Counter-trafficking specialists say a law recently passed in Kenya which, for the first time, legally defines and recognizes trafficking in persons as a crime, will help protect the vulnerable and assist survivors, while serving as a deterrent to perpetrators.
“This legislation represents a significant new tool for Kenya in counter-trafficking law enforcement,” Tal Raviv, from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said in a statement.
Raviv added: “We hope that the new Counter Trafficking in Persons Act 2010 will create momentum to expand counter-trafficking initiatives in accordance with the 2008-2013 National Plan of Action.”
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki signed into law the new legislation in October. Conviction carries a 30-year jail term or a KSh30 million (US$370,000) fine.
In the past, absence of legislation and resources has affected law enforcement, officials said.
Claris Ogangah Onyango, the deputy executive director of the Federation of Women Lawyers, told IRIN: “It will now be possible to institute proper charges, sustain successful cases and obtain deterrent sentences [for] all those involved in the practice.”
Tony Odera, a lawyer at CRADLE, an NGO that works on children’s issues through legal representation, said many cases of trafficking had been reported in the past but lack of a clear definition of the act had made prosecuting suspects complex.
“The new law will provide a comprehensive legal framework that would address issues pertaining to human trafficking,” Odera said, adding that it will enable the establishment of a counter-trafficking in persons advisory committee and provide confidentiality during prosecution and compensation.
Previously, trafficking offences fell under a variety of legal statutes – the penal code, children’s act and sexual offences act.
Some poor parents and older persons are said to force children into prostitution. CRADLE estimates that about 1,500 minors frequent “sex spots” at the Kenyan coast.
According to Maurice Tsuma, the Coast Provincial Children’s Officer, almost half the 150 children homes in Mombasa are not registered, raising concerns over their activities.
“We’ve raided some homes and closed them down but others come up; we are, however, keeping a close eye on them,” Tsuma said.
In northern Kenya, frequent conflict and drought has made the region a fertile ground for those seeking cheap labour, young wives, even cattle raiders, say residents.
“Some women ferry young girls, offer them accommodation and food and recover the expenses by sending them on to the streets,” Ahmed Set of the Islamic Foundation told IRIN. “It is good that we [now] have a harsh way of punishing those people who ferry young children from remote parts of the region to work as herders [or] maids.”
In Isiolo Town, in the north, IRIN spoke to Maria*, 17, from the Ethiopian town of Moyale.
“I am Ethiopian but I attended primary school on the Kenyan side [of the border],” Maria said. “I completed Standard Eight two years ago  but I did not continue with school. My friends told me education is not the only opportunity, they said my beauty, my body could help me earn a good living.”
She told IRIN she had worked as a transactional sex worker to raise a KSh30,000 (US$375) trafficking fee to be paid to an agent, who would help her join friends working in some of Nairobi’s massage parlours.
According to a June trafficking in persons report by the US Department of State, Kenyans voluntarily migrate to the Middle East, other East African nations and Europe in search of employment, where they are exploited in domestic servitude, massage parlours and brothels, and forced manual labour, including in the construction industry. Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani women also reportedly go through Nairobi en route to work in Europe’s sex trade.
Most of those trafficked are lured by bogus recruitment agents. Fake newspaper and internet advertisements, false marriage proposals and deception by friends and relatives are used in internal trafficking for purposes of domestic or sex work, Alice Kimani, IOM’s counter-trafficking project officer, told IRIN.
IOM has assisted the Kenya Association of Private Employment Agencies (KAPEA) in developing a recruitment code of conduct to prevent trafficking. Potential migrants are also encouraged to only use KAPEA or Ministry of Labour accredited agencies.
Kimani said more trafficking cases were being reported as awareness increased. However, she said, exact figures were not available.
“The lack of funding for research on the magnitude, the hidden and clandestine nature of this crime and the fact that it is only in the recent years that people have begun to understand the issue has made it difficult to document the crime, in addition to the fact that there are still no reporting mechanisms that have been set up, and lastly not all victims seek assistance so there is no way of knowing how many are actually trafficked,” Kimani said.
*Not her real name
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]