Brutal Rapes and Murders in DRC

By JOY WANJA jwanja@ke.nationmedia.comPosted Monday, December 20 2010 at 18:00

Congolese women prepare to protest rape in their country.  According to the , According to the UN, over 200,000 cases of sexual  violence have been recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Photo /  William Oeri

Congolese women prepare to protest rape in their country. According to the , According to the UN, over 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo / William Oeri

It has never known political stability after the Belgian coloniser bolted out town. It has never enjoyed real prosperity in spite of being one of the richest countries in the world, resource-wise. It is Africa’s third largest country and yet it cannot defend its borders. And now it has won the unenviable accolade of the rape capital of the world.

Welcome to the Democratic Republic of Congo where few women are safe from the animal side of men.

Last week the women the rest Africa joined them in solidarity against rape.

Where else in the world do sons rape their sisters and mothers? Only in Rutshuru, Congo, they sang as they marched on the streets of Goma.

In this former Belgian colony the victims of rape fall short of accepting the beastly act as a way of life rather than a heinous crime.

Forty-two year old Justine Bolingo (not her real name) narrated her experience to DN2 in Goma last week. Her story in her own words:

“It was August this year. I was at my farm in Walikale with my husband tending to beans. Three men emerged from the thickets, surrounded us, and ordered us to lie on the ground.

‘Should we kill or rape you?’ The men shouted as they ordered us, corking guns as they displayed knives strapped on their waists. We gave in and froze to the ground.

Pinning my husband down with a gun on his head, the men in military uniform took turns at me as they mocked my husband. They forced my husband to watch as they destroyed my reproductive organs.

I looked into my husband’s eyes and the tears of pain were those of a man, helpless and defenseless. He seemed to be apologising for failing to protect me from the beasts.

After they were satisfied, they later blew his brains and asked me to look at the shattered head.

The man who shot my husband later said he wanted to join in the ‘catch’ and thus handed over the gun to his counterpart and pinned me on the ground. During the ordeal, the other men sprayed my husband’s body with bullets and cut off his hand which they later brought by my side.

They asked me to shake my husband’s detached hand as a sign to bid him goodbye.”

Later the animals assaulted her private with sticks and now she suffers from fistula. A fistula is a hole in the birth canal that leads to involuntary urination or defecation if not treated. The five men later retreated to the forest.

“When I came to three days later, I was in a hospital bed and swathed in bandages. There were other women in the same room who had undergone the same excruciating ordeal,” she recalls.

“My in-laws have warned me against returning home because I am considered unclean after the ordeal. I have not seen my children for the past eleven months and my worry is that the same cruel men might have raped my three daughters as well. God is now the father and protector of my family.

I can neither trust the government, nor my fellow villagers — not even the peace keepers. I have undergone three reconstructive surgeries and I’m yet to recover fully. Though I get constant flashbacks about the incident, I am glad to be alive.”

Justine is one of the survivors of the Walikale mass rape in August this year when rebels attacked the town in the mineral-rich eastern DRC, systematically raping women, children and some men for four days.

Walikale is home to the largest tin deposits in the Congo and large gold mines as well.

However, despite the presence of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), the women, girls, — and some men, live in fear. Their own armed forces and the UN have failed to protect them fully.

According to MONUSCO figures, over 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo and countless more have gone undocumented since the Great Lakes conflict began in 1996.

However, the MONUSCO head, Ms Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, says escorting women to their farms and security advise have reduced the incidence of rape.

“We patrol the areas and issue security advisories in high-risk areas,” Ms Sellassie said.

The Great Lakes crisis began when elements that had committed acts of genocide fled the neighbouring Rwanda in 1994 as the Paul Kagame-led Rwandese Patriotic Front rebel force took charge of the country.

The new regime in Kigali pursued them to their refugee camps in Eastern DRC, prompting them to strike back in 1996, setting off a regional war.

Now tens of thousands of women and children have been abducted and raped in eastern Congo in the past decade as a way to instill fear in the rural communities.

