Tanzanian child traffickers lured into the hands of law enforcers

Emman, aged 14 years is a disabled minor from Tanzania who was lured and trafficked from Shinyanga to Nairobi. At his age, he has never been to school. According to his own account, Emman was lured by a lady through his uncle. The alleged lady trafficker was well known to his uncle and she had promised to educate Emman besides offering to give him a good life in Nairobi, Kenya. On arrival in Nairobi, the trafficker deserted Emman at a popular bus terminus called the Machakos bus station. Upon realizing that his would-be guardian was not returning after faking that she was going to the washrooms, Emman decided to crawl to a safe ground on a verandah along the nearest street to take some rest from the scorching sun.

It was during this time while Emman was resting at the verandah of a nearby market that a different lady approached him and tried to find out how she could help him. After listening to the boy’s plight, the lady offered to go with him to her place of abode and provide him with shelter and food. The new stranger also promised to take Emman to school, he little realized that she was part of a complex network of traffickers (both Kenyans and Tanzanians).  These cruel individuals traffick disabled persons (both children and adults) to Kenyan towns for begging purposes. This phenomenon has turned out to be a big industry in Kenya where the general Kenyan public ‘giving spirit’ is considered to be highest in the East African region. This originates from the “Harambee” philosophy (it’s about ‘pulling together’) which was adopted immediately after Independence as a catalyst for communal projects where the public were asked to give donations for the public good. Many schools and health centers were constructed through communal giving to take care of local projects. Therefore, this was a well calculated move to confuse the young Emman. He gladly accepted the new offer and she took him to her house at Shauri Moyo, a poor neighborhood in Nairobi.

Forced labor – a beggar in Nairobi

After two days of rest, the young Emman was summoned by the same would-be guardian (the woman) and given instructions to move to the city on a daily basis and beg with a target of five thousand shillings (USD $50) a day. This was a condition in order for him to continue being hosted by his new “master”.  Whenever he didn’t manage to hit the target as required by his host, he was assaulted, denied food and psychologically tormented by the alleged host. The exploitation went on until Emman could no longer bear with the demands, hence he contemplated escaping at the earliest possible opportunity.

Early one morning after he was released to head towards his usual beginning street, he decided to take a different direction and headed towards another expansive slum called Mukuru. While loitering there, he was noticed by a community volunteer who happened to have received training from CHTEA. After a screening exercise, the volunteer contacted a CHTEA officer who validated the assessment report and classified Emman as a case of cross border child trafficking.  Emman was immediately removed from the slum and placed at a protection center outside of Nairobi from where the process of court committal documentation was commenced to facilitate repatriation. The court committal process was handled by a Government Children’s Officer.

The child trafficking ring

In a surprise turn of events, on the day that the young Emman was to be taken to the court for committal orders, the CHTEA officer accompanying the Children Officer received a call from an unknown caller who identified himself as a Police Officer based at a police station in Eastern Nairobi. The caller further claimed that he was in the company of another three men who were supposedly relatives of the young Emman. The whole team of four would later turn out to be part of the trafficking ring based in Nairobi. The caller asked the CHTEA officer to hand over Emman to them as one of them claimed to be his uncle who had brought him to Nairobi. The caller further claimed that Emman had got lost while at his custody as he played with other children in Eastlands. The discussion ended up with a fake arrangement for Emman to be handed over at a designated local administrator’s office.

After brief internal consultations, the CHTEA head office swung into action and immediately alerted the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (Child Protection Unit) who dispatched two police officers to accompany the CHTEA Officer to meet the masquerading group. When they arrived at the designated meeting point, all the four men were already there waiting to be handed over the trafficked boy. The two police officers camouflaged themselves and asked that they be refunded for the expenses of the Emman’s upkeep before they could release him. The traffickers further alleged that the young Emman was a nephew to one of them. The alleged police officer turned out to be real and that he was offering protection to the real traffickers.

Setting a trap for traffickers

At the local administrator’s office, the masquerading group was patiently waiting for Emman’s hand over. The police officers claimed that they had spent a lot of money to keep the boy and that they needed a refund. The request was immediately accepted by asking how much the boy’s upkeep had cost. In a flash of a second, the three masqueraders found themselves under arrest alongside their police protector. On a quick search, they were found with loads of coins (signifying that they were the actual exploiters….as most of the beggars receive much of their donations in coins).

The arrest of this group was a major success in dealing with the child trafficking rings spread across the East African region. Two of the suspects have since been arraigned in court and their case is proceeding at the Kenyan high court under the watchful eye of the Kenyan public and the media. The head of the Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit (AHTCPU) of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, Madam Mueni Mutisya has since commended the efforts of CHTEA in enabling the arrest of the traffickers.

From other reliable sources, it was said that the same clique of traffickers had already trafficked four other disabled children from Tanzania. The DCI Officers are keenly investigating to get on the bottom of the story.  Since the traffickers are from another country, this case will likely be handed over to the Transnational Organized Crime Unit (TOCU) to ensure that all those traffickers are handed down lengthy jail sentences of approximately 30 years.

The victim’s real name has been changed to protect his identity

Above left: 3 Tanzanians suspected of child trafficking during arrest.  


