Child trafficking: Covid-19 situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Covid-19 situation ushered in extreme conditions which in effect pushed child trafficking into new levels than ever seen before at the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country has had to contend with:

  • Rising food prices as night-time curfew deepen hardships
  • Teenagers, street children forced into sex work to survive and,
  • Authorities say lack resources to tackle underage sex work

When Naomie’s mother asked the teenager to join her as a sex worker in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo last September, she knew it was a matter of survival for the family.

The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic – from rising food prices to a curfew resulting in fewer clients for her mother -left the 15-year-old with no choice but to take to the streets.

“I am fatherless, and I have an eight-year-old brother,” Naomie – whose name has been changed to protect her identity – said one evening this month in the Tshangu district of Kinshasa.

“If I don’t do this, my family may perish because we have no one to support us,” she said while seeking clients on Kimbuta Avenue – well-known for prostitution – with a cigarette in hand.

Naomie is one of countless girls in Kinshasa – a megalopolis of more than 12 million people – to have joined the sex trade during the last year because of the pandemic, campaigners said.

About three-quarters of Congo’s 90 million people live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day, and the African Development Bank has said its economy – a key global exporter of cobalt and copper – could be particularly hard hit by COVID-19.

The sprawling central African country has confirmed at least 28,845 cases of the virus, of which about 712 have died.

“A lot of girls around my age are working here (in the sex trade),” Naomie added. “I see new faces all the time.”


Girls who have turned to sex work to help their families find themselves competing for clients with street children. Prior to the pandemic, there were an estimated 20,000 such children – known as “Shegues” – in the city. Most of them resort to begging and prostitution to get by and must pay a cut of their earnings to criminal networks who control the sex trade.

For many girls – homeless or not – the sex trade is now the only viable source of income, said Jean Kalala, vice-president of REEJER, a network of caseworkers that helps street children.

“Extreme poverty and a lack of education push many young girls into prostitution because they don’t know what to do,” Kalala told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

“These underage sex workers are the consequences of the social crisis that is raging in Congo,” he added, referring to the impact of coronavirus on people’s livelihoods nationwide.

While prostitution is legal in Congo, having sex with a girl under the age of 18 or running a child prostitution ring are crimes punishable by between five and 20 years in prison.

A senior official at the Ministry of Gender, Family and Children, Florence Boloko, said there were insufficient resources and limited scope to tackle underage prostitution.

“We only work during the day,” said Boloko, director of the National Agency Against Violence to Women and Girls (AVIFEM).

“At night, we do not know how to dismantle the networks … (or) track down these girls, and all these men (the buyers).”


For 17-year-old Vanessa, who joined the sex trade in Kinshasa two years ago, the pandemic has “destroyed her work”.

Her earnings have fallen by half to about 10,000 Congolese francs ($5) a night, and she blames the rising number of young sex workers and a daily coronavirus curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Vanessa said she wanted to leave the trade, but did not know how else she would earn money. She had considered paying smugglers to help her reach Europe but decided against it.

Girls such as Vanessa and Naomie must deal with gangs who offer them “protection” in return for a cut of their earnings.

Naomie said the man she worked under managed 20 girls and visited her each night to take about one sixth of her earnings.

Christophe Diakonda, a police commander at nearby Sonapangu station, said that officers frequently arrested such gang members – known as “Kuluna” – but needed more support from the government to tackle the issue of young girls in the sex trade.

“Regarding underage sex workers … we are awaiting the government’s impetus to boost the operation to stop this,” he added. One of his colleagues said the girls were “stubborn” and resisted police efforts to deter them from the sex trade.

As more girls take to the streets – where some are pressured to have sex without a condom and many turn to alcohol or drugs – campaigners said they were concerned for their health.

“They become easy prey for men who abuse them,” said Annie Bambe, president of the NGO Forum for Youth and Children’s Rights in Congo. “They often have unprotected sex with the little money they are given … we fear a lot for their future.”

Having left school at 13, Naomie would like to return to education or train as a seamstress – but cannot afford to do so.

“We do this (sex work) to earn a living,” she said. “The country has abandoned us.”