Despite a lull in the fighting, rape cases are still reported with the most recent ones in August this year.

Although rape attracts 20 years in prison, few rapist here have been punished thus the survivors continue to live in fear.

However, General Mayala Vainquer, who is in charge of the military in the North Kivu Province where the mass rapes occurred, says there were only four cases reported against the 200-figure that is often quoted.

A combination of impunity and the normalisation of rape in a society exposed to sexual violence over the past two decades is one of the challenges facing organisations that seek to liberate the DRC woman.

“We appreciate the solidarity visit of the women from this region and we will uplift the spirits of those women who were violated,” says North Kivu Province Vice Governor Feller Lutaichirwa Mulwahale.

The Governor pointed out that electing and nominating women to positions of leadership was one of the ways of empowering the population.
Men were also raped during the attacks but they are too embarrassed to seek counselling.

More than five million people have died during fighting in the DRC dating back to the mid-1990s. The conflict remains one of the longest- running, and deadliest, in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the DRC government and the military give conflicting figures on rape victims.

A joint effort by MONUSCO North Kivu Brigade and the Government of DRC, on October, 5 in Walikale resulted in the arrest of “Lt-Col” Mayele, a member of the Mai Mai Cheka group.

“Lt-Col” Mayele is suspected, along with other people, of ordering the mass rapes and other human rights violations which were committed between 30 July and August 2, 2010 in Walikale territory, North Kivu.

According to the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office’s preliminary report, a coalition of about 200 Mai Mai Cheka, FDLR, and elements of Colonel Emmanuel Nsengiyumva, former FARDC and ex-CNDP rebels, committed these acts against at least 303 civilians, including 235 women, 13 men, 52 girls and three boys.

With the surge in the rape cases, the DRC women clutch on the Congolese proverb; ‘No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come’

 

Kenya a conduit for human traffickers

BY SARAH WAMBUI and CATHERINE KARONG’O

Read more: http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/news/Kenyanews/Kenya-a-conduit-for-human-traffickers-6779.html#ixzz18jg1mBE9
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives

 

Posted on Capital FM Kenya

1/1

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 10 – A local NGO is warning that Kenya is being used as a channel of trafficking women from war-torn Somalia who are sold off as sex slaves abroad.

Womankind Kenya Executive Director Hubbie Hussein said on Thursday that about 20 to 50 young women from northern Kenya are trafficked every week to Nairobi and other European countries.

Ms Hussein explained that the phenomenon first targeted women placed in internal camps in Somalia but the practice is now spreading to Kenyan girls who live around the northern border towns.

“What is happening is that vehicles that ferry miraa (khat) to Somalia are also used to ferry young girls and women for the purpose of trade. Businessmen and women traffic these young girls to brothel houses in Nairobi and other countries,” she said.

Ms Hussein said that the girls were lured into the business with promises of jobs where they are made to part with some money so as to secure their ‘jobs’. She added that some of the girls were defiled by their traffickers before getting to their destinations.

“These girls are misused by the men in the vehicles after being told that they will be resettled in America. The law enforcement is very loose; police are not very cooperative; after all women are seen as objects for the pleasure of men,” she explained adding that a lot of young girls had dropped out of school in the region.

Ms Hussein who spoke as Kenya marked the final day of activism against violence on women commended the new Provincial Commissioner for North Eastern province saying he had so far tried to reduce the vice and asked the government to increase its efforts in fighting the ill.

“Mr Ole Serian is trying to work hard to stop this trade and is concerned about the violence against women. He has tried to make reforms at the provincial level but he cannot work alone. He needs support from the government,” she said and observed that the wrangles within different factions of government would not help avert the wrong.

“The conflicts between our politicians (who are always exchanging harsh words against one another) water down to the ground level such that these people (the cartels) see that there are no checks and balances and continue with the trade,” she stated.

Ms Hussein further added that Mr Serian’s efforts in the area had seen the government try to tighten the porous border lines however adding that more needed to be done.

