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.
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 placements.to 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.
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