2 December 2020
Although Kenya’s location makes it East Africa’s most popular transit route for trafficking from the Horn to southern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia, domestic slavery in Kenya is also a huge concern. The Global Slavery Index estimates that 328 000 people are living in modern slavery in the country.
Human trafficking contributes significantly to the Kenyan underground economy, especially since the country is a source, transit and destination country for sex trafficking and forced labour. New trends are also developing: there has been a sudden spike in online human trafficking recruitment and exploitation since the outbreak of COVID-19, and India has emerged as a new sex-trafficking destination for Kenyan women, who are lured to the country with the promise of a better job and then used as sex slaves.
As the world observed the international day for the abolition of slavery on 2 December 2020, a team of Kenyan civil society organizations, led by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC)’s Resilience Fund, embarked on a far-reaching online campaign geared towards the prevention of human trafficking in the country.
The Gaining Grip campaign
Now in its third year and organized by the Anika Initiative and the Peace Tree Network, two Kenyan civil society organizations, the Gaining Grip Experience attracted more than 8 million participants. The discussion took the format of a Twitter campaign, a live panel discussion and a concert featuring spoken-word artists, musicians and poets.
These approaches were conceived to fit creative platforms where young people could deconstruct some of the most common stereotypes related to human trafficking, seeking to spark a conversation on how to treat victims of various trafficking markets in the country.
During the live panel discussion, experts raised concerns over the handling of human trafficking victims. Mohamed Daghar, the East Africa Coordinator for ENACT (Enhancing Africa’s Response to Transnational Organized Crime), said that both the legal and operational intervention mechanisms focus on the crime once it has already been committed, instead of on prevention. ‘We need to look at what made the person become a victim. If we are looking at labour-related or sex-related types of trafficking, we need to come up with very comprehensive methods of preventing the crime from taking place,’ said Daghar.
Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART) Kenya, one of the partners in the event, called instead for a human approach. HAART, which is involved in the rescuing and repatriation of human trafficking victims, emphasized the need for empathy in handling victims who have been brought back home and for the establishment of support systems to guarantee their reincorporation into society. ‘We should help these victims of human trafficking through their journey … They should know they can ask for help,’ said Sophie Muriuki, a therapist working with HAART.
However, as South Sudan refugee Dave Erjok pointed out, this becomes difficult when victims are refugees, as it is hard to offer them the same security that citizens benefit from: ‘Most of the refugees are not even aware [of] being trafficked or abused. Unfortunately, they end up as victims in situations that could have been prevented if they understood the mechanisms of human slavery.’
Kenyan artists join the campaign
The online ‘artivism’ concert included victims of trafficking rescued by HAART. They spoke about their plight at the hands of the exploiters and how they had been able to break free. ‘My family tried to force me to go through female genital mutilation. They also tried to marry me off when I was eleven, but I refused. They forced me into child labour and I kept escaping from one relative to another until I was able to get into a safe house,’ said one victim.
Iqra Abdi, a Somali poet known to her followers as the ‘iron lady’, narrated the experience of many women from Somalia who left for Kenya in search of a better life and ended up being trafficked by a lover. ‘They ended up selling their bodies for a living … They soon found themselves entangled in a web of human and sex trafficking that is hard to break away from,’ she added.
In his piece ‘Silence’, Eric ‘Gugz’ Ngugi, a percussionist and spoken word artist, called for better measures to prevent human trafficking. ‘We need to come up with a mechanism to prevent modern slavery from taking place at grassroots levels … It is important to ensure that our children and youth understand how trafficking takes place. It is the only way we can stop it and protect our future generations,’ he said.
Although modern slavery continues to thrive in Kenyan society, initiatives such as this campaign help create awareness in the fight against it, especially by focusing on the 3P paradigm: prosecution, protection and prevention. Civil society organizations and non-state actors should ensure the fight to end human trafficking bravely continues, and victims can be repatriated before it is too late. Through joint campaigns and the fostering of partnerships, civil society organizations have helped victims voice their stories – a key factor in ensuring that others are not lured into the same traps.