2nd CHT-EA Newsletter

Dear Friends,

‘With Our Hearts Burning we Journey’ I found these words in a small prayer card and it seemed to sum up what I wish to share with you.  For me it’s exactly what seems pertinent to our current state of the world and each of us in our own little world too.  On our life’s journey in early 2020 we are all affected by what we could never have imagined possible – we are propelled through the journey of Covid 19 pandemic.  Like it or not there is a deadly virus around and a highly contagious one too.  At the workplace it has highly impacted on people’s lives, thousands, even millions are suddenly out of work and nobody was prepared for this sudden change.  It also seems to hold a link to the following: I quote below from “Singing to the Dead”

God is not a fairy godmother and hope is not a belief in happy endings.  It is a willingness to accept the human journey; complete with its dangers, its equal potential for happiness or disaster.  And this is what I take with me; courage for the journey.  A willingness to take the risks most likely to bring life, to walk the unknown and dangerous road in search of joy, even though we can see from where we stand that this is the road through fire.  There is no other road, no such thing as safety.  None.  Certainly our hearts are not safe.  Not so long as we love, not as long as we remain vulnerable to the painful possibility of hope.  And the only consolation is, if we are not safe we are not alone.  In the end, in a world as small as this one, we all carry one another’s future in our hands

“Singing to the Dead” by Victoria Armour-Hileman.  Page 257

In the work we do in Counter Human Trafficking we take very seriously the thrust to carry another’s future in our hands.  Currently, we are carrying the story of a Kenyan woman who is in Lebanon since 2012 – it is a long story and this is only detail we can share with you now as we do not wish to jeopardise the ‘difficult paths’ we are using for her safe release and passage back home.  In such situations we rely only on the Power of Prayer.

Ethiopian Youths

We are seeing that even though the pandemic is so endemic in all our countries here in East Central Africa the same deadly story of Human Trafficking is painfully played out.  Traffickers devise new tricks all the time – so we rely strongly on the support you can give us.  Just last week we learned that people are taking others as ‘flesh’ to sell.  At this moment we are also working on the case of 18 energetic, able bodied Ethiopian youths with high hopes and a willingness to help their families to rise out of extreme poverty. But instead found themselves locked into one room in a Nairobi slum.  For days on end they pondered their fate.  With a meagre diet of two slices of bread and water only morning and evening they worried what impact it will have on their health.

Eventually, a few of them escaped and fortunately met one of our most committed Human Rights Defenders.  She made all the right connections and through us, hopefully, the Transnational Crime Detectives may crack the leads we have given them to ‘out’ a deadly trafficker who specialises in trading these youths.   He sells them on as Slaves to become the property of another who will guard them with shackles.  Not surprisingly, this is our Vision “A world free from the shackles of Human Exploitation and the prosecution of every woman or man who dares to take up this evil task to the detriment of the most vulnerable in our society”  (CHTEA Vision Statement)

“Hope is not a Belief in Happy Endings”  (How ‘Alice’ Coped).

We have to hold onto Hope despite the ‘worst case scenarios’ which come to us daily.  Let me introduce you to ‘Alice’  When I met her for the first time she said in the course of our conversation “I am still young, 25 years old” I smiled and she went on to say: after Form/4, I received a scholarship to Kampala and graduated with a B Comm, then I proudly came home at Christmas.  In the New Year, a lady at our parish (who runs a business between Nairobi and Kampala), told me of a friend who owns a hotel in Kampala.  She explained that he needs an accountant who would be his ‘third eye’ on the local (Ugandan) staff.

But it turned out we were 9 young women aged 16 – 23 years old, engaged in bar work and sex favours.  There were 7 of us in the night shift alone.  Then in an explosion of tears she said “clients could come any hour of the day or night” I knew the wound was deep in her soul.  Alice made her escape by a miracle.  Early one morning a Kenyan man came in for breakfast, he was completely shocked to see her behind the bar.   Briefly, he handed his car keys to Alice saying where it was parked outside.  In two hours they were over the border, he dropped her at her parents’ home.   She had to concoct a story that she was robbed in Kampala.

We journeyed with ‘Alice’ through counselling, provision of shelter and a means of income.  Today, she runs her own shop and ATMs for 2 local banks.  She has reached the point where she is able to share her story and is particularly good with youth and senior primary level.  Of ‘Alice’ I can certainly say that she, more than any other person I know took “courage for the journey” (“Singing for the Dead”).

Survivors of Human Trafficking.

We carry hundreds of victims of HT or as I prefer to call them Survivors – the dictionary describes them as ‘extraordinary people who carry and overcome extreme difficulties in their lives’ these are people I have come to know over the years in working Against Human Trafficking.  But Covid 19 took another toll on them which presented with difficulties which were far from easy.  We had set them up with resources to be self-sufficient in caring for their family’s needs but with the sudden drop in the economic situation the majority of them were unable to cope in meeting daily needs.  The approach we took to boost their incomes was to add a supplementary item/s to what they were already doing.  The addition of selling sweets, sodas and/or cigarettes can enable them to supplement their income to a fairly normal level.




The Transit Passenger

Just picture a Tanzanian woman who has travelled from the most remote village of her country close to Lake Victoria who after four long days and nights of transport to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, finds herself within the long, endless, ‘dizzying’ corridors of JKIA.  She has not tasted a bite of food since she said ‘Kwaheri’ (goodbye) to her loving family.  ‘Amina’ simply goes berserk and starts running around in circles as if in a delirious trance and nobody can pacify her.  By a stroke of luck, a Sr ‘Breda’ who is very familiar with Human Trafficking (HT) observes all that is going on.  She goes to ‘Amina’ and speaks very calmly to her in Kiswahili.  ‘B’ also consults with a police lady on duty at the airport who confirms that ‘Yes, this woman is indeed a trafficked person’ Not only that but her transport has taken the passengers through a ‘Panya’ route, it literally means the place where the rats run (unapproved route).   So, she is also illegally in Kenya.

‘Amina’ is a 25 year old woman highly traumatised and severely dehydrated.  She has left her 4 and 2 year old children with her mother and they wait patiently for the millions of Tanzanian shillings (currency) she will carry home. Sr Brenda and Sr. Mary, MMM/CHTEA, devoted the rest of that day to her welfare – it took the form of debriefing, copious fluids and tasty refreshments, her travel and family and what her next plans might be?  She was absolutely adamant that she would travel home immediately.  She was given the equivalent of £Stg 40.00 and a personal phone (minus sim card) then she was sent way in a luxury coach to Dar es Salaam.  Fortunately, she had a safe journey and called back as she was about to board a bus to her home close to the Ugandan border.

