After a daunting task to bring back hundreds of Kenyans who were stranded in Beirut, Lebanon, their stories have continued to be full of despair and dejection. 99.9% of these returnees were ladies……. some expectant mothers and others with babies. CHTEA was deeply involved with their return and has continued to offer support to a minimal number due to strained resource base.

In actual sense, the stories which came through from these ladies upon their return leave a shocking trail of victimization, both away and back home Most of these victims had been away for periods ranging between 1 and 10 years. Most of them claimed to have been trafficked in the guise of well-paying jobs. Highly fictitious salaries were quoted by the recruitment agencies and worse still, their working environments turned out to be pale images of their own imaginations.

A majority of the victims (over 80%) reported having dangerously escaped from their alleged employers-turned exploiters and ended up on the streets of Beirut. Here, they huddled together in rent-shared small rooms as they sought to do menial jobs such as washing clothes/laundry, working at morgues, cleaners and massage parlours, among others. Most of them complained of very low earnings…………. hardly enough to pay for their bills. This forced a majority of these ladies to live double lives; it was either part-time prostitution, drug peddling or porn production.

With so little in earnings, the ladies could hardly afford to travel back home, even as they wished the whole reality could turn out to be a dream. A good number of them had resigned to their own fate and lost hope of ever coming back home. Most of them could not withstand the stigma of ever traveling back home with nothing, and yet their families and dependents hoped that their lives would change for the better.

For some, the pain was too heavy to bear, “my mother convinced my father to sell a piece of land in order for me to pay the trafficking agent a whopping two hundred thousand Kenya shillings (US $ 2000). My father sold on condition that I would send back money to buy another land. When I returned home with nothing, my mother had to put me into a rented room far from home to protect me from my brothers’ wrath. My mother was also afraid that her marriage to my father would lead to a divorce”.

Another returnee victim who came back six months’ expectant retorted that, “I am by the road side at the city stadium, stranded and with nowhere to go. My blood pressure is high, Am six months’ pregnant and I have nowhere to sleep. Kindly help. I was given your number by……………….,” read her WhatsApp message to a CHTEA staff.

It was even grimmer for others who found that all their remittances towards a savings scheme had been spent by close family members. Some had sent in money to buy land, others to pay for school fees for their children, while others expected a fat bank account. One of such victims was quoted to have said that, “had it not that I had no evidence for all the money I sent to my mother, I would have cut her into pieces and this conversation with you would not have happened at all as I would be in jail”.

The above stories are only a sample broken lives and a clear demonstration that most of the Kenyan-Lebanon returnees have continued to be victimized through stigma, rejection, further exploitation by family members and an unwelcoming community. A number of cases reported having been chased away from home………………. surviving on begging and well-wishers’ hand- outs. These and many more life breaking stories are just but a glimpse of how human trafficking totally dehumanizes victims and renders them completely helpless and creates further vulnerability for future trafficking realities.

So far, 125 Kenyans have returned since the commencement of evacuation in August 2020. The need for support is immense and has completely outstretched CHTEA’s capacity to help victims restart lives. Any contribution towards this end would be highly appreciated and transparently accounted for


In an effort to understand why girls are increasingly being targeted for human trafficking in East Africa, CHTEA was able to reach out to a specialist based in the US. Dr Celia, as she is known, has worked with many young people (both Migrants, Caucasian, Black and White) for many years to try and unravel the mystery surrounding girls’ perceived appetite for being trafficked. In her in-depth study, Celia realized that young girls consider themselves to be misunderstood and more times lacking role models in their families, among other factors. In her own words, Dr Celia narrates her experience as follows:

“I remember interviewing trafficked girls and at the end of each interview, I would always ask them to share with me some information on what they would like me to pass along to the adults that are trying to help young people like them. Most of their comments were gathered around three areas:

  • Tell the adults to keep me busy and positive
  • Tell the adults we want to be loved, so show us love
  • Tell the adults to help us before we get caught up in it

Soooo as promised, I’m delivering the message to you. The question I have for you is: “What will you do to keep at-risk youth busy and positive? What are you doing to show youth at-risk genuine and positive love? What are you doing to help them before they become victims?