Revealed: The Dark Side of the Trafficked Karimojong Girls in Nairobi

 Counter Human Trafficking Trust-East Africa (CHTEA)


Revealed: The Dark Side of the Trafficked Karimojong Girls in Nairobi

In April 2019, we captured a most revealing story of underage Karimojong girls trafficked to Majengo, Pumwani area of Nairobi to work for the Somali community. CHTEA documented this through a 2-minute video clip which depicts three underage girls escorted by a hijab wearing Somali lady who is also escorted by two white “kanzu” wearing men who walk ahead of the pack until they arrive at the point of delivery.  Upon arrival at a designated flat, the two men then gesture the hijab lady before proceeding. The Somali lady and the three young girls then enter the flat and that would mark the beginning of a new uncertain life for the three.

Our camera man ‘Hassan’ a ToT trained person is an expert in counter human trafficking and in videography.  He also runs a small film studio in the expansive slums of Majengo and Pumwani in Nairobi. On the fateful morning when the clip was shot, he stood outside his house and immediately recognized the Somali men and the lady behind them with hijab. Looking closer, he realized that three Karamoja girls were in tow carrying their small bags supposedly carrying their only earthly belongings.  Hassan (not his real name),  rushed back to grab his camera and shot the unfolding scenario of child trafficking. He followed the traffickers at a distance as he recorded their movement and maneuvers until they finally reached their destination.

Media Training for Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia

As luck would have it, that same day the clip reached CHTEA’s desk, a journalists’ training was taking place in Nairobi and the CEO had been invited to deliver a session on the “Do No Harm” principle where he played the raw video footage as a learning tool for journalists. The two-minute clip elicited such high-profile discussions among the journalists that it would have been voted the best session.

The Kenya Television Network (KTN) Documentary

After an explosive television documentary dubbed the “Karamajong Servants” and aired by KTN on 2nd August 2020 (CHTEA was instrumental in its conceptualization and production), it became clear that “still waters run deep”. Besides the sheer exploitation of these girls while in Nairobi, it also emerged that some of them may have been trafficked further east to Somalia allegedly to join the Al Shabaab ranks.  It was the Al Shabaab angle which continued to linger in many governments and analysts’ minds. CHTEA was not left out in this curiosity.

Fast Forward

In January 2021, CHTEA embarked on a mission to unravel the Al Shabaab link for the Karimojong girls. As a starting point, ‘Hassan’ was identified as a key person of interest, his assignment was simple, “map out any Karimojong girls in Eastleigh who may allegedly have traveled to Somalia”. It took another three months before the first of such girls were identified and interviews arranged from the beginning of April, 2021. It was indeed a major revelation and a lot of highly sensitive information was freely given on video by the girls. The project team is preparing a revealing and exclusive video documentary to be launched at a private function at some point in the near future. The security agencies (DCI – AHTCPU and TOCU) are already briefed on this matter.

However, another very worrying discovery during the interview process was the deplorable and inhuman conditions that some of the unemployed Karimojong girls have continued to live in Nairobi.  Many of the girls who were interviewed confessed to being homeless as they did not have jobs. Hassan was able to find out that most of the unemployed girls gathered to sleep at an open space at a specific location within Pumwani.  Early morning on 26th April 2021, the CHTEA project team made an impromptu surveillance visit of the Karimojong girls in Nairobi beginning 5am. While armed with both still and a video camera, the team was able to collect exclusive footage of about 25 girls sleeping under a tree on wet grounds next to a dumping site surrounded by high-rise flat buildings. The grounds opposite the sleeping site was a bush thicket……a fertile ground for ambush and criminal activities during the night. Some of the girls looked sickly while others looked hungry and dejected. Hassan approached them after doing undercover filming and asked if they would be interested to be accommodated at a proper house. They all offered a resounding affirmation and they immediately woke up and accompanied Hassan to a location where the CHTEA project team offered them breakfast at a kiosk. The plight of these girls moved CHTEA management to immediately secure two rooms to accommodate the 25 girls during their night stays.

