The Changing Face of Human Trafficking cases during Covid-19

The unprecedented changed environment due to Covid-19 continues to ravage the core fabric of the society in ways never witnessed before. As at the end of 2019, everything seemed normal in Kenya, until the first pronouncement by the Government on March 9, 2020. It was the Corona Virus pandemic’s first reported case in Kenya and a declaration for schools to be closed with immediate effect. This action was followed shortly by a curfew and a total lock down of some Counties, all of which deteriorated the ability of delivering quality services towards counter trafficking efforts within and outside of Kenya. CHTEA had to adopt new and creative ways of ensuring that all was not lost and below is a summary of four key stories that have since been processed successfully in spite of all restrictions.

  1. ‘Cherry’ (not her real name) in Lebanon

Cherry was trafficked to Lebanon in 2012 by a trafficker who had promised her a white collar job. Once in Lebanon, she was placed at an abusive household to work as a domestic staff. The work environment however turned out to be quite abusive – sexual assaults, working long hours, non-remittance of salary and physical assaults, among others. In a span of about 6 months, Cherry escaped for fear of aggravated abuses, or even death. She joined other Kenyan ladies who were already surviving on the streets of a city called Dekweneh where she eventually got married to an Egyptian man using Muslim rites in 2015. Cherry’s marriage gave forth two children, Malak El Sayed, 4 and Christiano El Sayed, 3. The two however separated in November 2016.

Since their separation, Cherry has lived as an illegal migrant as her visa and work permit expired. She now lives with a group of 4 other Kenyan ladies in a two roomed apartment alongside her 2 children. A group of Nuns had assisted her with upkeep supplies until 2019 when the assistance stopped, exposing Cherry and her children to extreme suffering.

The other challenge for Cherry relates to her two children. Both children are registered under their biological father’s name and this therefore requires the consent of her separated husband. The husband is still in Lebanon and has allegedly been demanding the custody of the children too besides threatening Cherry with serious death threats if she fails to comply.  The situation got even worse after the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. Increased movement restrictions and social distancing meant that even the few petty jobs became rarer and the mainly Arab population looked down on migrants as the part of the problem

Cherry’s effort to get assistance from the Kenyan Consulate in Lebanon bore no fruit. Instead, she claims to have been met with demands for money and sexual favours to facilitate her repatriation besides a host of other humiliating insults.

Cherry’s plight was brought to CHTEA’s attention by her aged mother, Mama ‘Cherry’ on 9th June 2020. Dorcas had visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where she was only given a number to call or write to since the work environment did not allow for face to face meetings. She immediately proceeded to CHTEA’s office in South ‘B’ where she met with Sr Mary O’Malley (Executive Patron) and Mutuku Nguli (Chief Executive Officer). Mama ‘Cherry’ presented a letter to CHTEA asking for help with following up on her daughter’s case. Immediately after Cherry’s mother left, CHTEA contacted her daughter in Lebanon who further provided important information and documentation to support her case. After cross checking all the information given, there was sufficient ground to embark on the case.

The first step was to write a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) seeking to understand why it had not been possible for ‘Cherry’ to be assisted. Although MFA never reverted, Cherry immediately received a courtesy call from the Kenyan Embassy in Kuwait seeking further clarification of her case and assuring her that all would be well. ‘Cherry’ was further assured that once international flights resumed, the embassy would organize for her repatriation alongside her two children; but this would only be possible if she got enough money to buy tickets. The embassy pledged to work on the documentation of the children.

When ‘Cherry’ got back to CHTEA about the ticket issue, a quick letter was drafted and sent to Talitha Kum (a Rome based Global Women Religious network) with a request to support her with whatever was possible. After back and forth correspondence between CHTEA and Talitha Kum, Cherry’s case was finally picked by the latter and handed over to a Lebanon based Congregation of Sisters who together with an attorney met Cherry on Monday, 20th July 2020 and processed her matter. Cherry had to fill in bio data papers as a means of supporting the validation process to get confirmation of tickets. In the meantime, Cherry is working on regularizing all travel documents for both herself and her 2 children…..the availed attorney is closely involved as well as the Kuwait Embassy.

Cherry’s case is a master piece of how a global system can be activated to effectively support a counter human trafficking situation, during this Covid-19 period, regardless of location.  It is fairly clear that Cherry may be back to Kenya any time as soon as International flights resume in August 2020.

  1. Eunity (not her real name) from Narok

Eunity, a 17 year old girl was trafficked to Mukuru kwa Njenga slums, Nairobi with a promise to a good education and social protection. Although she was enrolled to Njenga primary school, Eunity never quite got to attend classes but instead was assigned domestic chores where she worked very late at night. The trafficker, who was also her aunt brewed illicit liquor in the same house, where she also gave her out to some of her customers for sexual escapades while she got paid for it.