“Security has been beefed up at the border points but there are still panya routes that are used to ferry these girls. The cartels know where the police are stationed and so they dodge them and use other routes,” she said further asking the government to tighten the entry points to Nairobi.

“Nairobi is where the girls are brought; that is where the end market is whether the girls will be taken to other countries or will remain in Kenya,” she explained.

Ms Hussein also called on the government to empower the traditional governance system so that the lowest forms of government committed themselves to ending the illegal trade.

“Our council of elders should be empowered so that they can be on the look out. The youths should be empowered so that they are also on the look out and so that they protect their sisters while women should be sensitised to protect each other. This trade requires the concerted efforts of different consortiums,” she said adding that religious leaders should also speak against the vice.

Elsewhere, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has cautioned Kenyans to be ware of private employment agencies that engage in human trafficking.

IOM Regional Program Development Officer Tal Raviv said on Thursday that emergencies like the food crisis, Mau evictions and the post election crisis create conducive environment for human traffickers to recruit, transport and exploit the vulnerable population.

“As long as you find a job abroad through an agency there should be mechanisms in place to ensure that this will not end up in trafficking,” she said.

She said illegal private recruitment companies had become a common mode of trafficking of persons abroad and added that there was need for a specific anti-human trafficking legislation to curb the menace.

“A person who sees an advertisement in the newspaper should be able to know this is an organisation that is accredited by KAPEA (Kenya Association of Private Employment Agencies) and that means that the contract they give is valid,” Ms Raviv said.

IOM Counter Trafficking Community Outreach Consultant, Japheth Kasimbu said 2008 statistics from the United Nations indicate that 2.7 million people were trafficked annually in 137 countries globally.

“We have also seen manifestations in street begging. We have a lot of women who walk around with children begging for money and they are not necessarily their children. These are children who have just been taken from their neighborhoods and they are using them to make sure that they are earning,” Mr Kasimbu said.

“This child is being exploited because they have been moved from one point to the city for exploitation. That constitutes to human trafficking,” he explained.

Emergency and Recovery Programme Manager Jerotich Seii Houlding noted that during the 2007 post-election crisis some children were moved from Internally Displaced Persons camps to other parts of the country without a clear purpose of what they were going to do.

“But there was an idea of either a children’s home or a school and there was even some religious connotation that this is actually a charitable activity being undertaken by the people who came to take these children and the parents apparently consented and this immediately raised an alarm because regardless of the intention behind the movement of children, if its not a clear case of fostering, adoption where there is a system and structure to protect those children that are being taken, eventually those children could find themselves in a situation of extreme exploitation

The IOM is now conducting a media campaign dubbed the ‘Kaa Chonjo’ to educate and caution the public on modes of human trafficking.

According to Counter Trafficking Project Officer Alia Hirjis the campaign mainly targets the population in Western, Rift Valley and North Eastern which are most prone to human trafficking.

“We want to build community awareness, capacity and create community networks that can support victims of trafficking so that we can build community policing so that if these cases are identified, people can know where to report them,” she said.

She said they also aimed to promote safe migration.

Read more: http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/news/Kenyanews/Kenya-a-conduit-for-human-traffickers-6779.html#ixzz18jfeO8l5
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives

Kenya: Slave Trade Booms as Poverty Bites

6 January 2010 by Abrullahi Jamaa  Allafrica.com

 

Nairobi — A group of young are gathered behind a makeshift structure where they have been living on edge. They have been sitting idle for the some hours. Their discussion returns to poverty, and how to overcome it. Sweats are beading on their worried foreheads.

Indeed, if there is a poverty-stricken place near Garissa Town, it is Bulla Masalani Village. The sun sets gently, leaving a cloudless sky and the first hints of cool air begin to blow through the thatched houses that make most homes.

“The sun rises everyday and it sets everyday, and like that sun, poverty rises here everyday, making us a lost generation,” says a 20-year-old youth we shall call Sheikh.

Seek asylum

“The only option now is to move out of this county and seek asylum.” For months Sheikh has been weighing the possibility of making the long journey to Africa’s biggest economy: South Africa. “We know that the journey is dangerous, but I cannot allow myself to be consumed by poverty. I better die elsewhere.