Above right: Two of the suspects in court

Tanzania: 3 Arrested for Child Trafficking

Tanzanian police arrested three suspected child traffickers transporting a group of children aged between 10 and 14 years. According to police, the children were headed for various domestic duties ranging from house help, farming and livestock tending.

On 7th September 2021, the Police Commandant of the Mbeya Province, Mr. Ulrich Matei reported that the suspects were arrested while organizing to transport the children to Mbarali district in Mbeya Province for very small wages. This is against the International Labour Organisation’s statutes which prohibits the use of children for labour under all circumstances.

According to the Police Commandant, the traffickers were expected to receive an equivalent of a month’s salary for each child successfully delivered to their exploiters. This was happening even as the Tanzanian law prohibits child labour as well as child trafficking.

The Executive Director of a non-governmental organisation called “Sauti ya Mama Africa (Women Voice in Africa), Ms. Thabitha Bughali asked the Tanzanian government to take stern action on the perpetrators as their actions were depriving vulnerable child the right to education and instead exposing them to social abuse and all manner of deprivation and suffering.  Reports of lost or stolen children are quite rampant in Tanzania, yet most of these cases are targeting local child market destinations for a myriad of petty jobs for profit.

For more see: CLICK HERE ( A Kiswahili version)

Kidnapped and rescued from the jaws of a Kidnapper/Child Trafficker

James is a minor boy aged 9 years hailing from a single parent family. He has two other siblings; an elder brother aged 14 years who is in F/2 and a younger sister aged 9 months. They reside with their mother at the Mukuru kwa Njenga slum. Coming from an unstable background makes him vulnerable to many realities of social, environmental and economic dynamics of life.

The young James was used to supporting his mother with house chores and other minor economic activities. He used to accompany his mother daily to her business venue selling cabbages and charcoal in the vast slum village. On the fateful day in April 202, at around 3.00pm in the afternoon, James requested his mother to allow him to go for football practice at a training ground called Galaxy, not far from their home.  Due to the fact that James had a great passion for playing football and a champion player for his team, his mother had no objection hence, she let him go for the practice.

When James’ mother time for business closure was due, she closed at around 8.00pm but without seeing her son return from the football practice. She consoled herself by assuming that he may have decided to go straight back home. At about 9.00pm, she arrived back home but James was nowhere to be found. She rushed to report the matter to the local security team where she was referred to report the matter at the nearest Police station.

James’ case was later referred to the CHTEA office by a Community Health Volunteer based at the Medical Missionaries of Mary – Counter Human Trafficking unit at the St. Mary’s Health Centre. The case was immediately profiled at CHTEA office after which the mother was facilitated to report the case to the Criminal Investigation Department (Child Protection Unit) where she was assisted to locate the telephone number an alleged kidnapper who had been calling from Western Kenya. The mother was further facilitated to travel to her separated husband’s home to confirm if he might have been involved in kidnapping the boy but to no avail.

Fast forward: On 22nd`August 2021, James’ mother claimed that she received a reverse call from her son and after a long chat with him, she alleged that a lady who claimed to be the kidnapper’s sister also spoke to her. During their discussion, the alleged sister offered to sneak the boy (James) back to his mother in Nairobi. The alleged sister further indicated that the kidnapper was allegedly her brother who she claimed was a psycho. The two ladies agreed to meet at Nakuru where the alleged sister would escort and hand over the boy while her alleged brother was away from home attending a burial function. It was not easy to trust the alleged sister to the kidnapper.

Armed with this information, James’ mother was accompanied by a CHTEA staff to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations with one mission: to ascertain the location of the caller. The initial plan was for the mother to travel to pick the boy from Western Kenya the following day. However, this was not to be, as a call was received early morning the same day from the alleged kidnapper’s sister who committed to take the boy up to Nakuru if facilitated with transport. James’ mother and a CHTEA staff took time to consult with the police on the new developments and also to examine security considerations. At the least they did not know that the alleged sister of the kidnapper had already left Western Kenya for Nakuru. As consultations concluded in Nairobi, the alleged sister to the kidnapper called to say that she was already at Nakuru (half way between the kidnapper’s village and Nairobi).

A series of negotiations kicked off with the alleged sister to the kidnapper to ascertain if indeed she had traveled with James. The first card on the table was to quickly express willingness to refund all expenses incurred during the journey. Then a handover discussion was done. As it was not possible to travel to Nakuru at that late hour, it was agreed that Peter be put in to a public transport vehicle headed to Nairobi as the mother and a CHTEA staff waited to receive him. They had allegedly arrived at Nakuru at around 12noon.

As fate would have it, the whole story turned out to be true.  At exactly 5.00pm, James’s mother shed tears of joy when she finally spotted her son alighting from the designated public vehicle. He was carrying a back pack and showed he was in good health. She hugged him incessantly for some 10 minutes without believing her eyes.

In the ensuing moments, James (the survivor) recalled how he was called by a stranger from the football field where he had gone to practice. The eventual kidnapper lured him to a corner where he grabbed him and held him tightly by his mouth and warned him not to make any noise lest he kills him. The 9 year old boy decided to cooperate with the kidnapper who in turn took him to his house in Mukuru Kwa Njenga and instructed James to say that he was his father in case he was asked by anyone. On the following day, the kidnapper traveled with James to Webuye, in Western Kenya. According to James, there were other children he found at the same home and who he later learnt had been abducted from other parts of the country.