Eunity’s case was brought to light on one fateful night when a community volunteer officer (CVO) noticed a commotion at a very odd hour of the night. Early the following day, the CVO reported the matter to an organisation called Movement Against Child Trafficking (MACT) who recorded the case and sought for help from CHTEA. A joint fact finding mission was commissioned to affirm the facts behind the report.  The team identified the lady trafficker, location of the abuse and the bio data of Eunity’s parents who hailed from Narok County.

The mission also gathered that Eunity’s parents had disagreements over her…….she was born out of wedlock and the foster father did not wish her to live with the rest of the family. On further investigation, it was established that the trafficker had very close working relationship with the Villa Police station, where the matter had previously been reported with no action taken.

The mission also gathered that Eunity hailed from a family of eight from Kajiado County. It was further revealed that the alleged trafficker, Mercy Kwamboka changed the names of Eunity and processed a birth certificate depicting Eunity to be her birth child without the consent of her parents. Eunity had marks of torture on her neck. The abuse matter had first been reported to Villa Police station on 11th February 2020 and booked in the occurrence book.

A CHTEA staff later managed to talk to Eunity’s mother who confirmed that she was not aware that her daughter was going through such mistreatment. She indeed asked if her daughter could be returned home immediately. When this matter was once again reported to the Villa Police post, the police commenced a round of investigations which are reported to have given a warning to the trafficker. Eunity’s case was reported to the Anti Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit (AHTCPU) who promised to liaise with the local police unit to pursue the matter. It was in CHTEA’s interest that Eunity was immediately placed at shelter as the matter was being processed from the police.

When the promised police action took too long, CHTEA reported the matter to the Police Commander at the Embakasi Police Division where a contingent of 8 police officers accompanied one staff in a vehicle to the trafficker’s location and rescued Eunity, while arresting the trafficker. Eunity was immediately placed under Estella Children’s Home in Kayole as the trafficker recorded a statement. The trafficker was however released on cash bail pending more investigations.

The Estella Children’s Home (ECH) fearing the Covid-19 pandemic ramifications processed a proper return of Eunity to her parents back in Kajiado. Working closely with the Children’s department and the police, Eunity was finally returned to her parents on Monday, 20th July 2020. The parents have since pledged to get Eunice back to school, even though they are a needy family who may need some support to improve their economic status.  The ECH have given a further assurance that they may be in a position to educate this girl and/or enable her avail of an educational facility (vocational college) to boost her chances of becoming a fully independent person and make her own contribution to her family and society.

CHTEA will still pursue the police with respect to the investigations of the trafficker. Together with MACT, CHTEA is willing to offer legal services towards supporting any conviction of the trafficker in respect of Eunity’s abuse.

Kevin (not his real name), the 12 year abused boy

Born to a single mother at Nyanguso, a rural village in Kisii County, Kevin was moved to Nairobi by an aunt who promised to offer both protection and care in 2017. Kevin was registered to join school at a nearby location in Nairobi but shortly afterwards, he was placed to take care of his younger cousins. He used to wake up as early as 4am to cook and prepare them before taking them to a nearby baby care center.  Kevin would then proceed to school at around 10am, long after classes had started.

After several encounters with the school management and subsequent punishments, Kevin felt pressured and he reported the same to his aunt who in return ordered him to stop going to school and instead go and do petty jobs to earn some money for the family. He did odd jobs such as hawking of ground nuts and fetching water for money, among other petty jobs. After a while, he failed to secure any jobs and that infuriated his aunt who descended on him with vicious fights. Kevin eventually escaped one fateful night into the streets and started begging. Village leaders noticed his plight and took him to the local government administration who placed him in a children’s home for better care. While at the shelter, the aunt followed him up and pledged to take better care of him. She was allowed to take him back.

The aunt did not take him back to school but placed him to care for her young children. This did not go down well with Kevin so he deserted the home shortly afterwards and got back to the streets. He was once again noticed by community leaders who again took him back to the government administrator who in turn contacted CHTEA.

His Road to Home & Safety

Kevin was immediately interviewed and it was determined that his parent and relatives had no idea that he was undergoing mistreatment. A return plan was agreed and Kevin was placed at another safe house for two days as travel arrangements were being made. Eventually, one CHTEA staff accompanied Kevin to his village after receiving clearance from the Government with respect to Covid-19. Kevin may have survived the dangers of being infected with the corona virus but his future can only be guaranteed by some economic intervention.

The CHTEA staff who accompanied Kevin made a detailed assessment of the family’s socio-economic status and determined that they seriously needed an urgent economic boost. To this end, CHTEA is evaluating a number of options on how to best support Kevin’s mother in order to restore his life back to school, alongside other siblings.




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