The Turning Point

The simple action of removing these girls from streets generated the most unprecedented flurry of engagements. It began with contacting the Counter Trafficking in Persons Secretariat, under the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection then the Directorate of Criminal Investigations ( AHTCPU and TOCU). Then communication was made to the local government administrator, who was informed about the evolving situation. All sounded supportive. Other contacts were made with the Ugandan High Commission in Nairobi and the aligned Civil Society in Kenya and Uganda. In the first two days, a total of 21 girls were hosted in the two rooms daily (their ages ranged 11 – 17 years and one was 19 years old) but as of 10th May 2021 (after exactly 14 days) the number rose to 70 with 4 spacious rooms occupied.

During the second day, a flurry of physical and virtual meetings took place at CHTEA and this culminated in the first visit to the victims by both the Ugandan High Commission and the Anti Human Trafficking Child Prevention Unit on the third day. The visit by a team from the High Commission served as a major breakthrough in clarifying some of the unclear areas of this unfolding ‘human disaster’. The joint teams affirmed their total support for the action taken to secure the girls’ protection and other rights. The High Commission immediately recommended the expansion of the accommodation space to include an additional rental space for the growing numbers.

A major area of concern to us is we observed that a total of seven of them are pregnant.  This presents a whole other set of questions still to be answered e.g. did they come already pregnant or did they get pregnant while in Nairobi?  What does their medical condition look like?  All of us who stepped in to offer assistance to these most unfortunate minors have yet to gain their confidence sufficiently well to question how they got to Nairobi and who are their recruiters and traffickers?

Dealing with the immediate and anticipated needs: The Appeal

The CHTEA emergency project team came up with a requirements/needs list in respect of the sheltered 80+ Karamojong trafficked girls. The list included items such as food and non-food items, hygiene items, health/medical needs, security and rental needs. CHTEA has so far provisioned that the transitional shelter should last for a period of 3 months. During their stay, the trafficked girls will be processed for repatriation using an already agreed framework within the working consortium between the Governments of Kenya and Uganda in collaboration with NGO’s from both sides, led by CHTEA.

Following the successful rescue of the Karimojong girls, the Counter Trafficking in Persons (CTIP) Secretariat convened an urgent meeting to discuss the unfolding scenario. Of immediate attention is the actual procedure to be used while transiting the victims from Kenya to Uganda. Issues of trauma healing, desegregating the girls according to their ages and future potential either educational, vocational or livelihood programmes. The transitional mechanism will need to be seamless so as to promote continuity on the Ugandan side, where the major component of the rehabilitation and reintegration process will be domiciled.

The Actors, their roles and responsibilities

Currently we’ve carrying out the daily total care of a Small Field Hospital – personal, food catering, beds/mats and hygiene supplies have to be assessed and accessed daily. One of our board members plays a key role in that and gives us time to focus on the administrative side of operations.  While CHTEA has initiated the rescue process, it is providing a raft of services such as: coordination of the protection and security needs of the victims, the protection includes shelter, medical care, psycho-social support (counselling), etc. We also liaise with the East African Child Rights Network and the Stop the Traffik Kenya organizations are also briefed on the matter.

On the Ugandan side, CHTEA made contacts with the following organizations:

  • “Dwelling Places” which has pledged to repatriate over 30 girls,
  • The Catholic Comboni Program at Karamoja……awaiting this report
  • The Uganda Child Rights Network – coordinating with UCATIP (the CSO coalition)
  • The Pope Paul II CJPC Center, Kampala

In brief, the journey towards attainment of the goals for the Karamoja Girls’ Phase 2 project has only begun with the rescue of the girls. It will be incumbent upon all stakeholders to ensure that speed is of essence while at the same time observing the highest professional standards.  These young women and children have been subjected to appalling abuse and it behooves all of us to take an active role and play our part to help restore them to their full dignity as women and mothers of the future.

Current Status

As of 14th May 2021, the transitional shelter had a total of 80 girls aged 9 – 20 years old. Out of the 80, 16 have been diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STI) and all are on medication Another 7 have been confirmed to be pregnant while one is admitted at hospital with severe acute anemia (3 grams), suspected to be from an abortion gone wrong. She is currently receiving blood transfusion. One other girl, about 15 years has a child who is less than one month old (she is not among the 80 but she is at a mother & baby shelter). Several others are suffering from different ailments but all are on treatment.

