Combating Human trafficking along the Kenya Coastline

Article by:  Paul Adhoch the Executive Director of  TRACE KENYA.

This presentation is based on the experiences of Trace Kenya in its attempt to, jointly with other organizations, state and non state actors, combat human trafficking in the coast region. Trace Kenya is a non governmental organization (NGO) working in partnership with individuals, organizations and government agencies to combat the trafficking of persons in Kenya. Trace Kenya works in Kwale, Mombasa and Kilifi counties in coast region – Kenya.

The paper shows i) the current situation, ii) emerging trends and iii) attempts by Trace Kenya and other civil society organizations in combating human trafficking in coast region. This paper will also describe challenges facing none state actors in their attempts to combat human trafficking and what measures, if any have been put in place to support these organizations in this endeavor.

1.0 Introduction – Trace Kenya

Trace Kenya was established in 2006 to counter the trafficking of persons in the coast region. Our mandate, though national, has remained focused on Kwale, Kilifi and Mombasa counties in the six years of our work. Trace Kenya works with individuals and organizations to counter modern day slavery. The target population is children, and young persons, who are vulnerable to human trafficking for exploitative purposes.

2.0 Situational Analysis

2.1 Returnees from the Middle East

Trafficking in persons in coast region is now publicly seen through the eyes of the returnees from Middle East. This follows the current media attention to the circumstances of Kenyan women working there. Trace Kenya has in the past one year, had to deal with the situation of young women faced with exploitative labour relations in the Middle East, in what has been described as travel bondage. Through labour agents in Mombasa and Nairobi, young women are lured into skewed labour contracts in the Middle East, especially the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and they must, for the first 18 months or so, repay their travel and accommodation upkeep in virtual slavery, after which their contracts expire in less than six months.

Labour Agents receive as much as Kshs 450,000.00 per young woman delivered to the Middle East, whose pay is on average Kshs 16,000.00 per month with over 18 hours of work and very poor food and accommodation. In some instances, the girls have come back in a casket.

Trace Kenya was able to facilitate the return of six girls since the month of March 2011. Two girls are still stuck in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with the latter’s telephone number being switched off. This is just the latest face of human trafficking which has evolved around the region. Trafficking is ever changing tact and perpetually manifesting itself as a normal activity with no ill motives or illegal intent. At the moment, girls in the coast are recruited for jobs in the Middle East through hair salons, and restaurants, in the most innocuous manner. However many of the recruiters of girls have moved out to western Kenya following a lot of cries and media attention in the coast region.

2.2 Other forms of human trafficking

There are other forms of child and human trafficking manifesting themselves in the Kenyan coast region. These include, but are not limited to:

i)             Child trafficking and sex tourism

ii)            Street begging and street family phenomena

iii)           Commercial sex work and trafficking in women for Commercial Sex Work

iv)           Radicalization of youth for militia groups and terrorism activities

v)            Child sex prostitution

vi)           Child labor and domestic servitude

vii)         Early Child Marriage

viii)        Men to men sexual exploitation for male commercial sex workers.

All these forms of human trafficking target children from poor background or youth desperate for employment and economic development, willing to take the chance, even when they are not necessarily unaware of the potential pitfalls.

3.0 Emerging Trends in Human Trafficking in the region

3.1 Child Trafficking

There is emerging trend towards child trafficking targeting the girl child for sexual exploitation in the three counties. Many of the traffickers promise the girls work in massage parlors, hair salons or hotel industry. Some are lured with the promise of marriage and escape from poverty, but end up sexually exploited by their captures. Fortunately, the much aware public has been able to fight back and in many cases the law has been used to convict a number of culprits. Incidentally, the law applicable in all the reported cases has been the Sexual Offenses Act 2006, and not the Counter Trafficking in Persons Act 2010, which has harsher penalties for persons convicted of child trafficking.

3.2 Sex Tourism

Sex tourism, especially in middle level hospitality establishments and villas and cottages is on the increase. This is mainly due to the fact that star rated hotels have ensured that this does not occur in their establishments. This follows campaigns made by Non state actors in the mid-2006 to 2008 on the code of conduct for the protection of children from sexual exploitation in the hotel and tourism industry. The traffickers have now devised ways to avoid public scrutiny by engaging in sex tourism within private villas and cottages. Attempts by Trace Kenya and other non state actors towards scrutinizing villas and cottages have met with heavy resistance. Working with the local residents association, the police and the representative trade unions, there seems to be some progress, at least in the last couple of months.

Young people seeking jobs in the villas and cottages are also lured by some traffickers to produce pornographic movies. The fact that villas and cottages are private, make it difficult to know what actually takes place in there unless reported by other workers or the victims themselves. In Kilifi County, the villas and cottages are situated in Malindi and Watamu, while in Kwale, they are in Diani, Msambweni and Tiwi areas.