Surrogate Motherhood

The ‘faces and twists’ of Human Trafficking (HT) never cease to amaze. Surrogate motherhood stands out as one highly unethical and criminal activity. Desperate women in slums are willing to undergo a high risk pregnancy for monetary gain.  The procedure is a very shady deal and the money promised never comes true.  Out of desperation and ignorance, they sign consent for all that will play out in the coming months. A medical doctor cum trafficker will inject her with a high dose of oestrogen hormone to effect an ovulation.  Within some hours, she will be artificially inseminated using specimens of Qatari males.

Waiting in a cramped ‘holding house’ with minimal food, this will be the longest nine months of her life. She must undergo a mandatory Caesarean Section (CS) at a high cost hospital outside of Nairobi where victim is flown by air for the CS.  The details and travel documents of the baby are all prepared in advance of its birth.   The mother is heavily sedated and will never see her child.  S/he will have passed through the International airport and arrived in Qatar by the time she starts asking questions like ‘where is my baby’?  She is lucky if she receives even one third of the agreed sum of money to ‘achieve her dreams.’ “Oh well, there was xyz new drugs we had to buy” etc. etc.  After ten days she is escorted to a bus back to Nairobi.  Since she signed for indemnity, any complications – immediate or later ones which may arise in the future is solely her problem.  CHTEA staff has met and witnessed all their complications too.  The age range was 15 – 42 years old – both are in the high risk category for having a baby.  In a two month period, CHTEA managed to rescue 8 of the 13 mothers in waiting.

On arrival, these infants have DNA testing done to insure that the child has Qatari parentage?  If not, it will be returned to Nairobi and the trafficker doctor will sell it to a childless couple for a sum of between 2 – 5 Million KShs (equivalent to $20,000 – $50,000).  What of the ones who have a Qatari father??  Some of CHTEA’s participants in workshops figured out that maybe these children will be raised to become slaves from childhood.  But the reality is as different as it is ‘chilling’. In a study done in Ireland on neonatal transplants 2011 – 2018, in that 8 year period, only 36 transplants were carried out. Writing in the IMJ, the lead researcher commented that “neonatal organ donations are rare” So this doctor trafficker can ‘mass produce’ Kenyan babies for organ retrieval.  Having one Qatari parent means that the tissue compatibility is almost one hundred per cent guaranteed.

This is taking place right here in the Capital city of Nairobi and at the Coastal city of Mombasa. It is a highly lucrative enterprise and all carried out strictly under the radar away from the media.  Yet the hospital where these unethical and criminal operations are carried out is owned by a person of high standing in the Kenyan political class!


Human Trafficking: The Abused Boys of Ethiopia

The Religious Against Human Trafficking (RAHT) at their monthly meeting convened at the Dream Center, Langata road on 16th February 2019, commissioned a small team to delve into the intricate web of human trafficking involving underage children (mainly boys) from Ethiopia at the Kyamaiko goat slaughter houses in Huruma, East of Nairobi. The boys are engaged in child labour.
The team comprised of Fr. Jairo Albert, Yarumal Missionaries, Sister Maria Marilena, Missionaries of the Foucauld (MDF) and Mr, George Matheka, Counter Human Trafficking Trust-East Africa (CHTEA). The three also co-opted Mr. Mutuku Nguli, CHTEA. The team met once for a planning session at the Missionary Sisters of the Foucauld – out-reach Centre at the Mathare slums. The meeting resolved to visit the Kyamaiko slaughter houses on 27th February 2019 and CHTEA offered to bring on board a local community mobiliser who would serve as a guide.
During the same meeting, Fr. Jairo disclosed that he had contacted Bishop Virgilio Pante, Diocese of Maralal who is the current Chair to the Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Seafarers at the KCCB. The Bishop had indicated that he wished to provide a platform for RAHT to present the Kyamaiko case at the KCCB meeting due in April 2019…if enough evidence was forthcoming. Sr Marilena offered to offer prayers for the mission – as their contribution. Thank you.
The Mission
The ground mobiliser advised the team to arrive at Kyamaiko between 5.00am – 5.30am as most under age boys are most active during those hours at all slaughter houses – leading the goats to the slaughter houses, washing the inner organs (bowels) of slaughtered goats and sheep, carrying bought meat to load in to clients’ cars and attending to any other chores.
The team consisting Fr. Jairo Albert, Mr George Matheka and Mr Mutuku Nguli arrived at the Kyamaiko centre at exactly 5.30am and waited for Rahma, the CHTEA community mobiliser for about 25 minutes. Rahma is a Borana Muslim lady whose parents originated from Moyale Kenya. She was brought up at Kyamaiko since the age of ten. She grew up to challenge the human rights abuses practiced by her community. Moyale County, where the Borana community hails from is found on both sides of the Kenya-Ethiopia border. The Ethiopian side (which is highly impoverished) is the key supply of the underage boys at Kyamaiko.
Poor families on the Ethiopian side normally give out their young boys and girls, aged between 9 – 14 years to “relatives/guardians” who are in livestock business (mainly goats and sheep) with a promise to educate and offer employment in Kenya. Most of these business people buy and transport livestock from the Moyale Kenya border to Nairobi using lorries. The lorries are normally partitioned into two compartments; the upper and lower. The upper part of the lorry carries livestock while the lower part carries human beings (trafficked boys, girls and even young men illegally migrating to Nairobi and other destinations) and illegal small arms and light weapons. All this cargo is delivered to a ready market in Nairobi.

While the police and the local administration are well aware about this illegal business which is disguised in livestock trade, all police road blocks from Moyale to Nairobi operate using a coded language of “mbuzi” (a Kiswahili word for goats). In this context, “mbuzi” normally refers to human heads (trafficked children). The declaration of the exact number of “mbuzi’s” at all police road checks pre-determines the

amount of money paid for passage. Key human trafficking brokers based in Nairobi, facilitate the financial payments to all key police points up until Nairobi’s Huruma Police post; where all cargo is normally delivered at the wee hours of the morning.

Once these children arrive in Nairobi, the disguised “relatives, guardians or custodians” take over and hand them over to their new masters for immediate duty allocation within the sprawling Kyamaiko area. The boys are normally handed over to butchers who assign them duty stations and put them to sleep in the same sheds as the goats (an arrangement similar to the lorry compartments). The boys are forced to wake up as early as 1am and sleep as late as 11am at night depending on each day’s business. While the boys are entitled to between Ksh 1,300 and Ksh 1,500 per day, the broker receives Ksh 1,000 per day and the boy keeps the balance. If the boy falls sick, no one is responsible and sometimes, some of the boys get lost in the sprawling slum – possibly get killed at times or get abducted or even run away to escape mistreatment. Even so, no one seeks to know their whereabouts hence, the boys are on their own as soon as they land in Nairobi, except for the forced labour. After some months or years, they group themselves together into 10’s and get themselves a single room where they share and sleep in shifts as they eke for food and rent. Most rooms go for between Ksh 2,500 – Ksh 4,500. The boys never get to see a classroom.