The best way to help girls before they are “caught up” in it is to get them involved in effective prevention now”.

The above excerpt is a testimony for similar trends in East Africa. For example, while the Karamoja girls from Uganda have earned the face of child trafficking in East Africa, it is more about the girl-child’s vulnerability status. Having moved out of their homes at the Karamoja region in North Eastern Uganda, the Karamojong girls find themselves in one of the most complicated girl trafficking rings in the East African region. The plight of most of these girls remains unknown even as their parents sell and release them to strangers who promise good tidings once the girls take up “well-paying jobs” in Nairobi or Kampala.

At the heart of this trafficking web, is a well-nourished and oiled network of actors who range from family members, friends, neighbours, strangers, religious leaders up to State Security and Immigration agents at border points and along the route. All actors stationed at different points of the ring stand to benefit from this very secretive and discrete illegal human trade.

In a recent documentary prepared by CHTEA, a group of 3 Karamojong girls are seen being escorted from a delivery point in Nairobi’s Kamukunji area through the densely populated slums of Majengo, Shauri Moyo, Pangani and into the Eastleigh estate which is a predominantly ethnic Somali habitat (both local and foreigners). The three girls in the video were tracked down at dawn by a CHTEA camera man and a resident of the Majengo slum. The video footage clearly identifies a hijab dressed woman of Somali descent walking ahead of the girls. Ahead of the woman is a pair of white Muslim “kanzu” wearing men of Somali descent too. A normal observer may not make sense of any relationship as the two men keep walking ahead while chatting until they arrive at the point of delivery where they signal the hijab dressed woman before they proceed. The two men are the security for both the lady and the girls. The lady then leads the three girls into an apartment where they are presumably received and distributed to their would be masters. Both the lady and the two men are part of the extensive network of collaborators in one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises of the modern times.

The key lesson from this video clip is that human trafficking happens in our daily lives even as people engage in the most obvious activities and undertakings of life. It therefore behooves every human being to be aware of the realities and the existence of the underworld……looking beyond the naked eye.

The lives of these 3 girls undoubtedly took a new turn for an uncertain future as they embarked on a totally new life where their masters take full control and manipulate their destiny from that early age. It is incredibly unbelievable that all these activities take place in the full view of the public even as traffickers build formidable avenues to operate undeterred.



“All Hell Let Loose”  it’s an expression we use sometimes in describing something shocking, awful, instilling fear or danger, beyond one’s wildest imagination.  It could be an event which has passed down from one generation to the next and occasionally is a happening which enters the history books of some place/s at some point in time.   For me this describes what I read recently in the “Irish Catholic” 1st October, 2020  issue by Jason Osborne.  The heading reads “Netflix’s ‘misunderstood’ film Cutiesmisunderstands child abuse’  I maintain that Netflix (Internet Service Provider) as the platform hosts knew exactly what was contained in the movie – they were Not blind to one of the worst forms of pedophilic material.

Fr Shay Cullen, of the Preda Foundation in the Phillippines, describes it as “playing into the whole pedophilia-sex industry”  The film follows a group of 11 year old girls as they take to ‘twerking’ – a dance form generally associated with being sexually provocative.  The film also sees the minors discuss pornography and one taking pictures of their genitalia.  Netflix has come under criticism on other occasions for their movies but all pale into oblivion when they recently released ’CUTIES’    Cullen also warns that child abuse images are devastating children also.  An example he gives from the Philippines also received a case of three young boys aged 10 and 11 years old, sexually abusing a 6 year old girl.  They had been viewing these child abuse images.  Netflix are a distribution company – how did they not consider the surge of people asking for its cancellation?