4.0 Combating Human Trafficking in Coast Region

4.1 Local networks

Trace Kenya has worked closely with Solwodi, an NGO working with commercial sex workers to combat human trafficking in Kenya, in shared information on trafficking in persons as well as shared experiences. Trace Kenya has also been able to work with grassroots organizations, CBOs and FBOs in the region to counter child trafficking and trafficking in young persons. In Kwale County, for instance, through the Diani Residents Association’s effort, whistle blowing and reporting to the police is encouraged to ensure the illegal activities are combated. Similar efforts are being made to enhance local networks with community organizations to support monitoring of illegal activities.

4.2 Non State Actors’ Program works

Using small grants support from our collaborators, project work towards elimination of trafficking and sexual exploitation has been recorded by Trace Kenya in Kwale and Mombasa counties. Other none state actors have had successful programs in Mtwapa, Taita Taveta, Kilifi and Mombasa targeting children, commercial sex workers and persons with disabilities. The organizations working in various parts of the coast include Kituo Cha Sheria, Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri), Solidarity with Girls in Distress (Solgidi), Abused Children Rescue CBO, Mji wa Usalama, The Catholic Peace and Justice Commission (CPJC), Kenya Community Support Centre (Kecosce), Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance (KMYA), Child Welfare Society (CWS), Solidarity with Women in Distress (Solwodi), Harvest of Hope, Malindi District Children Department, CISP, COPDEC Taveta, and Kenya Alliance for the Advancement of Children Rights (KAACR) among others.

5.0 Challenges

5.1 Poor data and Information for Effective Advocacy

One of the challenges facing Non state actors in combating human trafficking is the dearth of accurate data. This has also meant that financing of programs for the same has been difficult as it is difficult to assess the level of the situation. Though information on trafficking is readily available, no coherent manner of information capture has been established. Added to this is the fact that victims of trafficking do not easily come out to seek support, mainly out of fear of further victimization, stigma and shame as well as the trauma that they may have come through with.

5.2 Capacity of partners to deal with human trafficking at all levels

As a human rights phenomena, programming for counter trafficking is fairly new in Kenya’s civil society realm. In the past, organizations simply addresses aspects of trafficking such as violence against children, sexual violence against girls, socio-economic support for women, youth support and so on and so forth. The complexity of human trafficking is such that no one organization can and has come up with a comprehensive program to combat it. This has necessitated networks and joint activities to combat trafficking. Secondly, the secretive nature of trafficking in persons has been such that it is not apparent to a casual observer – until something goes wrong!

International Organization for Migration (IOM), The Cradle, KARDS and Consolation East Africa have been at the forefront of training organizations on human trafficking and how to support victims of trafficking in coast region. Trace Kenya has similarly organized trainings for grassroots organizations and her staff to build capacity for countering human trafficking.

Together with Solwodi and the CJPC, Trace Kenya has also hosted a number of organizations both local and international to share information on human trafficking in the region. Literature from partner organizations has been shared as has links to useful blog-sites to enable partners appreciate the magnitude of the problem of human trafficking. Media reports and campaigns especially by the local Standard Group and international CNN have been used to illustrate the situation both locally and abroad.

5.3 Entrenched belief that trafficking is legitimate

In the mind of many community members, aspects of trafficking are legitimate and even acceptable. When a young girl, for instance, gets involved with an elderly white person, the community see themselves as moving out of poverty. They do not imagine that the elderly person is exploiting the younger person, indeed they believe they are the ones exploiting the elderly person! In some instances, couples arrange to befriend and even engage in sex with a white stranger, both male and female, and when the stranger is visiting, then the other spouse is referred to as worker or cousin or even house servant. Sex in exchange for gifts is easily acceptable as normal hence building ground for further exploitation.

6.0 Way Forward

Research and baseline on trafficking in the region

The last major research on sexual exploitation as an aspect of trafficking in persons was undertaken by UNICEF in 2006, targeting children. We believe that there is need to undertake a comprehensive baseline on the different forms of trafficking in persons in the coast region., and indeed in the country to inform policy makers and relevant stakeholders on the best form of intervention.

There is still need to build capacity of individuals and organizations working to combat human trafficking in the region.

There is need to continue with community awareness programs, coupled with enforcement of existing laws to reduce human trafficking in Kenya.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie Falzon
    Aug 21, 2015 @ 17:07:07

    Hello, I am very much interested in contacting the person who wrote this report as I am currently carrying out research on trafficking and sex work in Malindi, Kenya.
    Could someone send me a contact email for the author please?



  2. East African Counter Human Trafficking Efforts
    Sep 08, 2015 @ 17:19:40

    Stephanie, we shall send the author your contact. Alternatively, you can also reach them through the contacts on their website here



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