While the boys engage in child labor at the slaughter houses, the few girls who arrive at Kyamaiko are normally placed as house-helps – as suitors are sought to marry them off. Most of these girls marry at very tender ages and mostly to old men. They remain with little choice since they are far from home and their disguised guardians do not entertain any objection.

Facts on the ground

When the RAHT team visited the ground, they witnessed tens of lorries which had arrived in the very early hours of the morning and had already offloaded their cargo. The team further witnessed hundreds of newly arrived sheep and goats next to the lorries. Rahma (our guide), explained that there is normally a team ready to receive the lorries. Alongside the livestock and human cargo offloaded, some sheep or goat carcasses are also reported to be found….however, these are not ordinary carcass as they normally are highly secured and guarded. Rahma was able to disclose that these carcasses are the carrying pockets for illegal arms and light weapons. The carcasses are eventually picked separately for disguised disposal but they get delivered to their owners, mainly at Eastleigh.

On another side of this expansive market, the RAHT team witnessed first-hand business of the slaughter houses. The team counted ten or more slaughter houses next to each other. They were all very busy skinning the animals as others embarked on selling and distribution of the meat to the clients. The team was informed that the Kyamaiko market alone slaughters over 2,000 goats daily. The meat is supplied all over Kenya while some was said to be exported to the Middle East (although we could not confirm these reports).

In each butchery and on the sidelines, the team witnessed the underage boys doing different things – some were playing video games with their phones in groups; supposedly as they waited for their turns in the butcheries, others were selling meat left-overs next to the butcheries, a majority of the youngest were at the backyards of each butchery cleaning the bowels and preparing them for the clients. A majority of these boys had poor or no Kiswahili language skills at all – a testimony that they were new arrivals. All these boys hardly ever get a chance to travel back home; some for the rest of their lives while others may take about 10 – 20 years before venturing out since they lack proper papers and documentation.

Government: The Sad Reality

During a separate interview with Rahma, the community mobiliser and a member of the Mathare Social Justice Network, the RAHT team enquired to know why this abhorrent practice had not been stopped by the government institutions. Rahma was quite categorical in her response: “the police and the area chief are heavily involved. Kyamaiko is a cash cow for all police and provincial administration bosses in Nairobi”, she added. All the boys and girls who arrive without documents are easily facilitated through bribes and extortion. Identification documents are normally processed through the area chief and a raft of middle men and women. The Kenyan Borana community members based at Kyamaiko normally collude to stand in as the relatives of the undocumented boys and girls in order for the papers to be prepared for the children.

The other disturbing trend has to do with the security agencies. There exists a sustained and regular financial contribution towards the police bosses within the County of Nairobi. Previously, raids have been carried out, boys arrested and taken to the Huruma police post. Before the end of day, all of them troupe back to their locations of work. Their “masters” (those who disguise as guardians for profit) collect money and give to the head of the police station. This is said to happen at will in order to raise funds for the local police boss. According to Rahma, every police boss posted to Huruma police post eventually leaves with massive wealth as exemplified by new cars bought while at the station and a host of other investments which the community is all aware about – all earned from the human trade of these young boys.

According to Rahma, “the human trafficking reality at Kyamaiko is not a secret anymore to anyone in Government. Newly posted Government officials (police and provincial administration) normally receive hand over notes of the highly lucrative business from their predecessors and this happens across the ranks”.

In the above context therefore, it is evident that the best advocacy intervention lies with the Government itself – both in Nairobi and from the point of dispatch in Moyale, Kenya. This matter requires the attention of the highest office on the land – the President and the Minister for Interior and Coordination of National Government. A structured meeting would be ideal and RAHT is prepared to prepare a video clip to support the existence of Human Trafficking at the Kyamaiko slaughter area.

Counter Human Trafficking trust Newsletter Launch

Dear Readers,

Karibuni sana (very Welcome) to the Launch of our First Newsletter.  This comes to you at a very critical time for our world and all our countries, none more so than in Africa.  In Kenya we will share with you how Covid-19 is affecting us and in particular how it is impacting on the victims of human trafficking.
The advent of Covid-19 (other-wise called Corona virus) has ushered in an unprecedented situation in Kenya and around the world since the beginning of 2020. With thousands initially; and now millions reported infected by the virus around the globe, many States effected restrictions of both movement and interaction at all levels of social life.

But first we must update you on the long journey we have come since I first held Awareness talks for our Health Volunteers in MMM, Mukuru kwa Njenga – a large informal settlement on the East side of Nairobi, in 2006.  Literally we were born in the slums.  Sadly these slums are the main ‘hunting ground’ for traffickers as they seek to lure the most impoverished and desperate young people in our society.  This work particularly in slums continued for a number of years before the Kenyan Government even held preliminary talks on Human Trafficking (HT).  Eventually, in October, 2010, the Act was signed into Law.

First Training of Trainers

In August, 2010 we held our first “Training of Trainers” (ToT) in order to increase the capacity of people reached through these newly trained ToTs.  There was an instant peak in Workshops given and it was a very satisfying breakthrough. In the intervening years I worked in co-founding a number of organisations to Counter HT. It included one for Youth, an NGO, Religious Women & Men, my own Congregation, Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM) and most notably now we registered “Counter Human Trafficking Trust – East Africa” (CHTEA) in August, 2018.

Talitha Kum Training

Having co-founded “Religious Against Human Trafficking” (RAHT) in 2016 we knew this would eventually lead to our taking RAHT beyond Nairobi to the dioceses and counties of Kenya.  RAHT is composed of male & female Religious so, we saw it wise to ‘insert’ ourselves under the ‘umbrella’ of the “Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya” (AOSK) and the “Religious Superiors Conference of Kenya” (RSCK).  CHTEA is a valued member of RAHT since 2018 and CHTEA staff have been co-opted in to a number of working task groups.

In July 2019, RAHT an affiliate of Talitha Kum, the world body of Religious against Human Trafficking organised a regional (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Italy) Training of Trainers’ workshop in Nairobi. CHTEA was involved in the preparations and the eventual workshop delivery through presentations and rapporteur services. The training was headed by the Co-ordinator of Talitha Kum, Rome office, Sr Gabriella Botelli. This was a major milestone in the development of RAHT and it raised CHTEA’s profile ahead of other conferences of religious and non-religious within the East-Central African Region.

The Santa Marta Conference.

“Santa Marta Group” is an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from around the world working together with civil society in a process endorsed by Pope Francis, to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery. The Pope describes trafficking as “an open wound on the body of contemporary society”. The group was formed in April 2014 and was literally instigated by Pope Francis himself.  The group commenced annual conferences to consolidate efforts on counter HT in different regions of the world

This very dedicated body held their Second Regional Conference for Africa, in Nairobi 1 – 3 October, 2019.  Both Francis Mutuku Nguli (CEO, CHTEA) and I gave a presentation on that occasion.  The theme of our presentation was “New and emerging issues in Human Trafficking”  We focused on a number of them but the one which drew most interest was “Surrogate motherhood”  We will explore this further with you in the stories we present in this Newsletter.