The main pre-occupation during his stay at the kidnapper’s home in Webuye was to work at his family farm. His main duties included collecting firewood, cooking and washing utensils until late in the evening. Even though he was woken up very early in the mornings to start his duties (alongside other kidnapped boys), he never got to rest for the full day until past midnight. He was not allowed to walk alone and some times he was denied food depending on the moods of the kidnapper.

This case is still under investigation as the kidnapper/trafficker is still at large. The Directorate of Criminal Investigations is still working closely with CHTEA with a consideration to eventually arrest the perpetrator.

The victim’s real name has been changed to protect his identity

Commemorating the International Day on Counter Trafficking in Persons: 30th July 2021

The United Nations adopted the them of “Victims’ Voices Lead the Way” as the rallying call for the 2021 commemoration and awareness campaigns around the globe.

This year’s theme puts victims of human trafficking at the centre of the campaign and further highlights the importance of listening to and learning from survivors of human trafficking. The campaign was intended to portray survivors as key actors in the fight against human trafficking  while at the same time focusing on the crucial role they play in establishing effective measures to prevent human trafficking, identify and rescue victims and support them on their road to rehabilitation, recovery and reintegration.

CHTEA Commemoration activities and Media Engagement:

  • In collaboration with the Salvation Army-Anti Trafficking Unit in Kenya, CHTEA held a highly successful event in one of the informal settlements in Nairobi. It was started with a procession led by the Salvation Army band and over 20 outriders donning reflector jackets with anti-human trafficking messages besides two big banners with thematic messages for the day. The procession ended at an open-air ground where public speeches by Kenya Government representatives donned the peak of the day. Several media houses covered the event.
  • During the month of July 2021, the Religious Against Human Trafficking (RAHT), a Catholic network of religious Congregations and civil society partners organized a series of live radio shows targeting counter trafficking in persons’ awareness messaging. CHTEA participated in two (English and Swahili) of the shows at “Radio Waumini”.
  • Separately, CHTEA had series of interviews with a number of journalists from both international, Regional and National media houses during the month of July. These included DW (Germany), Radio France International, the Kenya Television Network (KTN), Nation (NTV), the People Daily, Switch TV, Ebru TV, TV47, Classic 105 and the Standard Newspaper.

Below is a pictorial and online links for the various activities, events, interviews and documentaries for this years’ commemoration:

https://youtu.be/N9xMgVwOVb0 (KTN -English)

https://youtu.be/KQQwfFyJ0Ho (KTN -Kiswahili)

https://www.rfi.fr/sw/e-a-c/20210709-biashara-ya-ulanguzi-wa-binadamu-nchini-kenya (Radio France International)

https://www.standardmedia.co.ke.national/article/2001419776/it-is-hellish-life-for-ugandan-girls-in-nairobi-streets (Standard Newspaper pullout)

https://www.pd.co.ke/news/how-human’traffickers-use-technology-to-entrap-minors-87595/ (People Daily Newspaper)

CHTEA Banner in Kiswahili         

Global Anti-Human Trafficking slogan

Above: Top left and right – during the procession

Above: A government official addressing the public after the procession

Child Trafficking: A Glimpse at Kenya Government’s effort towards eradicating Child Trafficking

(See a video clip at the bottom)

Child trafficking has taken a dramatic turn in Kenya over the last six months of 2021. There are more reports of children being lost without a trace, abductions, executions and even organ harvesting. This is a new development, considering that Kenya has had a fairly good and robust law that safeguards, prevents and protects children from or against any form of harm or violence.

As security agencies endevour to crack down on perpetrators, the society has had to deal with this unprecedented situation. Communities and especially those living within the urban poor neighborhoods have found themselves under siege from the “faceless” child targeting perpetrators who take advantage of huge populations mainly surviving on shoe string budgets to fend for their families.

According to the Daily Nation newspaper published in Nairobi on 13th July, one family in Nairobi’s Zimmerman estate has been living in agony for a month now after their 14-year-old son, Abraham Nhial, disappeared without a trace on June 5. Nhial went out to get a haircut during the recent school midterm break and was not seen again, said his father, Daniel Mawut.

A few metres away, the family of a three-year-old Franklin Gicheru is desperately searching for the boy, who vanished on June 22 after breakfast. Franklin’s parents James Mwangi and Loise Mwangi are in agony over his kidnapping in broad daylight. On the fateful day, James said he was notified by a neighbor that his son was seen walking away with an unknown woman. The neighbor thought she was a relative of the family.

The two disappearances were two weeks apart, but many more children have vanished leaving families in anguish. At least 61 children were reported missing between March and May 2021.

Although some 33 were found, with the whereabouts of the rest unknown, Missing Child Kenya, a non-governmental organisation, says there’s growing concern that a criminal network could be stealing the children.

More disturbing, however, is that the perpetrators of these abductions, torture and murders have also increasingly been targeting defenseless children. The fears are not misplaced given the horrific ending to the kidnap and murder in May of eight-year-old Shantel Nzembi. The girl was kidnapped in Kitengelain Kajiado County. Her abductors demanded Sh300,000 in ransom. The family contacted police only for the girl to be found dead days later.