Mutuku Nguli.   This 14th day of May 2021

Covid-19: Reintegration of Victims of Sex Trafficking in Kenya

Sex trafficking is a particularly degrading form of human trafficking, defined generally as recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining either: (1) an adult for commercial sex by force, fraud or coercion, or (2) a juvenile for commercial sex, regardless of the means.

On 30thMay 2020, the Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit (AHTCPU) raised a red flag over the alarming and sudden spike in online sex trafficking, recruitment and exploitation of children in Kenya, with concerns that the trends will continue for as long as children are at home and exploring the internet amidst online learning.[1]The Head of the AHTCPU, Mueni Mutisya was worried that after the President ordered the dusk to dawn curfew and cessation of movement, intelligence reports reveal that human traffickers are capitalizing on the online platform to recruit, groom and exploit children and lure adults feeling the pinch of the emaciated economy as a result of COVID-19. Recently, Mr. Thomas Sheller, a German, was charged with seven counts for sodomising four teenagers aged between 10 and 13 years in Kisumu and Nairobi.

Human trafficking is not a loud crime, and as such, victims rarely cry out for help, leaving many cases unnoticed.  Instead, victims of human trafficking are usually considered to be criminals owing to their illegal entry in destination states. If the plight of these victims is not addressed, they will continue to be dejected unto the abyss of the unknown. Protection of the victims is even more important now, as the world grapples with the scourge of the infectious disease, Covid-19, which has intensified the vulnerabilities exploited by human-traffickers.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Regional Advisor Rachel Harvey estimates that a third of internet users are children below 18 years with internet usage increasing by half (50%) following the stay- at- home orders adopted by most countries to help suppress the spread of COVID-19. Harvey warning that it has put children at risk of online sexual exploitation. Harvey cautions that before COVID-19, it was estimated that they were 750,000 people looking to connect for with children for sexual purposes online at any one time. With limited physical interaction, global trends further single out increased and growing demand for child abuse material. This has given traffickers opportunities to devise new venues of animating the ‘lucrative’ business of sex trafficking/tourism by leveraging on the online space to prey on susceptible and unwitting users.

Sex trafficking continues to occur across the globe at an increasingly alarming rate. Despite misconceptions that sex trafficking requires transportation across State or country borders, the majority of victims are domestically trafficked within their own country by persons of the same nationality.


It involves taking the VOT back to his/her community/society. Return and re-integration can be both in-country for victims of internal trafficking and out of country for victims of international trafficking. The purpose of this process is to foster, nurture and strengthen the rehabilitation process of the victim into his/her community or host community so as to live a normal life. Family tracing, verification and reunification should only take place after the victim has undergone the reflection and recovery period. Support is to be given to victims from the time of being rescued to the time they are taken back to their families and monitoring done after they have been taken to their families and communities.

Factors to consider before reintegration

  • The best interest of the victim, taking into account his/her age, sex, security and disability;
  • Respect for the victim’s human rights and dignity throughout the process;
  • Obtaining the victim’s informed consent before reintegration;
  • Maintaining confidentiality at all times and disclosing information only on a need-to-know basis;
  • The cultural/religious values of the victim;
  • Developing an individual reintegration plan for each victim;
  • The medical condition of the victim;
  • Family tracing;
  • Family and community preparedness to receive the victim;
  • Availability of other service providers in the area that can assist the returned victim.

 Human Trafficking: Kenya’s Legal Framework

National laws

Kenya has enacted a number of statutes to protect victims of sex trafficking

  • The Constitution of Kenya, 2010.
  • Children’s Act 2001 (under review).
  • Sexual Offences Act 2006
  • Kenya Information and Communications Act
  • The Victim Protection Act, 2014
  • Computer Misuse & Cybercrime Act 2018
  • Counter Trafficking In Persons Act, 2010
  • Data Protection Act, 2019
  • Film and Stage Plays Act

The Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act provides detailed assistance, structures and funds for victims of trafficking.  Section 15 provides for the following: return to and from Kenya, resettlement, re-integration, appropriate shelter and other basic needs, psychosocial support, appropriate medical assistance, legal assistance or legal information, including information on the relevant judicial and administrative proceedings and any other necessary assistance that a victim may require. However, there is need for adequate mechanisms as discussed herein to be put in place by government and stakeholders to ensure that the law is fully implemented. The Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act too, provides a framework to guide and create awareness creation and development of standards for all stakeholders.