MMM East Central Africa CHT Conference.

Last year I came up with the idea of holding a 4-day Training Conference on Counter Human Trafficking for the members of my own Congregation: Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM) in East Central Africa from 19th – 24th April, 2020.  This has received tremendous support from the entire leadership of MMM.  I began preparations well ahead of time and everything was in place even to my own ‘closing speech’ at the final Mass when participants would receive their
certificates.  Then early March, it became increasingly clear that the said Conference should be deferred due to Corona virus, it was a painful decision but I knew it was for the greater good and that at a future date it will be possible to do this training.

Trafficking of Women, Youths, Children & Men

Human Trafficking (HT) is the vilest trade on earth in addition to being the most lucrative.  The Global trade is a multi-billion dollar industry second only to the arms trade which also makes it the most violent industry on earth.  It results from a huge demand for purchased sex.  Trafficked persons are shipped all over the world to work in brothels, hotels, bars, lap dancing clubs and in red-light districts. Except for their services, the victims are largely invisible and are regarded as perishable goods, mere commodities to be sold and re-sold repeatedly for as little as $50.  In our modern world today when they are no longer useful they can be replaced, discarded or used to lure new victims.  This is very important to understand because unless we rescue and assist victims they can be used by their traffickers to recruit others

The vast majority of victims are trafficked within their own country as labourers, domestic servants, farming, fishing, begging, herders, etc.  All these are among the lowliest paid jobs and for longest hours.  With children they may only receive one meal daily and are deprived of an education, socialising with peers, missing out on their families, etc.  They are also sexually exploited within their work place and are rarely allowed out.

Who Thinks they Know of Human Trafficking?

Human Trafficking is the ultimate slavery and a crime of horrendous proportions.  Most of us can only guess but never get more than a hint of the level of degradation, abuse and torture experienced by its victims on a daily basis.  Human trafficking is much more than facts, it is a modern form of slavery not previously experienced in our world.  With the internet and modern communications on our doorstep the recruitment is swift and efficient.  Then the cargo (read human) is dispatched.

We in CHTEA, pledge ourselves to dismantle a phenomenon the size of a global pandemic virus!  Our efforts and mobilisation depends on all of us. That is why we are urging you to garner a wider readership for us and assist us where you can with any donations.  In the years I have pursued this ministry the heaviest and most expensive item we have is the rescue and care of victims.  But we cannot abandon the most ‘sinned-against’ human persons in their hour of greatest need.

May God protect and save us all in these days of Covid-19.

We pray for you & yours at this critical time in human history.


Mary O’ Malley, MMM

The Uganda-Karamoja Girls’ Rescue Operation in Nairobi

12th January 2020


Following a flurry of concerted efforts by both media reports and civil society organisations about the trafficked girls of the Karamoja region, a lot of interest on the matter was created within both public and government spheres. Of particular concern was the Al Shabaab link. According to the New Vision daily newspaper of Uganda, dated 1st December 2019, some of the trafficked girls ended up in the hands of Al Shabaab in Somalia.

The bigger market for these tender youngsters however, is to be found in Nairobi, Kenya. The Karimojong girls tend to have a special preference for working for the Somali community only while at the same time keeping a knit code of socialization. While in Nairobi, these girls are to be found within the precincts of Eastleigh, Majengo, Pumwani, Shauri Moyo and parts of Mlango Kubwa. The migration history of the Karamoja girls into Kenya dates back for more than a decade…….after the influx of the Somali refugees into Kenya and particularly in Nairobi’s Eastleigh suburb.

The Somalia Background Context and the Al Shabaab link

In late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Somalia was particularly known for high sea piracy within the Indian Ocean; whose ransom sums involved millions of dollars in order to release hostages. It was particularly acknowledged that much of that ransom money ended up in Eastleigh where a big population of non-Kenyan Somalis were holed up under the cover of Kenya Somalis.  So popular did Eastleigh become…… (Thriving businesses and an investment hub for Somali refugees) that it was nick-named “Mogadishi Ndogo” (a Swahili word for small Mogadishu) to signify the growing presence of Somali nationals and their business interests in Kenya.

The new population of Somali’s from Somalia created a new demand for domestic workers. In order to conceal their identity, this refugee population preferred to have the Karamoja girls who would not differentiate between Somalia-Somalis and the Kenyan Somalis. In this way, the refugee population felt safe to live and engage in business as they gradually learnt how to speak Swahili and obtain identity documents using corrupt means…….this marked the first major influx of the Karimojong girls into Nairobi as their demand grew in lips and bounds in response to Somalia-Somalis’ increased population. Many of the pioneer Karimojong girls who had been brought into Kenya by Kenyan Somalis became human traffickers as Nairobi became a more lucrative Uganda export employment destination.

The older Karimojong girls assumed the role of bringing back more colleagues whenever they travelled home…….and for this, they were compensated by prospective employers or Somali agents. Gradually, some of these ladies (now grown up women) opted to become full time traffickers (for pay) and they slowly formed a network of recruiters placed at different points (at source, in Kampala, Busia Uganda, Busia Kenya and eventually Nairobi)

Following the Somalia instability in early 1990’s, a multiplicity of organised and armed groups emerged around the country and one of those was the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) who were a consolidation of the various militia war lords’ groups. The ICU was a group of Sharia courts that united themselves to form a rival administration to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia, with Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as their head. They were also known as the Joint Islamic Courts, Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SICC) or the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC).

Until the end of 2006, the ICU controlled most of southern Somalia and the vast majority of its population, including most major cities such as Jowhar, Kismayo, Beledweyne, and the capital Mogadishu. The ICU was supported by warlord Yusuf “Indho Ade” Mohamed Siad who ruled Lower Shabelle but later became defense chief of the ICU, who aided in the defeat of the Mogadishu warlords. Only the Northern regions (Puntland, Somaliland), and the furthest interior regions of the south were outside their control. In December 2006, the ICU lost much territory after defeats at the battles of Baidoa, Bandiradley, and Beledweyne, retreating to the capital, Mogadishu. On 28 December 2006, they abandoned Mogadishu, leaving the city in chaos while they moved south towards Kismayo, which allowed the TFG and Ethiopian troops to take over the city. After a stand at the Battle of Jilib, the ICU abandoned the city of Kismayo on 1 January 2007. Stripped of almost all their territory, it was speculated the ICU would pursue guerrilla-style warfare against the government but instead, hardline Islamists broke ranks from the ICU and formed Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam; among other groups to continue the war against the government.