“We cannot further our education here, we cannot do business, we cannot get meals, so why should we stay in this horrible condition,” he asks the man who completed secondary school two years ago. He has borrowed the money required for the voyage South, now he has only few weeks the journey with human traffickers this month.

“Many friends and relatives have already gone, some died on the way and others are surviving. The one important thing is to run away from Kenya,” he says. Human trafficking business in the North Eastern region is getting bolder with every passing day.

“Of course we will have to seek better life elsewhere. We are concerned. Living conditions are getting worse by the day” says, Ahmed 19. Human traffickers have established a strong network to make money from those who are fleeing the sheer crumbling economy and the shocking unemployment that has ravaged most of Kenyan youth.

And here in the North, the scale of human trafficking is alarming. “Trafficking of people is very rampant here. It is a multi-million dollar business that is getting bold in much of the Great lakes and Horn of Africa region,” says Mr Abdullahi Hirsi, the executive director of Northern Heritage, a local aid agency in Garissa.

“In the past few years alone, because of droughts, we have seen a huge number of economic refugees targeted by human traffickers with a promise of better life elsewhere,” he said. A spot-check in Garissa, Wajir and Mandera shows that the illegal business is conducted daily, final arrangements done in Nairobi.

“In Garissa, at least five persons are trafficked in each of the more than 10 buses plying the route to Nairobi. You can imagine the number of people on sale everyday — more than 50,” says an anti-trafficking activist who sought anonymity due to security reasons. “This depicts a completely worrying picture.”

Nairobi’s’ Eastleigh has been the hub of the internationally denounced trade. Economic and conflict refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya are sold in the sprawling commercial centre to move to other countries. “Eastleigh is a connection point for most victims. It is where the journey starts and it is where most monies exchange hands,” says Amina Kinsi of Ngazi Moja Foundation, a lobby group in Eastleigh.

According to a recent report released by US State Department in June 2009, Kenya is a source, transit and a destination country for men, women and children trafficked for the purpose of better lives, forced labour and sexual exploitation. Victims take tedious routes to South Africa and sometimes to some European countries. Traffickers make millions of dollars every month by arranging and directing the journey to South Africa. Some victims end their travels with shocking deaths.

The cheapest illegal migration goes well over $600 while the most expensive takes more than $2,000 for a journey that sometimes takes several months. “Sometimes, you become stranded in a town where you know no one. I spent more than a week in Zambia as I had run out of cash,” said Farah, who returned from South Africa at the height of Xenophobia against Somalis.

“I reached Johannesburg after more than three weeks of journeying. It was the worst journey ever for me.” The cartel of human traffickers usually collect per-head fee at every entry point of these countries. “Traffickers use unmanned border towns, often meeting with little police and security restrictions,” says Mr Hirsi of Northern Heritage.

Some of this money is usually meant to pay kickbacks to Immigration officials and border police. “We travelled in group of about 10. At every point we paid about $100. If you don’t have enough money, you are left alone and you may get lost. That could mean losing your money or even your life,” says Farah.

The International Organization for Migration says women and girls are vulnerable to sexual abuse including rapes by even their own traffickers. Corruption among public officers has made life easy for benefiting from the sale of stricken villagers. Anti-trafficking NGOs in North Eastern say corrupt police officers are part and parcel of the business. Intelligence officers in the province agree. The authorities are incapable of changing things to stop the slave trade.

However, the North Eastern PC James Ole Serian says the government is making efforts to investigate and prosecute officials suspected of involvement. “We are having names of about seven individuals allegedly taking part in the illegal trade of selling people. We are investigating their case and we will obviously arraign them in court,” he says.

Pressure groups are saying that bus companies from the region to the capital Nairobi traffic even young children. “Bus conductors and some police officers on major roadblocks are major players,” says an activist. But as public transport gets tough for those involved in the business, the provincial authorities say these thieves have now resorted to more unlikely means.