In June, 11-year-old Priscilla Naserian, from Kajiado, went missing. Her body was later found dumped in a bush a few kilometres from her home.

Early July, 2021 in Moi’s Bridge, Eldoret, Linda Cherono, 13, who had been missing for several days, was found murdered. In Kasarani, Githurai and Zimmerman (Nairobi suburbs), victims who have been rescued and other eyewitnesses describe a woman reported to be luring the children with goodies.  Families are so desperately poor that a child can easily be lured for a few sweets or a soda.

Human traffickers

According to the Daily Nation newspaper report however, aggrieved parties are taking to social media to report the missing loved ones instead of taking such reports to the police. This makes follow ups difficult and reduces the chances of tracking down perpetrators who are known to use technology to communicate with relatives of the children.

At least 242 children aged 18 and below were reported missing between January and December 2020, the report by Missing Child Kenya said – 125 girls and 117 boys. Some of them were found and reunited with their families, while others were taken to government shelters. A few were found dead while others are still missing.

“A total of 131 children were found and reunited with their families, 16 have recently been found, 10 were found dead while 18 are still missing,” the report said. From 2016 to 2020, a total of 780 children were reported missing. Of those, 496 were found and reunited with their loved ones, 73 were taken to government-run children’s homes, 21 were found dead and 190 were still missing.

The report comes a few weeks after the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) cautioned parents to monitor how their children use social media and the people they interact with. In a statement in June 2021, the DCI alerted parents about human traffickers targeting young girls to sell as sex slaves: “Sex traffickers have come up with a new technique of kidnapping and targeting teenage school-going girls or those who have just completed their secondary education” “The crooks lure the young girls on social media where they access their personal details before enticing them into a trap,” the statement read.

Prosecution and Convictions

Even as the effort to apprehend perpetrators of child trafficking continues, the Kenyan Security agencies have made gains through arrests, prosecution and conviction of the offenders. For example, the correctional services at the Naivasha maximum prison allowed media access to document some of the jailed perpetrators who spoke about their underworld illegal trade in children. The prison’s authorities also shared their experience with the media regarding how traffickers operate in total disguise with respect to their true identity.

You can watch HERE the video clip.

‘Another Darkness in Our World’

Is it the dark side of the moon or what darkness am I reflecting on now?  We met a priest last week from DR Congo (DRC), he is a missionary in Bukavu, that side of DRC where the terrible volcanos erupted, particularly in the area of Goma.  He came to visit us to learn more on how we started doing Counter Human Trafficking (CHT) work.  He even hinted that we might come and do the initial training. Fr Bernard is working with a group of local Sisters helping him to run a center for young girls, 250 of them who are very severely wounded in mind, body and spirit.  They are in a high state of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Not only is that country ruled by hundreds of militia groups but women and children are suffering the worst weapon of war which is sexual violence.  In fact he told us that it is hard to meet a young woman or girl child who has not met rape and defilement. I came away feeling very sad at one of the examples he shared with us, of a 5 year old girl “who is so damaged both internally and externally that she will never give birth” these were his words.  In the African context this is a curse the innocent little girl must live with, the hospital where she was taken did their best and she did survive but the real cost will fall on the most vulnerable in our society and the world at large. This is the kind of darkness I am sharing with you now.

Recently, I met an orphaned girl ‘Cindy’ who had just come back from the burial of her grandmother, she was an elderly lady almost 90 years old.  The story which emerged was as horrific as the act itself.  The pain, grief and loss coupled with the background of Cindy herself made this whole scenario even more intensely painful.  Cindy was orphaned of the only parent she can vaguely recall, then stayed with her grandmother till she was 12 years old.  Then she was sent to reside with an uncle and his wife in one of Nairobi’s largest slums.  The idea of the people in the far rural community was that she would get better educational opportunities in Nairobi.  His wife went to work early and this beastly relative choose to defile the unsuspecting, innocent 12 year old girl.  Minutes later ‘to add insult to injury’ he walked outside laughing to himself while Cindy picked herself up from the floor.  It was a major trauma to this child and a very dark shadow in her life.

Despite intensive counseling Cindy carries this dark scenario in her head – and it will never go away.  After that horrific assault Cindy gathered together her school books and uniform and left the one roomed shack which had been her home for the past month.  Where to go now?  she had no clue but definitely she was in no mood to face her school-going peers on that awful day.  So, she hired herself out as a domestic help to get odd jobs in whatever was available but it meant an end to formal class work.  Luckily, she met a community health volunteer of Medical Missionaries of Mary where MMM Sisters run a health center, one of them called Rose assured Cindy that she was always welcome to stay at her place and from time to time she took shelter there.

