HARSH ECONOMIC CONDITIONS AGGRAVATING HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN EAST AFRICA

Article by Michael Mungai Nyambura

“Poverty is the driving force contributing to high rates of trafficking in Persons”

This paper will aim to explain in summary why human trafficking happens and how it happens. It will also look at the part played by administrative authorities, in this case the police, in aiding the continuation of trafficking in persons. Important to note is that they are not the only ones, immigration and embassy officers also aid in this especially in allowing visa issuance and in and out of the country entry and exit. It will also look at how the economy leads to poverty and hence increased desperation among the poor in urban areas and rural areas. Slave disposability is also another factor.

Modern-day slavery (trafficking) and migrant domestic worker abuse contain the same element of manipulation and deception of the poor in the society and desperate migrants, by being made to believe that there exists a chance of bettering their situations. In the case of human trafficking, these trafficked persons become either unpaid or poorly paid, and are viewed as “a commodity that can be used again and again for accumulating profit.” Hence victims can be exploited over and again by different trafficking perpetrators. This is through slave disposal and acquisition which will be elaborated further in coming paragraphs.

One of the ways that perpetrators maintain and keep victims in their custody is through debt bondage, for instance, a young girl is promised some employment in a town or country different from her own. Here, a perpetrator or broker can, during the initial stages of recruitment offer to pay transport for a victim, process her travelling documents if she is to work abroad and or maybe give her parents some initial amounts to keep them going. Once the young girl commences on her job, she is expected to first of all pay all the amount that was used on her before she can, send money home or even leave her employer turned ‘captor’. What the girl is not told is that there is a constantly varying interest rate charged on the particular ‘initial amount’ the captor used and hence little chance for the young girl to free herself from her bondage. Threats, physical and sexual abuse may accompany debt bondage. They are control tools.

When it comes to sexual exploitation of trafficked victims, the trade or vice flourishes even in areas where activities such as prostitution is illegal since local administration chooses to turn the other eye towards it. This is mostly because the administration also benefit from bribes paid by brothel owners. The administrative forces do raid brothels time and again, but these raids are not meant to redeem the sexually exploited victims of trafficking from their predicament but are however, to collect bribe money. The money paid is to ensure protection for brothel owners. The enslavement of any person is illegal in every country in the world. Therefore, this is an occurrence that is only able to exist due to the active complicity of government officials. Those in a position to rescue the victims choose not to do so, is it because they are complacent with the exploitative process or it is because they fail to know that most of the girls in brothels are victims of trafficking from various parts of the country or even from across borders?

One is to ask why does human trafficking thriving so much and yet so difficult to detect? Many answers could be given but the main answer to this lies from an ‘economic perspective’. First, political elites in the Kenya and other developing countries focus on economic growth, which is not just in their collective self-interest but as required by global financial institutions, little attention is paid to sustainable livelihoods for the poor majority. Through this approach, livelihood of the rich increases substantially while that of the poor diminishes greatly.

Secondly, the efforts to keep down labor costs in employment and the greed for more profits has intensified irregular employments where unqualified individuals are given jobs to push down the cost of employment. This is because they are aid less than the deserving qualified workers. This increases rural to urban migration and urban unemployment. The unqualified children and youth from the poor suburbs’ and rural areas are ready to work for very minimal wages since the qualified individuals for those particular jobs are not ready to work for that pay.  Here too, poor parents with an aim of improving their income, since they cannot meet all their needs, deploy the income-generating capacity of their children in order to ensure that the household survives. The young ones are sent to work in the cities and sub urban areas as house helps and shamba boys. In other areas such they work as miners since they can crawl easily in mining pits, while others provide sexual services to tourists and interested locals.

Increased poverty levels brought about by unequal distribution of recourses and lack of employment opportunities forces individuals to seek for economic opportunities beyond their countries borders, especially in the case of unemployed but qualified personnel who were laid off in an aim of driving down the cost of labor. It is in this search for employment abroad that they fall prey to human traffickers, through bogus employment agencies. With the impossibility of illegal migration to occur, some cunning individuals pose as employment officers representing various employment firms abroad, and with the capability to job seekers negotiate borders and finally locate them jobs in countries far from home. After this, the migrants end up being exploited for labor, or for sex in brothels, industries or family houses.

The ease of disposability of the modern slave is also a contributing factor to the widespread growth of human trafficking, take a young house girl for instance. The young girl is from the rural areas and will be employed for about Ksh 1,000 or 2,000 a month. She probably will be overworked, denied food or even beaten and at other times her salary deducted to cover for transport used on her or in the house breakages such as those of cups and glasses. When this young girl can take it no more, she will be chased away and the employer will get her replaced with other one from another rural village who will be treated similarly. In the meanwhile, the one who was chased away is desperate and will be willing to work anywhere and for any pay, or at least to get some food and a roof above her head. The cycle of disposal and new acquisition continues, with the fate of the disposed ones becoming more and more dimmer since they are vulnerable to further labor exploitation and may fall victims of sexual exploitation. The decrease of the time of ‘enslavement’ in this instance increases the number of individuals who will be held in this or another form of ‘slavery’ with time.

Inadequate public knowledge on human trafficking and its various forms, lack of necessary legislation to combat human trafficking, especially punishment of perpetrators enables the vice to continue.

Therefore, widespread poor economic and social conditions combined with little or no international and or domestic punishment mechanisms for human trafficking makes Kenya and the world over “highly lucrative breeding grounds for trafficking in persons.”

Michael Mungai Nyambura is one of the founders of Consolation East Africa (CEA).

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Veronica
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 14:51:01

    We must end this slavery must be eradicated. Through blood ,sweat and tears it must end.

    Like

    Reply

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