Over the past few months, boats and dhows have been used to transport victims across River Tana. More are reportedly using government vehicles that are not searched by police.

Groups campaigning

Relevant Links

Groups campaigning against the illegal trade are worried that trafficking industry continues to be a profitable one in much of the Horn, but there is misery involved. An assessment carried out by the International Organization for Migration in the target regions of Kenya establishes poverty and the search for livelihood as key factors that render people vulnerable to trafficking.

Over the years, trafficking has grown a well organised crime that operates on a global scale, with an estimated trade value of $32 billion a year. Lack of global action and accords to prevent the trade is one key problem.

“In Kenya for instance, there are no immediate laws that can be used to address this problems. Some laws and amendments are urgently needed to stop the vice,” says Mr Hirsi. “You can realise the state of our lives. We are seeing traffickers are making money from people like us but we have accepted ourselves to be trafficked just to reach greener pastures,” Sheikh finally says.

 

The Counter Trafficking in Persons Capacity Building Facility

The MM-KARDS study (2009) entitled Human Trafficking & Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children in East Africa – Analysis of Projects and Activities Incorporating A Directory Of Actors Assisting Victims And Survivors found that human trafficking had some correlation with traditional hospitality; where unknowingly, benevolent relatives ended up enslaving children placed under their care. There are also many wealthy families employing children as young as seven years. They are not aware that it is wrong to do so despite there being anti child labour campaigns. Lastly there is the ease at which a poor parent may easily give his child to work in order to support the family with more income.

The study also found out that organizations working against trafficking in persons were very  diverse. For most (about a 95%) countering TIP was not their main preoccupation. However through their work in the fields of gender, child support, human rights promotion, HIV/AIDS, youth support, etc. they came across the problem of TIP, and decided to integrate it into their work. A strong point emerged that not having CTIP as a main preoccupation made it easy to develop an integrated approach. The weak point however was that  CTIP was not in the heart of the organizations and can thus be easily marginalized.

It is for the purpose of strengthening anti-trafficking organizations that CEA and EEP through the support of Mensen met een Missie have established a project known as “Building the Capacity of grassroots organizations to raise awareness about local and international human trafficking and ensure improved victim assistance”

The project intends to assist grassroots actors working towards addressing human trafficking within the following thematic areas:

  • Organizing awareness and informative campaigns on human trafficking
  • Organizing rehabilitation programmes for ex-prostitutes
  • Organizing support (and shelter) facilities for victims of trafficking
  • Promoting socio-economic empowerment activities to survivors

Grassroots actors targeted by this project will be located along the coastlines of Kenya (Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu) and Tanzania (Dar es Salaam, Pemba and Zanzibar) and in Nairobi.

Qualifying organizations will be assisted with financial assistance of ranging to the local equivalent of  Euro 200 to Euro 1000 for simple community counter trafficking in persons activities addressing any of the above objectives in an innovative way.

General Eligibility Requirements for Organizations Applying for Funding

To be eligible for the assistance, grassroots organizations are kindly requested to write  to us. Successful organizations will further be required to complete the CTIP Capacity Building Facility form. After this second process, the successful projects will be notified.

The application should demonstrate at a minimum that the group has experience of at least to years working in the community of origin – i.e. a successful track record; has addressed the counter human trafficking problem either directly or in-directly; has a functional management and organizational structure; has a reputation for honesty and the capability to handle and manage small funds to promote and achieve human good.

General Criteria for Selecting Projects

In determining which applicants among all those submitting requests will be considered for CTIP Capacity Building Facility, Consolation and EEP will consider and weigh those groups and proposed projects that submit evidence of the following criteria:

1. The project responds to the needs of Counter human Trafficking; by addressing either one or all the above objectives using simple, local, non costly and  innovative ways.

2. Evidence that the project benefits to the local community have endured for  two years and possibly more.

3. The project shows evidence of community members’ involvement and participation in the design, implementation, and management of the project;

4. The project has clearly defined, measurable and achievable goals and objectives.

Projects meeting the above criteria should write to us via kardscbf@gmail.com.