Al Shabaab has, since 2008, undergone a major shift in the public portrayal of its ideology, likely in an attempt to court Al Qaeda (AQ) core and their supporters. Elements of the group’s leadership recast their struggle not as a regional conflict, but as part of the AQ-inspired global war against the West. Since 2008, Al Shabaab and its media wing, the al Kata’ib Foundation, created a number of websites hosting well-produced videos portraying the fighting in Somalia as part of a global conflict. These videos interspersed scenes of Al Shabaab members in combat with messages from Osama bin Laden and other AQ core leaders, promoting Somalia as an important destination for those wishing to combat the West.

Al Shabaab’s rhetoric increasingly focused on combating the “far enemy” of the United States and the African Union governments it supports in addition to the “near enemy” of the Transitional Federal Government and allied forces within Somalia. While previous interviews suggested that many of Al Shabaab’s troops were opportunistic, Somali supporters who were driven by a combination of intimidation and cash bonuses, a core of committed fighters, many of them foreign, appeared to be strongly motivated by this new terrorist ideology. Once a fundamentalist yet ultimately nationally focused organization, Al Shabaab transformed its ideological rhetoric to reflect a new emphasis on international struggle against the West, likely as a means to draw the group closer to AQ core.

The foreign factor in Al Shabaab

The strategy of Al Shabaab to adopt a global focus by aligning to Al Qaeda provided a platform to begin an expansionist ideology in order to target more countries who were considered to be sympathetic to the American cause. Many more foreign fighters joined the ranks of Al Shabaab and provided more technical input to the planning and operational contexts. The demand for brides to quench the sexual thirst of the frontline jihadists grew, hence the outsourcing of women from mainly the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

With Al Shabaab terror cells spread across the East and Horn of Africa, Eastleigh in Kenya became a sort of a ‘hub’ for the East African region. A number of terror attacks have since been launched in Nairobi, beginning with the Westgate Mall, then Garissa University and most lately, the Dusit II hotel, along Riverside. The existence of terror cells facilitates the continuous recruitment of both jihadist fighters and ladies who take up the role of being brides.

It is in the above context therefore that the Karimojong girls found themselves vulnerable to the whims of the Al Shabaab terror group.  While the initial practice was to get domestic workers for the Somali community, over time things shifted as the terror cells dupe these girls into believing that Somalia had better prospects for them. According to a CHTEA volunteer, Rashid, based at Pumwani, he asserts that all this begins with the slow faith conversion of the Karimojong girls into Islam. Once converted, it becomes easy to invite them to visit Somalia or even promise them better paying employers inside Somalia. According to Rashid, the girls accompany known Somali family members into travelling to Somalia. More enticing for the girls is the reality of being offered to fly through Wilson airport, using the “Miraa” (curt) small aircrafts. It is not clear how many Karimojong girls may have so far been trafficked to Somalia but it is undisputable that it has been an ongoing practice at Eastleigh.

According to another CHTEA Volunteer, Margaret, the Karimojong girls are not the only Ugandans at Eastleigh who exclusively work for the Somali community. The Abagisu (both young men and young women) are also of a sizeable population. The men are mainly hired to work in hotels, for errands and hand laborers. Margaret asserts that the Abagisu young men are normally converted into Islam in big numbers, hence more the reason for their dalliance with the Somali community. After developing confidence with their Somali employers, the Abagisu young men get offered to travel with Somali families to Somalia and most of them are never seen again.

The Karamoja Region of Uganda

The Push and Pull Factors: Trafficking of Karamoja Underage girls

The “push and pull” factors in Karamoja

For the longest time in the East African Community (EAC) region, the Karamoja region of Uganda (which is shared between Kenya, Uganda and the South Sudan – according to the Conflict Early Warning and Early Response Unit of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) was known to host some of the most deprived communities in the EAC region. Before the Uganda Government disarmament programme of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Karamoja region had been identified as a bedrock of violence; mainly perpetuated by incessant cattle rustling.

The Karamoja region in Uganda consists of seven districts in northeastern Uganda (Kaabong, Kotido, Abim, Moroto, Napak, Amudat and Nakapiripirit). Karamoja is classified as one of the world’s poorest areas, with high rates of malnutrition and a disproportionate number (61 percent) of its 1.2 million people, living in absolute poverty. Hunger, stunting and lack of access to food are prevalent. Food insecurity is a major and ongoing challenge and a heavy reliance on the natural resources base renders livelihoods sensitive to climate dynamics. Climate variability and change undermine the already limited resources and development in Karamoja through recurring droughts, flash floods and prolonged dry spells. Other vulnerabilities that constrain development in Karamoja stem from historical dynamics affecting current governance, including: private ownership of firearms, cattle raiding, severe environmental degradation, poor infrastructure and limited access to basic education and health services, which were adversely affected by Uganda’s civil war.

The population of Karamoja is young with the average age being 15 years (Census 2014). Out of the total population of 1.2 million people, half are females. The region has the highest total fertility rate (TFR), with women of reproductive age (15-49 years) giving birth to an average of 8 children, higher than Uganda’s of 5, and three times above the average of 3 children per woman in Kampala (UDHS, 2016). The majority of the population are child dependents which hinder adequate consumption and attainment of health, education and nutrition, keys to human capital development and household investment. Persistent high fertility and child dependency have made the region the least socially and economically developed, even among the generally poorer parts of northern Uganda as a whole.

i)  Human Development Context

According to a report entitled, “Understanding Chronic Poverty In Karamoja” (PDF). www.drt-ug.org. Retrieved 3 February 2016, human welfare, living conditions and quality of life of the people in Karamoja have declined considerably over the years due to various factors such as environmental issues, insecurity, marginalization, illiteracy, poor health, and poor infrastructure. Moroto and Nakapiripirit have the lowest HDI of 0.183 and Kotido has 0.194 as compared to an average of 0.4491 for Uganda.

The districts of Karamoja have the highest Human Poverty Indices (HPI) with Nakapiripirit and Moroto Districts having 63.5 percent and Kotido has 53.8 percent, compared to the national average of 37.5 percent, Central region of 31.5 percent, Northern region 46.1 percent, Western region 39.0 percent, and Eastern region 37.1 percent.

There are at least 5 regional hospitals in Karamoja, providing affordable health services to the area. The locations include Matany, Moroto, Amudat, Kotido, and Kaabong. The above report further indicates that poverty has been on the increase and according to the Karimojong, the main factors responsible for poverty include persistent poor harvest as a result of dry spells and droughts, cattle rustling and insecurity, animal death, lack of water, poor farming practices, ill health and disability, high bride price for marriage, lack of skills and unemployment, limited sources of income, poor governance, and landlessness.

Much of Karamoja remained heavily dependent on the largesse of the United Nations World Food Programme, as the region entered the second decade of the 21st century. In 2011, in the wake of the severe 2011 Eastern Africa drought, food shortages were again reported in the region as well as other areas in northern and eastern Uganda.

