Are you unknowingly abetting human trafficking?

Many of those we employ as domestic workers are victims of modern-day slavery, sometimes betrayed by relatives or friends

Modern Day Slavery

By Nadrat Mazrui

Every single one of our households has a domestic worker who assists in the daily activities and running of our homes. The domestic worker might be either male or female depending on our personal preferences. Have we ever pondered even for a single moment how is it that our domestic worker ever came into that line of work? Or do we simply assume it was a voluntary choice due to financial reasons?

Majority of our workers would tell us (if we bothered to ask) that they had a variety of dreams just like you and me and never in their wildest dreams did they ever consider domestic work. I mean, who grows up wishing and counting on the days that they would get to scrub people’s toilets or look after someone’s (sometimes insufferable) children?
What most of us may not understand (or admit) is that a high number of our domestic workers are victims of human trafficking.

The idea of procuring people for different purposes began way before colonisation. It all started because the wealthy, more advantageous colonisers took advantage of the natives they conquered. They used human trafficking as a weapon to entrench the “inferiority” of the natives. And since opposition to this trend began, organisations like Amnesty International, the Not for Sale Campaign and Human Rights Watch have provided opportunities to our world to help the anti-slavery movement.

The combined efforts of all these forces have helped the movement against human trafficking. However, there are still countries infatuated with the economic gain from human trafficking that are not ready to let go. As sad as it is, Kenya is among them.
Trafficking in persons has been a reported problem in Kenya for many years. The demand for trafficked labour has been documented in the agricultural, mining, services, domestic work and prostitution. People have also been reportedly trafficked for military service, forced marriages and ritual purposes.

Amnesty International’ defines Human Trafficking as “human trade, slave markets, and the buying and selling of people”. The UN has adopted the United Nations Convention against Organised Crime to counter this. To supplement the Convention, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, also known as the Palermo Protocol, was adopted.

The Convention defines trafficking in persons as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction to achieve the consent of a person having control of another person for the purpose of exploitation.”

In Kenya, 83pc of survey respondents agree that they know what human trafficking is. This is according to the report on Human Trafficking in Eastern Africa conducted by the IOM (International Organisation for Migration). Death of either the father or mother was found to increase one’s likelihood of being trafficked, as was death of both parents. Most trafficked respondents reported having met their trafficker on their own or through introductions by family members and friends.

Traffickers are found to exploit their victims’ aspirations to certain types of employment. Conflict, insufficient government policies, legislation, programmes and law enforcement may also be contributing factors to an environment in which traffickers act with impunity while attitudes and values regarding women and children contribute to their vulnerability to being trafficked.

Traffickers lure their victims by making promises; some are threatened or forced. The most frequently made promises are of jobs and good salaries, followed by education. The most commonly promised jobs being in hospitality, the service sector or domestic work. Many of those who do not get the jobs promised end up as domestic workers, prostitutes, street workers or fall into informal jobs. A sizeable minority are not allowed to keep their earnings. A majority of trafficked persons have their freedom of movement and freedom of choice restricted at some point and in some way during the trafficking process.

Victims are forced into activities against their will, even being forced to have sex (not necessarily transactional sex). Threats are the most common type of force used; the use of physical violence is also reported. Victims identify family members, friends, people living in their area, employers and employment agencies as their traffickers (or facilitators), and that both men and women are found to be involved in trafficking, although male traffickers tend to work with other men and female traffickers with other women, rather than in mixed groups.

Human trafficking is a global problem, affecting every region in the world. The number, strength and nature of a person’s relationship affects whether they are trafficked or not. Those whose families have disintegrated either through death or divorce are at more risk for trafficking. In addition, having family members or friends who encourage migration may also be a risk factor for trafficking.

Human trafficking has a very negative impact on democracy, state security and gender equality (since majority of victims are women and children) within countries where it is present. The offence represents a gross violation of basic human rights which are enshrined and guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It adversely affects the integrity of the victims and the damages inflicted upon individuals cannot be undone.

According to the Trafficking in Persons Report, Kenya is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to trafficking. Within the country, Kenyan children are forced into domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation. They are also frequently used as forced labour in agricultural production (particularly in plantations), fishing, cattle herding, and begging, street vending and as bar attendants, exposing many to of drug abuse.

Traffickers who gain poor families’ trust through familial, tribal or religious ties falsely offer to raise and educate children in towns, or promise to obtain lucrative employment for young women. Kenyan adults who are trafficked to different regions of the world including Asia, Europe and the US, are exploited in involuntary domestic servitude.

Kenya has passed a law that will make it easier to secure convictions for human trafficking by providing greater support to victims, and even encouraging them to give evidence. The Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act defines exploitation as keeping a person in a state of slavery, subjecting a person to practices similar to slavery, involuntary servitude, forced labour and child labour. Exploitation also includes child marriages and forced marriages.

Section 3 states that a person commits the offence of trafficking in persons when s/he recruits, transports, transfers, harbours or receives another person for the purpose of exploitation by means of threat, abduction, fraud or deception. A person who initiates adoption, fostering or guardianship proceedings for the purpose of child trafficking also commits an offence under the Act.

A victim of trafficking in persons shall not be criminally liable for any offence related to being in Kenya illegally or for any criminal act that was a direct result of being trafficked. They may further be eligible to work for gain for the duration of their necessary presence in Kenya. The Act aims to improve support to victims of crime, including provision of a place of safety, food, medical treatment, psychosocial care and police protection. It also establishes a fund to assist victims.

This is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises because it holds relatively low risk with high profit potential. Criminal organisations are increasingly attracted to human trafficking because, unlike drugs, humans can be sold repeatedly. Kenya has been on the US Tier 2 watch list on human trafficking for failing to tackle the problem for the past three years.

Although the Act was enacted in 2012, there have been very few successful prosecutions because of the high threshold of evidence required to obtain a conviction. Many trafficking victims are so traumatised that they are unwilling to testify.

Raising awareness about the human trafficking issue is what the Not for Sale campaign is trying to do. This tactic is similar to raising awareness for breast cancer with wearing pink; this campaign uses orange ribbons.

There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today, according to the International Labour Organisation. These figures may not mean much to most, but to the countless women, men and children trafficked every year, these words define the horror of their lives.



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