Held as slaves, now free

For more on this story, don’t miss a special “AC360°” series, “American Slaves: Hiding in Plain Sight,” tonight at 10 ET on CNN.

Newark, New Jersey (CNN) — They arrived in the United States from West Africa, young girls held against their will and forced to work for hours on end. But this time, it didn’t happen hundreds of years ago.

Nicole’s journey started in 2002, when she was barely 12, in her small village in western Ghana. She and about 20 other girls were held in plain sight, but always under the watchful eyes of their captors.

“It was like being trapped, like being in a cage,” said “Nicole,” now 19. CNN agreed not to use her real name.

“I always have to behave, behave, behave, behave. No freedom at all.”

Oakland authorities fight prostitution

Trafficked in plain sight

The girls’ families sent them to the United States after being assured they would receive a better education. But once they arrived, they were forced to work in hair braiding shops across the Newark area — just a short drive from New York City, right in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

The girls, who are now young women, have never spoken publicly before, until now.

“It was horrible,” said Zena Amevor, who was 15 when she was brought over from Togo. “Sometimes there was not enough food for us to eat. … It was like a prison. I was just stuck there. … It was horrible.”

For the first time, the former slaves provided details about their horrifying odyssey and an intimate view into the world of human trafficking and contemporary slavery.

“Jacqueline” was 13 when her family sent her to the United States, not knowing that a woman she called “auntie” was a human trafficker. It was unclear if the woman was a blood relative.

“My dad … worked hard so I could go to school, so when my auntie came and told my family that I could go to a school in the U.S. … they trusted her,” she said. “Everyone was happy about it.”

The girls worked in the salons right out in the open, in front of customers. They were on their feet all day, sometimes for more than 12 hours, weaving intricate and elaborate hair braids, seven days a week.

This went on for more than five years.

“We stood there all day, just braiding,” Jacqueline said. “If they want really small braids, you stay there sometimes until 2 a.m. … That’s every day.”

At times, they were forced to braid the hair of American teenagers no older than they were — girls who were free and had no idea the people braiding their hair were slaves.

“I wished I could go with them,” Nicole said. “Most of the time, I’d end up just breaking down later crying … because when I see teenagers going around, going to the movies and just being a teen … I just couldn’t understand why my life has to be this way … ”

In one of the many ironies in the case, the customers whose hair was braided by the slave girls were mostly African-American women, many of whom could have been descendants of slaves brought to America generations ago.

Slavery through trafficking continues widely today in the United States, though often undetected, according to law enforcement officials.

Nicole, Zena, Jacqueline and the other girls were held in groups in several houses around Newark and East Orange, New Jersey. The girls were brought to the United States at different times between 2002 and 2007, according to court documents. As the group grew, the traffickers ran out of places to put them and had to rent more living quarters.

The homes were always in the middle of residential areas with manicured lawns and nice houses, often near churches, schools and community buildings.

“I think it’s hard for people to believe that in 2010, we have people who actually put people in slavery,” said Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, whose office successfully prosecuted the case. “It’s the most fundamental and intolerable violation of human rights.”

When I [saw] teenagers going around, going to the movies and just being a teen … I just couldn’t understand why my life has to be this way …
–“Nicole,” human trafficking victim

The traffickers convicted in this case were a mother, father and son who also came from West Africa, according to court documents and law enforcement officials.

Nicole, Zena and Jacqueline described living in fear shortly after they arrived in the United States, forced to work by day at the hair salons and sleeping in groups on the floor at night.

“When I got here … I asked her if I was going to school, and she said there was no school,” Jacqueline said, referring to her auntie, the trafficking ringleader.

“I said, ‘I’m not going to school?’ [and] she said, ‘no’ … and that was her decision and she wasn’t going to change it.”

The captors controlled the girls by beating them, withholding food, keeping them separated from anyone else and, at times, through sexual abuse, according to court documents.