During the school holidays Cindy went to her grandmother, after all she was the only parent figure in her life.  When she returned from the burial of “my Granny” last week I could see that she was totally shattered, the big tears dropped like the onset of heavy rains here in Kenya.  Despite the great age of this elderly grandmother, she sold a cow that morning for KShs 14.000/- (125/- to one Euro), to send an orphaned granddaughter to F/1 (start of secondary school year).  She bought some shopping items for the girl and stuffed the balance inside her belt.  On the way home walking, she diverted into the forest to pick some small sticks for firewood.  That simple diversion resulted in her death – ‘Anna’ was robbed, raped and strangulated.  Next morning some children also on a short diversion to collect firewood, found her body. To those left behind especially Cindy, these are horrific details of the end of life of the woman she had known and loved so dearly.  It underlines again her own personal defilement at 12 years old, and knowing that this uncle still walks free.  Whoever is the man who snuffed out the life of an elderly grandmother may never be named.  Sadly, we live in a country where corruption is the order of the day.  There is nobody to follow-up or name and charge the man who murdered this brave woman in such a ruthless fashion.  We salute this extraordinary woman of courage, despite her advanced years, she valued the benefits of education for a child.  She had nurtured Cindy well, she also gave thanks to God each day that a Good Samaritan had come to her aid and taken her through secondary education.   Cindy was just one point short of university entrance but the same Good Samaritan also sent her on a fifteen month beauty course.  She has excelled in her theory and practical exams and values the highly marketable skills she now holds.  Now at 20 years old she is set to launch herself on a very worthwhile career.


Now with three stories rolled into one, we have seen very painful personal tragedies in the lives of the feminine gender.  Three females who have paid a very high price – and in extremes of age – between the 5 year old and the 90 year old.  Does our world have to be such a dark place?  What has gone so horribly wrong?  Have we spoken so much of the girl child to the detriment of the boy child that this insane and horrific violence is being played out so randomly and for no apparent provocation?  Has pornography almost completely overtaken our sexuality?  Just as sure that we have a Coronavirus pandemic there is a parallel pandemic in our midst – every bit as prevalent and transmissible as Covid-19.  Let’s arm ourselves to fight for our youth and all people who are easily lured and sucked into a vortex of ‘hell’ which can only further work to wreck more havoc in the lives of countless millions of women and girls especially in every continent and small village.

 Mary O’ Malley, MMM
 31st May, 2021

CHTEA Receives a Government Appointment to sit at a Strategic Technical Committee

In a bold and decisive step, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection (the home for Counter Trafficking in Persons Secretariat) constituted a Multi-Stakeholder Technical Committee for Fostering Recruitment Agencies’ Ethical Practices and Accountability. CHTEA was nominated to sit as a voice for the Civil Society. The Committee was officially commissioned by the Cabinet Secretary for Labour, Mr. Simon Chelugui on 23rd July 2021.

The Committee launch came hot on the heels of a government revelation that Kenya had lost up to 93 labour migrants to the Middle-East/Gulf region.  Labour Cabinet Secretary (CS) Simon Chelugui told MPs that the Ministry is unable to provide a detailed breakdown on the deaths of the Kenyans, which occurred mostly in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“We are following up with the Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior to know who the victims are and where they came from in the country,” Mr Chelugui told the National Assembly’s Labour Committee.

The CS had appeared before the Labour Committee alongside Principal Secretary Peter Tum to explain the circumstances that led to the death of Melvin Kang’ereha in Saudi Arabia in 2020.

He said that since January 2019, the ministry facilitated the employment of over 87,784 Kenyans in the Gulf Region. A majority of the migrant workers are in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain.

“Within the same period, the ministry has received reports of 93 deaths of Kenyan migrant workers in the Gulf Region.

CHTEA has been tracking the Middle-East Kenyan labour migration situation and the increasing exploitation with a keen interest since 2019. During 2020, a major crisis of Kenyans stuck in Lebanon moved CHTEA to mobilise her partners (both local and international) for repatriation. A total of 129 survivors/returnees were processed and supported with air tickets and ground transport back home besides  being placed on a rehabilitation, restoration reintegration  programme.

Once again, as at June 2021, the number of exploitation cases received by CHTEA had reached a discomforting level; with a majority of the reports received from a few member States of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC member States include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. Kenya has signed three bilateral labour agreements with a few GCC member states namely; the Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Human Trafficking: Over 100 Ugandan girls rescued in Eastleigh

NAIROBI, Kenya Jun 14 – “From the moment my mum told me that I have to leave education for lack of school fees I cried. I cried because I have tried my level best to go all the way to form two and I wanted to study and become a nurse. Even when you look at my report forms, you can see I was good in school,” she said, lowering her head to hide the tears welling up in her eyes.

“I even wanted to kill myself, but I just agreed to come here because there was nothing left. I realized even if I cry, nothing will change,” 17-year-old Dembe* (not her real name) recounted to Capital FM News.

Dembe is among some 120 Ugandan women and girls rescued from an open field in Nairobi’s Eastleigh, having fallen out with their employers.

When COVID-19 struck last year, reports of mass layoffs, pay cuts and increasing poverty levels were reported around the globe. It was particularly worse in Africa, which was already suffering from a sluggish economy even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Families were under pressure to find means to survive. Not even children were spared from the struggle of making ends meet.

And this is how hundreds of girls such as Dembe traveled from Uganda to Kenya, with high hopes of landing in greener pastures to support their families back home.

These girls trafficked from Uganda are holed up Nairobi's Majengo slum, at a shelter provided by Counter Human Trafficking Trust – East Africa (CHTEA), a civil society organization working in Kenya.

