Mr Kasimbu advises job seekers to always confirm with the Ministry of Labour whether they are dealing with dubious or genuine employment agencies.

“You can check if the opportunities being offered exist by logging on to http://www.labour.go.ke/hrm before committing yourself. If possible, have the labour office assist you in negotiating terms and conditions, of the job offered,” he says.

Coast Provincial Police Boss, Leo Nyongesa, said no formal complaints have ever been reported about the vice in the region.

“As much as human trafficking is a serious offence, we cannot act on hearsay. But we are always ready to investigate and act against such offences,” he said.

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