The young women who spoke to CNN described years of cruelty, physical abuse, beatings with wood or metal objects, extreme isolation and sleeping on mattresses on floors in filthy conditions. Even their phone calls back to their families were monitored by their captors.

“I always thought of running [away], but I know nobody,” Zena said. “I don’t know where to go, didn’t have [any] friends, nobody to talk to, so it was kind of hard. … I had nowhere to go to.”

Five years after the girls began arriving, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents received a tip and began extensive surveillance on the houses where the girls were kept.

After months of surveillance, the ICE agents raided the houses in 2007. Inside, they found the girls and mattresses on the floor. The traffickers had hidden bags of cash and the girls’ passports.

Peter Edge, who led the team of agents, said none of the girls’ customers ever called officials to help.

“Hundreds of people came into these salons, they probably witnessed things out of the ordinary,” said Edge, special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in Newark.

“These girls were shielded from the outside world, virtually hidden in plain sight … from everything else that was around them.”

Edge and the girls said several customers asked about the girls’ ages, and the girls — following the orders of their captors — lied and said they were 18.

“I wish one of my customers … would have gone to police,” Nicole said. “I wish they would have helped me.”

In the 2007 raid, the ICE agents found a notebook the girls used to track the tips they received, but couldn’t keep, at the hair salon. Ironically, on the cover of the notebook was a picture of the Statue of Liberty.

More than two years later, Akouavi Afolabi; her husband, Lassissi Afolabi; and their son, Dereck Hounakey, were convicted of running the trafficking ring. Akouavi Afolabi was the ringleader, while her husband and son were accomplices, according to court documents.

In September of this year, a Newark court sentenced Akouavi Afolabi to 27 years in prison, while her husband received 24 years and their son received 4½ years.

The girls had to testify against the Afolabis in court.

It’s so profitable that we are seeing some drug traffickers get out of drug trafficking and into human trafficking.
–Bridgette Carr, law professor and trafficking expert

“I remember crying. All I did was cry. It was overwhelming,” Nicole said. “I told myself, ‘She finally got what she deserved’ … she did really, really wrong. She treated us bad. And she was heartless … and I’m happy she was caught.”

Court records show the Afolabis knew many of the families whose girls they lured away to become their slaves. They had an elaborate scheme to lure the girls: Mrs. Afolabi would approach families of young girls in Ghana and Togo, where she had connections, and tell the families she would give the girls an education in the United States. They then used fraudulent visa papers to sneak the girls into the country.

Experts say the main reason for most modern-day human trafficking is money.

“Human trafficking is extremely profitable,” said Bridgette Carr, a law professor and a national expert on human trafficking.

The customers at the hair braiding salon where Zena and Nicole were forced to work would sometimes pay as much as $200 to $400 for elaborate braiding that would take many hours to complete.

The traffickers took every penny made by the girls, both in tips and payments for their hair braiding. They made about $4 million, according to court documents.

“It’s so profitable that we are seeing some drug traffickers get out of drug trafficking and into human trafficking,” said Carr, who teaches law at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor.

Carr heads a clinic that is helping Nicole and many of the other girls move ahead with their lives.

“Sadly, the work of our clinic is necessary in every community in America,” she said. “Human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery, exists in big cities, in small towns, in rural areas with no towns, exists in restaurants, in hair salons, in hotels and in farmwork.

“Almost every industry you can think of, there is an opportunity there for someone to be exploited. This is everywhere in the U.S.”

Today, Nicole, Zena, Jacqueline and the other girls are trying to move on with their lives. Several are in high school, and one has recently been accepted into college.

Most of the girls have not been able to return home to see their families in West Africa. When asked why she agreed to finally talk out about such a painful chapter of her life, Nicole said she wanted to raise awareness about what other young girls may be going through.

“I want to tell people that slavery exists,” she said. “It’s huge, and it’s really happening here.”

 

Nigeria deports 700 immigrants in sect crackdown

Hundreds of immigrants have been deported from northern Nigeria back to neighbouring countries as part of a security crackdown on a radical Islamic sect, a senior immigration official said on Thursday.