After schools were closed in Uganda last year under pandemic restrictions, Dembe’s sister, who was working as a domestic worker, asked her to travel to Nairobi to look for employment. Against her own wishes, Dembe traveled to Kenya last August, for the sake of helping her family. She worked as a house-girl for a family in Eastleigh, and in the meantime, her sister returned to Uganda because she fell pregnant.

“I worked for the first five months and the sixth one I was chased away from my job. I moved around and when I came to this side (somewhere in an open field), I found my fellow tribes-mates sleeping under trees. I asked them what they would do from there. They told me they don’t have jobs and this is where we stay. So, I begged them to allow me to join their clique and they accepted,” she recalled.

Dembe was lucky enough to secure a second job for two months. Sadly, not a single penny was paid for her labour. “My boss kept on telling me to come back next month, ‘I will give you your money’. The next time I went there, I found that she had relocated to Somalia. So, I had to go back to the streets again,” Dembe said. She decided not to look for work again, after her experiences of being overworked, mistreated, insulted and even denied food. Life on the streets of Nairobi was harsh. To have a meal depended on the generosity of passersby.

“I fell sick. I had no money even for treatment, but ‘Good Samaritans’ helped me with food and drugs. After finishing the treatment, one day we were sleeping – we used to sleep on the verandah. The chief had come with a large group of men, we explained everything but they couldn’t understand. They collected everything we had – the clothes we used to carry around and burnt it all. They had the nyaunyo (Police whip). We were beaten mercilessly and told to go away,” she recalled, her tears now flowing uncontrollably.

“So, we told them even us we wanted to go back home, we were tired of this life in Nairobi, (where) we struggle to get food, we even sleep on the ground. It is even worse when we are on our periods.”

“So, I decided I tell my mum if (it) is fine she sends me money, I travel back home because I even have a health problem. She told me now we have a lot of problems back home, even your dad has left us. We don’t have work to do, so just stay in Nairobi and make money.”

No pads

Dembe counts herself lucky that she is not pregnant like 28 of the women in the group who, in addition to worrying about their return to Uganda, must contemplate motherhood at their tender age. Most of the 28 mothers-to-be are less than 18 years old.

Sadly, most of them have no clue who fathered the babies they are carrying. Rape and defilement had become part of their struggle.

Counter Human Trafficking Trust – East Africa (CHTEA), a civil society organization working in Kenya, has given the girls a place they call a safe haven. It is a safe haven because it has a roof, walls and a door – that can shield them from the cold nights and sex predators.

With no bedding other than a thin woven mat, the girls lie side-by-side in groups of eights or tens, close to each other for warmth and also to fit into the tiny rooms. There are about 20 of these rooms situated in different areas in Majengo Slums.

Namono (not her real name) is 15 years old. She is seven months pregnant. She came to Kenya in January this year also hoping to get employment in Nairobi. She worked only for the first three months and was never paid.

“They (the employers) mistreated me, they overworked me and the man of the house did very bad things to me that I can’t mention to you. But he was very bad. And he always used force and he told me he can kill me if I say. That is why I decided to run away,” Namono explained.

“Auntie, all I want now is to be taken back to Uganda. Do you know when they (CHTEA) are taking us home? We are suffering. At home it was not this bad, when I go home I will be safe and even with the poverty there, it is fine for me, even if my mother will not be happy to see me back, I just want to go back,” Namono pleaded. When I asked the girls how they were doing and what they wanted, their sentiments were similar to Namono’s and Dembe’s. They want to go back home.

None of them has money to pay for transport. Their hopes are on CHTEA and International Organization for Migration (IOM), Kenya which are making plans to repatriate them to Uganda.

I left Majengo Slum broken in my thoughts and in my heart. During the visit, I witnessed three girls fight over a panty because they were all on their menses. All three claimed the panty belonged to them.

CHTEA’s field officer, best known as ‘Uncle’, told me that the fight I witnessed was nothing compared to other conflicts: “There are nights that neighbors call me to come and separate wars that escalate to the entire plot, to the extent of girls kicking each other out of the rooms in the middle of the night.”

As I bid ‘Uncle’ goodbye, I could not stop thinking how it would be possible for the girls to get at least some basics such as sanitary pads, clothes, shoes and bedding as they wait to be taken back to their home country.

Whereas this is a short-term measure, the governments of Kenya and Uganda have the power and responsibility to break the human trafficking cycle that continues to expose countless underage girls to labour and sex exploitation.

These girls trafficked from Uganda are holed up Nairobi’s Majengo slum, at a shelter provided by Counter Human Trafficking Trust – East Africa (CHTEA), a civil society organization working in Kenya.

Judy Kaberia (facing the camera) is seen here with one of th girls trafficked from Uganda who are holed up in Nairobi’s Majengo slum, at a shelter provided by Counter Human Trafficking Trust – East Africa (CHTEA), a civil society organization working in Kenya.


Trafficked for work??

On 26th October 2019, the daily nation newspaper in Kenya published the following (verbatim) article:

It came disguised as a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity: a teaching job at a prestigious international school in Hargeisa, Somaliland, with a salary of Sh50,000 a month, free air ticket, work visa, meals and accommodation, and paid tuition outside of lessons.