The Senegalese-French director Maimouna Doucoure’s debut film describes it as ‘coming-of-age, comedy-drama’, which follows 11-year-old Amy as she experiences the tension between her family’s religious, traditional values and her contemporary enjoyment of the world and its seemingly unlimited freedoms.  The story sees Amy disillusioned with the Islamic faith her family professes, only to be tempted by her rebellious neighbor’s ‘twerking’ group called ‘Cuties’  Leaving old ways behind in favor of the new, she casts off the constraints of her family and takes to the sexually-provocative dance scene.

The Initial Controversy

While the initial controversy was over the poster which Netflix used in promotion of the movie; 11 year old girls scantily-dressed in sexualized poses, the latest controversy surrounds the content of the movie itself.  A clip which has circulated widely on Twitter since the movie’s release has shown one of the dance routines the girls perform and has been roundly condemned as “sexually exploitive” and “hypersexualized”.  The director of ‘Cuties’ insists that she is on the same side as her film detractors.  The critics claim that the film sexualizes children – she does too!!   Writing in the Washington Post, Ms Doucoure said:  “I wanted to open people’s eyes to what’s truly happening in schools and on social media, forcing them to confront images of young girls made up, dressed up and dancing suggestively to imitate their favorite pop icons”  She claims that she made ‘Cuties’ in order to start a debate about the sexualisation  of children in society so that change might be made for the better!!  Is this issue best served by such an explicit visual presentation?  I don’t think so.

Such Graphic Content

A number of experts have had harsh words about the movie’s graphic content; Fr Shay Cullen through his organization in the Philippines (Preda Foundation) said “I think it’s another step of mass media sexualizing a form of child abuse and playing into the pedophilic-sex industry.   These are young children and it definitely promotes pedophilia and child sex tourism”   Is this not what we already see happening in Kenya?  Walk along any beach of the white sands of our Coastal towns and cities, it is there before your eyes – an ‘Mzungu’ (white person) tourist walking with a child/children, mostly girls but boys also.  Other countries who previously had a reputation as high sex tourist destinations like Thailand or Brazil have now put stringent regulations in place against child sex tourism so, pedophiles have turned to Kenya to abuse our children here.  This is not acceptable or have we turned a blind eye and say ‘Oh, yes but tourism is good as it brings in some badly needed cash to our economy’

As Kenyan society becomes increasingly progressive and heedless of former norms, things which were considered taboo in the past will increasingly come before the public eye.  Already many of these are rapidly finding their way especially to our youth on smart phones and use of cyber outlets.   We have definitely moved closer to the cliff edge, now we know that movies can be made of children who are coerced to bow down to the adults who lead, maybe force them into such a lowered level of their dignity.  At this young age they cannot give their permission for a dental procedure and the 11 – mid teenage girl is naturally reluctant to expose their genitalia but in ‘Cuties’ they are tricked into an exposure of their private parts which no doubt they will deeply regret in later life.  Sadly, wherever they go in life, this movie will follow them.   It may also accompany them to a much reduced sense of self-esteem and could potentially pull them along the route of self-harm or suicide.   This is a clear case of Human Trafficking – these girls have been lured – with what promises we do not know.  As children they cannot give informed consent and at the end of it all they are deeply, perhaps irreparably exploited.



Combating Human Trafficking through Partnerships


MOGADISHU: Fatiya is a 13 year old girl who goes to work every day as a house help in the rich suburbs of Mogadishu but lives with her mother in one of the most impoverished shanty suburbs of Mogadishu. She doubles up as one of the ‘children hunters’ who roam around Mogadishu streets to snap up children. What she does is criminal but she is coerced into it by agents of a new organ trade syndicate. They have taken advantage of the cruel poverty that defines lives of people in the shanty suburbs. In many countries, her action constitutes human trafficking for organ removal, a serious crime that could land her more than 30 years in prison. But at her age, she might not understand the risk of spending decades behind bars.

Fatiya works on an order basis. Each time she manages to take a child to the agents, she gets 1000 Somali shillings, that’s approximately US$1.74. The “reward” is enticing enough to make a young, unsuspecting girl like Fatiya help the dealers of the illegal organ trade.