Suspected members of the Boko Haram sect have been blamed for torching police stations and carrying out fatal sniper attacks on police officers and local officials in the remote northeast of Africa’s most populous country.

Around 700 migrants from Niger, Cameroon and Chad have been expelled amid fears the sect may be drawing members from outside Nigeria, said Babayo Alkali, the top immigration official in Maiduguri, capital of the northeastern state of Borno.

“With the recent security threat in the state and approaching election, we had to embark on an exercise to clear the state of all illegal aliens,” Alkali said.

“Some foreigners were implicated in the Boko Haram security breach so we had to act,” he said.

Alkali said those deported, some of whom said they were visiting relatives, had been found to lack the necessary paperwork to stay in Nigeria. He did not say whether they had been found to have any links with Boko Haram.

Boko Haram is calling for sharia (Islamic law) to be implemented across Nigeria, a country of 140 million people that is roughly divided into a mostly Christian south and largely Muslim north. A dozen northern states have introduced the religious code over the last decade.

The sect first gained wide attention last July, when it launched an uprising in Maiduguri that led to clashes with security forces in which up to 800 people were killed.

Retaliation

Some northern Nigerians say the recent resurgence in violence is a form of revenge against the authorities. Police officers, government officials and traditional leaders have been killed in a wave of attacks that began in August.

Nigeria is due to hold a fiercely contested presidential election within the next six months and security concerns are high. Some northern factions within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are opposed to the candidacy of President Goodluck Jonathan, who is a southern Christian.

The dusty and impoverished north is not the only area of concern.

There are also fears that an amnesty for rebel groups in the oil-producing Niger Delta, hundreds of kilometres away on the country’s southern coast, is starting to fray.

The amnesty has brought more than a year of relative peace in a region where militants had for years attacked oil facilities and kidnapped Nigerian and foreign employees of firms including Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil.

A bomb attack in the capital Abuja on Oct. 1, which killed at least 10 people, was claimed by rebels from the region, home to sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil and gas reserves.

The security services said last month they would boost the army and police presence, including using helicopter patrols, in Borno in a bid to contain Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful” in the local Hausa language.

Alarm as 42 girls escape forced ‘cut’

Security officers are looking for 42 girls reported to have fled their homes due to forced circumcision in Marakwet West.

At the same time, reports indicate more than a thousand girls have undergone the outlawed rite, and hundreds more are lined up for the ‘cut’ before Christmas.

In Marakwet, girls aged between five and 13 from five villages in Tunyo Division reportedly fled on Wednesday night.

Neighbours, who requested not to be named, told The Standard some were beaten up and denied food for shunning the practice. Some reported the matter to provincial administrators and police before they fled.

Received threats

“When they received threats from their parents, some reported to us and the following day, we learnt of their escape,” said Chesuman chief Peter Suter. Marakwet West DC John Ondego said the Provincial Administration was on high alert.

“We have warned them those perpetrating the vice would be arrested and prosecuted,” said Ondego.

He said they had information more than 500 girls are to be circumcised in Tunyo and Tot divisions this  weekend. And in Rift Valley, hundreds of schoolgirls have been subjected to the ‘cut’ in the past week. Ceremonies in North, South and Central Rift are held at night away from prying eyes of rights activists, Provincial Administrators and the clergy.

“Several girls have been subjected to the ‘cut’ since schools closed last week and they are now recovering in seclusion,” said Cheruiyot Baliach, an officials of the Natures Wisdom, a local NGO.

Bomet District Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organisation official Taplelei Rotich called for concerted efforts to end the practice.

In Narok South, Transmara, Bomet and Sotik districts, there are claims some subjected to the ‘cut’ this season are married women.

“The women have voluntarily undergone the cut with full knowledge of their husbands,” said Mr Elijah Kipkirui, a social worker.

Meanwhile, more than 200 girls in West Pokot have undergone the ‘cut’.

“Girls are forced to undergo the rite as most parents remain deeply rooted in this practice,” said Immaculate Shamalla, a gender activist.

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