“That meant I would be saving nearly 100 per cent of my salary,” Paul*, a teacher who returned home recently from Hargeisa, says. It sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime – but when Paul got there, he quickly realised all was not what he had looked forward to. “It’s like a concentration camp,” he says. “You don’t feel like a human being.”

Paul is one of many Kenyan teachers who have been trafficked into Somaliland through unscrupulous recruiters for Elm Schools, also known as Young Muslim Academy. The recruiters work in cahoots with corrupt immigration officials in Somaliland to smuggle in Kenya teachers for cheap labour. Paul says he was introduced to the recruiters by a friend. He met an agent of the school in a shabby office on Tom Mboya Street, Nairobi, in October 2018, where all travel arrangements were made at no cost to him. Interviews with 17 teachers, some of whom returned to Kenya recently and who asked that we protect their identities for fear of reprisals, reveal multiple allegations of false promises during recruitment, gross underpayment, instant deportations, abuse of labour practices, sexual harassment, inadequate food, substandard accomm0dation and lack of freedom of movement and association.

“Life is very hard here,” says Arnold*, who is in his second year working at the school. “Too many lies when they are bringing you here. Salaries are deducted unjustifiably and when you ask about it, the HR threatens to terminate your contract.” Arnold says when he first arrived in Hargeisa he was shocked at the condition of his

hall of residence, nicknamed Guantanamo. “The space is crowded and there is no privacy. It feels like a prison sleeping in it.”

Elm Schools Human Resources Director Benson Samia refutes the allegations. “We respect our teachers and their happiness, and comfort is our number one priority.” Regarding claims of abusing labour practices and deporting teachers without notice, he says the school runs like any private business and expects high performance from its staff. “We are in the business of moulding young minds and don’t condone incompetence or under-performance.” He adds that he has never received any complaints about sexual harassment. “All the teachers here are adults and I believe anything that happens is consensual,” he says. Elm opened in 2007 and is popular with Somaliland’s elite and Somali refugee returnees from the United States and Europe. Its promotional videos on social media boast that it is a “centre of excellence, a safe and secure environment that encourages students to realise their full potential”.

The school is owned by a Kenyan, and is the biggest employer of Kenyan teachers in Somaliland, Mr Samia says, with 70 teachers from Kenya and about 40 from Somaliland in its kindergarten, lower and upper primary, and secondary sections. The school’s day-today activities are directed by Jibril Ahmed. But life is very different for the Kenyan men and women who teach the children.

Many teachers who spoke to the Saturday Nation say school officials usually keep the teachers’ passports, effectively limiting their movement in a foreign land. “When you land in Hargeisa, that is the last time you see your passport,” Paul says.

Another teacher, Simon*, confirms, “They take your passport immediately you arrive in the country and say they are going to apply for employment authorisation, but the work permit never comes.”

Mr Samia denies that the school confiscates passports and that some teachers work illegally. “This is a foreign country. They must have work visas. We give the teachers a one-month entry visa. After it expires, the passport is collected from the teacher and taken to the immigration offices, and sometimes it takes two to three months before the work visa is processed. However, the Saturday Nation has seen a copy of a one-month visitor’s visa issued to a teacher, which barred the holder from working in the country. Despite that, the teacher worked for an entire academic year. Working ‘under cover’ and living in cramped accommodations is not all the teachers endure. They also complain about heavy workloads, inadequate food and mysterious salary deductions.

According to a contract seen by the Saturday Nation, the teachers work six days a week. The week begins on Saturday and ends on Thursday. In Somaliland, weekends are Thursday and Friday. But for these teachers, off days were just on paper. When the Saturday Nation contacted Nelson*, a teacher at the school, on a day he was supposed to be off, he informed us that he was in an impromptu day-long meeting.

“The officials regularly call for random meetings so that teachers are not free at any given time,” Nelson told us. “On an off-day we would be asked to paint chairs or arrange books in the library,” Simon says.

Another former teacher, Jane*, details the surprise salary deductions they are subjected to. “They claimed food and accommodation is free, but deducted Sh10,000 every month from my salary for the same,” she says. “The food is always inadequate and during the weekends we don’t get any at all,” she adds. “We are forced to buy out of our pocket.” Jane also complains that she was promised a tax-free salary but when she was signing her contract in Hargeisa she discovered six per cent of her gross salary would be deducted from her monthly salary as tax.

The Somaliland representative to Kenya and head of Somaliland’s liaison office, Ambassador Bashe Awil Omar, says his office is not aware of the allegations.

“Somaliland government strictly adheres to the international human rights standards of respect for human rights and their  fundamental freedom,” he said. He added that his “government has rules and regulations that will prosecute persons or organisations found to be engaged in such criminal acts.” Ambassador Bashe says his government has opened investigations into the claims. Somaliland broke away from Somalia and

declared independence in 1991 following a civil war that led to the collapse of Siad Barre’s government. It enjoys relative peace and stability and has its own functioning polity, judiciary, police force and army. But it is not recognised by Mogadishu or any foreign government.