The latest order was botched after she “mistakenly” told her mother who was extremely shocked and reported the matter to the police. The police raided the house of the syndicate and managed to rescue 12 children who were reportedly going to be trafficked to Kenya for other destinations through the Mandera border. Through the collaboration of the police, COHF (Candle of Hope Foundation) and CHTEA (Counter Human Trafficking Trust-East Africa), the children were transferred to a safe house and family tracing has begun.

The perpetrators are still walking scot free since in Somalia, there is no comprehensive legal framework to address human trafficking. The law enforcement officers, prosecutorial personnel, and judicial offices remains understaffed, undertrained, and lack capacity to effectively enforce anti-trafficking laws.

COHF and CHTEA through a joint advocacy programme are continuously petitioning the Federal Government of Somalia to sign and ratify international conventions on counter-trafficking in persons.  The two organisations have also jointly shepherded several capacity building sittings involving the Federal Government of Somalia to develop training regime for police and judicial officers to help in identifying and intervening on issues of human trafficking.

DHOBLEY –MOGADISHU: Barwaqo, a 17 year Somali girl living with her uncle in the environs of Mogadishu. She played a major role in rescuing a 1.5-year-old babyboy who was being trafficked presumably for the purpose of organ removal. On that morning, she had boarded a bus headed back to Mogadishu from Dhobley, where she had gone to visit her relatives. As passengers were boarding and taking their seats, a middle aged man carrying a baby approached her. The man introduced himself as a relative to the child and deceitfully narrated to Barwaqo how the child’s mother had just died. He requested her to help in transporting the baby to an alleged father who was in Mogadishu. “The man sounded like a very kind person. He came where I sat and requested for my assistance to carry the baby along the journey and gave me a piece of paper with two mobile phone numbers written on it. One was his’ and the other one for someone else whom he referred as the child’s father. He wanted me to contact the person upon arrival in Mogadishu and hand over the baby to him. I never suspected him” she recounts.   Generally, there are certain principles that are characteristic to Somalis, these being:  respect for elders, trust, generosity and hospitality. The perpetrator took advantage of her naivety as she unsuspectingly agreed to his request and embarked on her journey.

As they were approaching Mogadishu, Barwaqo tried contacting the alleged child’s father whose phone was not going through. She called the person who had given her the baby to inform him about the impending problem. “The man was sounding as if he was a bit worried when I called and told him that I couldn’t reach the alleged child’s father. After a few minutes, he sent me another number through a text message which purportedly, was for the same person.” She narrates. By this time, the bus had arrived at the bus terminus where her uncle was waiting to receive her. After a brief explanation, Barwaqo’s astonished uncle decided to contact the alleged child’s father. The person initially received the call but after realizing that Barwaqo was in the company of another person, he decided to switch off his phone. It was at that moment that Barwaqo and her uncle realized that something was not right. They decided to report the case to the police station where Barwaqo was interrogated and were told that it was a failed human trafficking plan.

Although cases of human trafficking for the purpose of organ sale are not prevalent in Somalia as compared to sex trafficking, there has been an alarming rise of cases in recent times. The sale of human organs has become a lucrative underground business, according to the executive director of Candle of Hope Foundation, a non-governmental organization that is lobbying for the proper laws that prohibit the trade in Somalia/ Somaliland. “The sale of one’s organs is criminal. We have to stop it by all means.” She exclaims.

Candle of Hope Foundation is currently working with CHTEA; also a non-governmental organization in ensuring that Barwaqo and her uncle are receiving the much needed support services in taking care of the baby who is still under their care. COHF and CHTEA are also working in partnership with the relevant government agencies of both Kenya and Somalia and other multinational agencies that work with children so as to ensure proper information is passed and appropriate family tracing is conducted. Through a multi-sectoral approach, a robust and comprehensive approach of screening has been put in place before the hand over the baby to the authorities for repatriation and family reunification is done. COHF and CHTEA has joint working framework which shall monitor the situation to ensure that the child is reunited with his actual family.

*These personal stories have been published with the consent of the victims. The names of the victims have been changed to protect identities.