Karamoja and the Bulambuli district, in particular, were among the worst hit areas, with an estimated 1.2 million Ugandans affected. Droughts and dry spells affect farmers and the population, causing economic hardship for farmers and food shortages for the population and their livestock.

According to a UNFPA report released in August 2018, Uganda’s development history in the Karamoja region remains the least socially and economically, with 61 percent of the total population of 1.2 million living in poverty (UNHS, 2016/17). The region is semi-arid and experiences chronic food insecurity. For Uganda to achieve sustainable development highlighted in the second National Development Plan and Vision 2040, it is paramount to strengthen the region’s human capital competitiveness for sustainable wealth creation, employment and inclusive growth.

Development should be focused on redistributing wealth and opportunity across regions, while enabling the people of Karamoja to realize their basic human rights. To ensure that no one is left behind, there is need to focus on investments in health, education, economic opportunity and governance. Success is time-sensitive and requires vision, good leadership and harmonized actions of government, development partners, beneficiary communities and the private sector. As we appreciate the equity gaps in the Karamoja region, there is need to consistently and collaboratively explore the policy priorities to achieve equity. Leaders need to make the hard choices to meet the varying and unique levels of need and ensure pulls to the pace of human development as the rest of the country.

ii) Access to Education

Education is the foundation for human capital development, gender empowerment and behaviour change. The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 aims to ensure access to quality education and the opportunity for lifelong learning for all. However, glaring disparities and inequalities in the attainment of education are seen in the Karamoja sub region. Only 0.9 percent of children aged 6-12 years are enrolled in primary school far below the central region at 12 percent. Primary Seven enrolment is also far lower at 3 percent from the rest of the country at 25 percent, thus affecting both secondary and tertiary enrolment rates.

The Karamoja secondary and tertiary Net Enrollment Ratios (NER) are at the lowest 19 and 2.6 percent among all sub regions and Kampala at 67 and 13 percent. In terms of completion, only 3.5 percent of children complete primary seven, way below Kampala at 40 percent. Over 70 percent of the population aged 10+ in Karamoja has never been to school, of whom majority are women. The overall literacy rate for Karamoja stands at only 25 percent, compared to 94 percent in Kampala, while 60 percent of women are unable to read and write.

While significant inroads have been made in reducing gender disparity in primary education, there are still challenges at the secondary and tertiary levels, which undermine the efforts to achieve gender parity at all levels of education as envisaged in the SDG4. While the NERs at the secondary school level have remained low at 41 percent for Uganda, the observed rates for Karamoja are far lower at 17 percent, with girls being more affected. Karamoja suffers from a low transition rate from primary to secondary education. With poor education, the region loses the opportunity for its girls and young people to delay on-set of child bearing, get skilled and positioned to contribute to the regions and national development

iii) Economic Opportunity

 Karamoja sub region largely depends on animal husbandry and rain fed agriculture for livelihood and employment. Young people, who constitute half of the region’s population with the energy and potential to propel economic growth are caught up in a web of unemployment, underemployment and vulnerable employment. Eighty Six percent of the young population in Karamoja have never been to school and are either not working or are in vulnerable employment compared to 5 percent in Kampala, a situation which undermines workers fundamental rights (UBOS, 2017).

The lack of decent work, experienced at an early age, compromises the population future employment prospects and frequently lead to unsuitable labour behaviour patterns that last a lifetime and foster an environment of social exclusion for young people. Evidence links unemployment to idleness of young people which potentially are risks for increased crime, mental health problems, violence, conflicts and drug abuse (UBOS, 2017).

Despite reducing national poverty, majority of the population in Karamoja is choking in poverty due to lack of employable skills among youth, limited access to markets and high dependency ratio of 141 compared to 97 nationally (UNHS, 2016/17). Cross generation marriage of women aged (12-24) years is at 5 percent, higher than 3.1 percent national average. There have also been media reports about child trafficking of especially girls to abet poverty, which is not only against human rights but place these girls under the risk of sexual abuse and gender based violence

iv)   Governance

 Improving service delivery and productivity required in the Karamoja region also calls for improved accountability and creation of an enabling social, economic and political environment. Government has put in place various policies and laws, including interventions like Universal primary and secondary education, skilling Uganda, youth and women livelihood programmes. Karamoja was also beneficiary of PRDP and NUSAF projects, as well as huge investment from development actors and UN Agencies. However, the full realization of the benefits of these programmes by the population, are constrained by the lack of full implementation of policies and laws, limited civic competence by the population to demand accountability in service delivery, lack of coordination among partners, low levels of legal literacy and awareness of human rights; and the poor quality of data at district level to inform evidence based planning and decision-making. Efforts to pull Karamoja out of inequality, should focus on building the capacity of communities, women, girls and young people to fully participate not only in the political, but in the planning, social and economic governance spaces of their region and in collection of reliable evidence. These will go a long way in fostering the spirit of public accountability and coordination in services delivery, efficient and effective use of public natural resources and the empowerment of women, girls and young people to demand their rights.

v)   Strategy for 2020 on wards

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Issue Brief 07, titled “Leaving no one behind in Karamoja”, August 2018, for Uganda to achieve the global and national development agendas within the commitment to leave no one behind, there is need for actions that tackle regional inequalities. Karamoja region is in urgent need of enough food for everybody, longer years of schooling to at least 14 years for its population to be able to acquire basic skills, fewer children dying from common diseases, manageable family sizes and a population that is able to read and write. In addition, people living in abject poverty should be significantly reduced, with no wide disparities in income distribution. Nurturing local stakeholder involvement and young people`s engagement for irreversible all-inclusive development is needed.

There is need for tailor-made equitable interventions in Karamoja tapping into the existing positive cultural aspects related to marriage, sexual relations and limiting retrogressive behaviour. UNFPA committed to advocate for sustained funding for Karamoja and to strengthen multi-sectoral coordination of population, gender and sexual reproductive health structures with government leadership so that services address all barriers people face and are available, accessible, acceptable and of good quality, so that no one is left behind.

vi)  Women’s empowerment and gender equality

Gender Based Violence and harmful practices disproportionately affect women and girls. Violence against women and girls is one of the most systematic, widespread human rights violations in Uganda. Up to 53 percent and 13 percent of women have experienced physical and sexual violence in Karamoja since age 15 (UDHS 2016). One of the factors behind these high prevalence rates is the widespread cultural acceptance of such violence. Wife battering is widely accepted, with 49 percent of women and 43 percent of men believing that it is justified for a man to beat his wife for any one of the five specified reasons. Gender based violence is known to increase vulnerability to HIV infection and ill sexual and reproductive health. Gender inequality and GBV are widespread   in Karamoja and are perpetuated by harmful cultural norms, inadequate protection of human rights, alcohol consumption, and poverty that compels girls to engage in early and non-protected sex for survival; 9.4 percent of girls aged 10-24 years reported to have experienced forced sexual intercourse (UNFPA, 2017). Young men of warrior age rape girls aged between 10 and 12 years as a way of “securing” them for marriage.