Many Kenyans travel to Somaliland for work in various sectors every year, but there is no specific data on how many are working in Somaliland. Early this year, a Kenyan teacher at Elm School was arrested and locked up for six days before he was deported to Kenya. Frustrated with the working conditions, the teacher said he decided to risk it all and return home through Ethiopia.

“He lied to us that he needed his passport to process some payments, then abandoned duty without notice,” Mr Samia says. The teacher was arrested at Wajale, a border crossing point between Somaliland and Ethiopia, by Somali immigration officers. He was detained because he did not have a valid visa. Without enough money to bribe the immigration officials as they were demanding, he informed officials at Elm School, who organised for his transfer to a cell in Hargeisa before they facilitated his deportation to Kenya. Responding to allegations that Elm officials had denied the teachers freedom of association and movement, Mr Samia said the school has imposed a curfew for security reasons. “When there is a security alert from the government we ask the teachers to be home by 7 or 7.30pm. But normally, they are allowed to stay out until 8pm,” Mr Samia said.

Despite these conditions, men and women keep going to Elm School to teach. Arnold says he is hanging onto this job because “it’s hard getting a job back home”. Would Arnold encourage a Kenyan teacher to go work with him at Elm School? “No way on earth. It is hell up here,” he says.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the teachers.

2021 Developments

The illegal recruiters have since continued to prowl on the desperate Kenyans who are seeking for employment and others escaping the pangs of poverty at their backyards.

With a concerted effort between CHTEA and a Hargeisa based group of Kenyan journalists, a list of names for the suspected recruiters have since been forwarded to the appropriate security agencies for further investigation and subsequent action. It is indeed reported that the recruiters are currently holed up in Nairobi hotels carrying out recruitment of teachers for Somaliland. 

So close, just being a hair’s breath from being trafficked.

It was so close and every day since they escaped the ‘capture’ to Saudi, these two young girls rejoice.  Recently, one of them said to me “Oh, sister I wake up each day and ‘Thank God’ by now I would have been in slavery.

‘Whitney’ and ‘Loice’ never met before but found themselves on the 5th floor of a new ‘gorofa’ (storey house) the large building on the end of this page.  Both of them had finished F/4 but their results could not take them to college.  They were unemployed and lacked any skills.  Whitney always wanted to study Beauty care as her mother (a widow) is a hair stylist and she felt that if she got a training to combine both, then she could take good care of herself in the future and help her family too.

She saw an advertisement for good, clean jobs in Saudi Arabia – fares paid, passport with visa, a generous salary and good off duty – it all sounded ideal.  Loice also saw the same advertisement as it was posted in many venues of their local town.  On the 5th floor there were ten girls, aged 17 to 20 years old – only two of them were adult age.  On this floor they were to live ten days to two weeks while awaiting their visas.  They were to cater for themselves and money for food was supplied.  They were also given some ‘lessons’ how to bath a baby, how to care for an elderly person, use of an electric kettle, dusting, mopping, clean a bathroom and wash an SUV, etc. etc.

Shaken to the core

One day both of them went into a local kiosk to buy some green vegetables and cook them for supper.  The owner ‘Schola’ is one our most experienced Trainer of Trainers (ToT) on Human Trafficking (HT).  She had heard some ‘gossip’ stories about who owned the large multi-storied building?  Her kiosk is very close to it.  So she got into some lively conversation with the girls.  What she told them about HT shocked them to the core – what of the enthusiastic recruiter and the new job prospects in Saudi was definitely a ‘downer’ on their day.  They decided there and then not to say much to the other girls that night but they offered to do the food shopping next day and returned to Schola.  This time she had some of our training books and posters ready.  They were totally aghast and discussed between themselves what they could possibly do to avoid falling into such a life-changing trap.  They also agreed that it was best to share this big secret with the remaining girls so, after supper that night they briefed the others about their changed plans.  Most of the other girls were very dismissive of what they had been told.  Early next morning they sneaked out early and took the bold step of returning home.  They knew the big risks they were taking, but how would they tell their families?  Whitney said she could not face her mother alone.  Schola offered to accompany her home and since Loice lived in the same direction, they called to her family first.  Her mother could not believe it, what would she do with her daughter now?  Loice is the eldest of seven children, her father had fallen from the top floor of a large building site and the insurance had already taken 3 years to debate the case for compensation.  So far, there was no mention of it despite numerous trips to the lawyer for the company.  Loice knew that if she could attend sewing classes it would help her to be a seamstress in her village.

A new turn of events

Schola knew that if any help were forthcoming for them she ought to approach the CHTEA office.  Hearing the story we knew from long experience that it was better to help them now to attain some skills careers rather than go through a ‘living hell’ for an indefinite period of time and maybe lost to her families forever.  Every day we hear a litany of bitter experiences including injury and death of young people by their Middle East employers.  They are now both attending Thika Industrial Business School (TIBS) not far from their homes.  We know the future is bright for them, but it comes at a cost and that is where you can also ‘chip in’ to assist them and many others we meet who badly need a ‘leg-up’ on the ladder rather than as I recall very vividly from another lady who was also was trafficked to Saudi “Better be a beggar in Kenya than a Slave of the Arabs”


Mary O’ Malley

Above: A building where “Whitney and Loice” were housed awaiting departure