Chapter 4 of the Constitution on the Bill of Rights contains fundamental rights and freedoms, some of which can be the basis for protecting the victims of trafficking in persons. These include the right to life;[2] equality and freedom from discrimination[3] right to human dignity; protection against slavery, servitude and forced labor and freedom of movement and residence and protection of victims of offences.

Article 59 (2) (g) under this Chapter also sets up a Commission that promotes, respects and develops a culture of human rights in Kenya. One of the principal functions is to ensure compliance with obligations under treaties and conventions relating to human rights.

All the above rights cover a cross-section of abuses that are notorious with the acts of sex trafficking and human trafficking generally; such as, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, discrimination, restriction of movement and many are killed as a result of violence or from diseases incurred from their sexual victimization.

Current Practice and gaps

Law Enforcement effort

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) – Anti Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit is part of a Multisectoral Technical Working Group on Online Child Protection with the aim of strengthening collaboration among state and non-state actors working in online child protection.

Establishment of the DCI Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit which has a specialized Cyber division dealing with Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (OCSE).  It refers to crimes committed by offenders who use internet to facilitate the sexual abuse of children. They do so by:

  • investigation and prosecution of online offenders
  • Receives cybertiplines from National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (The nation’s centralized reporting system for the online exploitation of children).
  • victim support
  • Sharing of information (via linkage to Interpol).
  • Hosts Internet Watch Foundation reporting portal launched on 27th January 2021. A new reporting portal will provide a direct link to Kenyan law enforcement to report criminal images and videos of child sexual abuse to expert analysts to support them in their fight again online child sexual exploitation.

The Government of Kenya does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of sex trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government has demonstrated overall increasing efforts which include significantly increasing the number of victims identified, utilizing the victim assistance fund, launching a cybercrime center to investigate child sexual exploitation and child sex trafficking cases, enhancing law enforcement coordination with other countries on trafficking cases, and improving efforts to regulate recruitment agencies and support and protect migrant workers.

However, the government reported a decrease in investigations, prosecutions, and convictions. Kenyan authorities continued to treat some victims as criminals and the availability of protective services for adult and foreign national victims remained inadequate, which contributed to quick repatriation of foreign victims due to lack of available shelters. The government also sometimes tried trafficking cases as immigration or labor law violations rather than crimes under the anti-trafficking law, which resulted in traffickers receiving less stringent sentences. The Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act continued to allow fines in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking offenses which remained incommensurate with other serious crimes.

In Kenya, under the Constitution 2010, Article 49(1) (H) provides that all offences are bailable unless there are compelling reasons for the accused person not to be released. In practice, some sexual offenders are usually released on bail, putting the victim’s security at risk and some have ended up being killed. Further, the judiciary sometimes take long to hear such matters and the more they take long the more the victims of sexual violence get traumatized.

It is important to note that in some cultures it is still a taboo to talk about issues of sexual violence hence some sex trafficked victims choose to keep quiet.

Victims of sex trafficking face major problems in being reintegrated into their home communities when they are freed from the situation into which they were trafficked. They include: Social stigma, bullying, rejection, trauma etc. The government and organizations of goodwill have developed some procedures and standards as they work.

Meaningful reintegration requires a lot of time and financial resources. Most organizations operate on a limited budget and a fixed timeframe dependent on donor requirements. Before a survivor of trafficking is taken back to her/his family and community, there is need to take care of her/his wellbeing which includes medical care, counseling and some finances to help her/him begin a better life. Residential assistance requires well trained and competent staff and a budget for operational costs. Some survivors may have complex cases especially where it is not safe for them to return to their homes. The process of looking for alternative living arrangement may take longer than the period funds are available for. Once a survivor has been taken to his/her original family and community there is need for regular follow-ups which must include home visits. The costs of doing follow-up may be out of reach for many organizations.

Reintegration programmes are yet to actively and meaningfully involve survivors of sex trafficking, their families and communities in the whole programme cycle. Programmes go through inception, planning, implementation and evaluation with the input from the government, organizations and their donors.