Although the extent of this traditional practice is difficult to judge, rape is cited as common thus contributing to many girls being married off as early as 10 years (Coffey 2016). This situation is made worse by the inadequacy of the health sector to provide GBV response services. Only 28 percent of the health facilities are reported to have the capacity to provide Clinical Management Rape services to survivors of SGBV. Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is also practiced, with 6.4 percent of girls from the communities of Tepeth, Pokot and Kadam ethnic groups having undergone FMC. The practice has adverse effects to sexual reproductive health of girls including difficulties in child birth, risk of suffering Obstetric fistula, development of keloids and accelerated school dropout for early marriage.

Trafficking Karimojong females to Kenya and beyond

Owing to the above vulnerability dynamics associated with the female population in the Karamoja region of Uganda, girls of as little age as 8 years have been trafficked to Nairobi, Kenya with a promise for better life and greener pastures. As the UNFPA report indicated above, there aren’t sufficient schools within the Karamoja region while those existing are wide apart making girls more vulnerable to rape and other forms of defilement and abuse.

Poor families are further pushing young girls to engage in petty errands such as collecting firewood to sell at market places where human trafficking recruiters lie in wait. This happens even as young men loiter and idle out in market places engaging in anti-social activities such as drinking local brews and pretending to be the village heroes on matters security. Since the government of Uganda carried out forceful disarmament in early 2000’s, cattle rustling became a thing of the past, hence rendered the young warriors “jobless”.

In an effort to make a meaningful sense of life, the Karimojong young women have resorted to being trafficked to Nairobi, where they engage in domestic servitude, mainly for the Somali community. Their numbers have continued to grow in the recent years and it is estimated that Nairobi alone hosts in the upwards of three thousand. The main concentration areas include Eastleigh, Majengo, Pumwani, Pangani (Chai road) and Shauri Moyo. Due to their increased numbers, they seem to have diversified their economic activities to include prostitution, bar tenders, massage parlour services and other red light activities. Reports are rife of cases of murder and death during their employment in Eastleigh but all this goes unreported to authorities…..it is alleged that their employers (mainly Somali) go to a great length to ensure cover up of such cases.

Some of the girls are touted to have transited to the Middle East, while others are reported to have travelled south, to the Kenyan Coast where they work in brothels and other low paying service sectors. One of the rare emerging unconfirmed reports has been received of some of the girls transiting towards Somalia – with a potential destination being Al-Shabaab brides. The main route has been mapped to be through Mombasa, Malindi and then to Lamu before they cross over the border at Kiunga into Somalia (this needs further investigation).

Renewed effort: “A drop in the Ocean”

The Anti Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit (AHTCPU) of the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) in late 2019 rescued 12 Karamoja girls from Eastleigh. They were later committed to be returned by a court order and eventually repatriated to Uganda. During the processing of documentation, “Make a Child Smile” (MCS), a Uganda based NGO offered to work alongside the Kenya Government to ensure that the girls were properly absorbed into appropriate safe houses in Uganda. It was during this successful repatriation process that MCS developed further interest to seek and return more Karamoja girls from Nairobi to Uganda; but owing to the fact that MCS was non-governmental, working with the DCI proved a little difficult, hence, Counter Human Trafficking Trust-East Africa (CHTEA) was brought on board by DCI to work with MCS.

One of the immediate support given to MCS by CHTEA was the development and adoption of a “Karamoja Intervention Framework”. The framework was a kind of a matrix providing the Karamoja region context, analysis for push and pull factors and appropriate steps/recommendations for the different actors in Uganda towards a more sustainable reintegration. The framework further articulated on a step by step the specific actions needed to provide a sustainable rescue, return, rehabilitation and reintegration of the Karimojong victims of human trafficking from Nairobi and beyond.

The framework has since been shared with the Uganda Parliament and was also used as a reference point by a Karamoja Parliamentary Task Force which was commissioned to validate the existence of child trafficking in the Karamoja region. The Task Force’s report is yet to be presented to the Parliament – until February 2020. Following the Karamoja framework’s adoption, MCS, working closely with CHTEA embarked on a detailed plan to rescue more girls from Nairobi. As a first effort, CHTEA began to carry out discrete surveillance of the girls’ movement and locations in Nairobi; as well as document the profiles of their ages……video footage is available to this effect.

On the Ugandan side, MCS initiated a process of developing a joint rescue plan with both the Uganda’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and the Interpol Country Bureau, Uganda. As a first mark of action, a regional conference convened by the East African Child Rights Network (EACRN) in Kampala, Uganda brought together stakeholders from the CID, Interpol, Immigration, DCI from Kenya, IGAD and the Civil Society from both Kenya and Uganda. The Executive Director of CHTEA was the key facilitator, while MCS and other NGO’s took leading roles in discussing the Karamoja region’s human trafficking dynamic. While everyone appreciated that there existed a serious human rights issue in the name of human trafficking, no one could work alone to provide the much needed solution. The conference went further to acknowledge that some of the trafficked Karamoja girls ended up in the hands of the Al Shabaab. This position was confirmed by both Uganda police and the Interpol, Uganda Bureau. It was therefore evident that the Karamoja human trafficking reality was getting more complex and entrenched within the Somalia factor.

In the run up to the rescue operation, MCS facilitated the travel, accommodation, upkeep and surveillance support for a team of CID Officers from Uganda who were joined by another team of detectives from the Kenya’s DCI (TOCU and AHTCPU). CHTEA provided a detailed set of information prior to the surveillance and this proved quite helpful in mapping out the rescue plan. Although there were a number of fertile locations for rescue, the team zeroed down to one particular open field called “Kamukunji” grounds; situated along Nairobi River next to Shauri Moyo estate and the Majengo slums. Kamukunji grounds had been identified as an important weekly convergence point for the Karamoja girls. The girls normally converged at these grounds every  Sunday from all corners of Nairobi….they used the grounds for bonding, recreation, receiving and sending the latest news from and to home, respectively, meeting new arrivals and inducting them, coordinating support and employment for new arrivals, making new friends and also performing traditional arts such as music and oral story telling. This field had become such a popular venue that, young Kenyan men could be seen scouting for partners…….mainly for sexual exploitation.

According to one CHTEA volunteer from the Shauri Moyo neighborhood, “girls go for a low as 200 Shillings for a sexual escapade. They normally do so to supplement their meagre income from their other regular employment in order to support their families back in Karamoja”. This was confirmed to be true during the surveillance operation. When approached, by one of the officers, they requested that he buys one of them a plate of chips (fried potatoes) as she desperately missed it in her diet at her Somali employer…..the Somali community mainly feeds on spaghetti and rice. During surveillance, it was also confirmed that most of the trafficked girls originated from the Napak District in Karamoja region. It was not quite easy to however scientifically understand why Napak since the socio-economic and geo-political context was shared amongst all the rest of the districts within Karamoja region.

Developing the Rescue Strategy

The Ugandan team landed in Nairobi without a proper notice of the Kenyan counter parts, hence, emergency meetings had to be convened to process a strategy. The initial “Karamoja Intervention Framework” developed by CHTEA for the Uganda team was side stepped to pave way for a hurriedly proposed intervention, which was seemingly being pushed from the back ground by the Director of MCS. That notwithstanding, a quick action by the Kenya’s DCI saved the day. A generic model of a rescue operation was agreed on and both sides agreed to work together to rescue as many Karamoja girls as it would be possible.

Developing the rescue strategy involved a multiplicity of approaches…….meetings between Ugandan security officers and their Kenyan counterparts, meetings between Kenyan security officers (DCI) and CHTEA, meetings between Ugandan team and CHTEA at their hotel, and joint meetings for everyone. The different meetings dwelt on various aspects of the rescue operation….taking into consideration risk factors, reviewing design of the rescue operation, evaluating details such as potential victim numbers, appropriateness of the shelter, psycho-social support needs, dealing with potential pregnant girls and girls with babies, handling the sick and physically challenged (if any), transport needs (both local and transboundary), how to apply professional rescue methods for victims, coordination needs from different end points of the operation and the overall roles and responsibilities by all actors in the operation. It took long man-hours to develop these to a single strategy.


According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, surveillance is the act of close watch kept over someone or something (as by a detective). In this context, surveillance involved undercover infiltration of the Karamoja girls within their ordinary areas of presence such as Eastleigh, Shauri Moyo, Majengo, Pumwani and areas of Chai road. CHTEA activated all her community based volunteers (under the coordination of “Article 30”). Article 30 is a community based network of well-trained CHTEA volunteers in the area of counter human trafficking. The network spreads across Mathare slums, Eastleigh, Kariobangi, Ruaraka and Kyamaiko. The CHTEA team was able to identify the particular location within Eastleigh where coordination of trafficking the girls used to happen. One key Ugandan trafficker was identified and marked for arrest. During one major surveillance at the location, the CHTEA team led a team of DCI officers to the hide out den, in deep Eastleigh. The DCI officers camouflaged as potential employers (all were ladies) and a deal was struck for the girls to be picked by a bus to be taken to the working potential location on the designated day of the rescue operation. CHTEA made a financial pay out to the girls for their lunch (upon their request) and that action alone did the final nail to the plan.

On the part of the Ugandan team, they almost had daily meetings with CHTEA to review the rescue operation design plan. Some of those meetings ran deep into the night at their hotel in Nairobi. The Ugandan CID team members kept reviewing their ideas in relation to their strategic roles before and during the main rescue operation while MCS continued to offer support alongside CHTEA. MCS further facilitated movement and welfare of the various security officers on the ground by way of vehicles, fuel and meals. MCS also organised for special transport for the girls who would be collected alongside the trafficker at Eastleigh.

New Dynamics

After the first week of surveillance, the Ugandan team decided to involve the Ugandan Embassy, upon realizing that the potential rescued numbers could go beyond their own speculation. In this effort, the Uganda embassy offered to host the victims at the embassy grounds at their Kileleshwa Chancery grounds. MCS facilitated the acquisition of temporary shelters (tents), food, emergency kits, beddings and mattresses; while the embassy offered to support with sanitary facilities and ambience of the grounds.

The other potential dynamic that the team had to deal with was the reality of the weather……..a sunny day would be ideal; but a wet day would greatly hamper the grouping of the girls at the Kamukunji grounds. Never the less, all plans were made in assumption that the weather would be ideal for the rescue operation.

Again, Kamukunji grounds is sandwiched between Shauri Moyo, Majengo, Pumwani and the greater Eastleigh neighborhoods. These are fairly dangerous areas where the potentiality of counter attack by organised groups could not be ruled out…….this aspect was brought up by one of the leading officers within the DCI. In effect, both uniformed and non-uniformed Kenyan police officers were deployed to support the rescue operation. A good chunk of all Kenyan security officers were armed as a precaution in case of any resistance.

The Rescue Operation

After two weeks of intense surveillance, a unitary rescue plan (both security and civil) was agreed on and clear roles and responsibilities clarified. Since the Ugandan team was lean, they cooperated with the leadership of the Kenyan team. The rescue operation was divided into two segments:

  • Rescue an Eastleigh based group which had been baited by jobs’ promise. The rescue operation here had the potential of nabbing one trafficker
  • Mopping up a majority of the girls at the Shauri Moyo, Kamukunji grounds at around 6.00pm (same day) as they socialized.

The Eastleigh Rescue Operation

A special bus to ferry the Eastleigh group to a-would be working factory was arranged and at exactly 4pm, the bus arrived at the picking point. Inside the bus was the team leader of the Ugandan Security team (she camouflaged herself as a representative of the employer). She did not engage in any discussions with the 12 girls (including the trafficker) who boarded the bus. The number of girls reduced considerably since some had already left after changing their initial plan. They had arrived at 2.00pm as opposed to an earlier agreement to meet at 4pm. So they got tired of waiting and left.

The Ugandan security officer sat next to the bus door to keep an eye on any unexpected turn of events. Trailing the bus very closely was a Kenyan security van with five (5) plain clothes’ armed DCI officers. This team was under the command of a senior DCI officer. The security team offered protection to the bus and its occupants. Trailing from a distance under cover was also a media crew who were commissioned by CHTEA to cover the day’s proceedings. Once the girls were picked, the bus headed to the Ugandan Chancery, at Kileleshwa. A senior CHTEA officer sat at the front of the bus as a guide. Not even the bus driver understood the mission, even though at one point he got curious when he overheard the mention of police protection as he eave’s dropped on a conversation during a call to the CHTEA official who sat next to him. The journey to the Chancery which should be about 10 km, felt like eternity for the anxious security team from Uganda. It all however, went well and the bus was finally ushered into the compound of the Chancery without any major incident. During the journey, the Ugandan security officer could hear some of the girls raise curiosity but the trafficker, who was their undisputed leader assured them that all would be fine.

Once the bus entered the gate of the Chancery, the Ugandan security officer swung into action and retrieved all mobile phones and personal belongings from all the girls. She was joined by the Kenyan DCI team that had offered protection though out the journey and together, they screened all girls, one by one. Incidentally, three (3) CHTEA community volunteers from a Community Based Organisation called Article 30 had also been picked up with the girls. However, a phone call to the rescuing officers released the three.  The actual number of Karamoja girls rescued from Eastleigh was therefore eight (8) and one (1) trafficker.

The Shauri Moyo (Kamukunji Grounds) Rescue Operation

As early as 3.00pm, the Kamukunji grounds were beaming with life from the Karimojong girls who routinely visit the grounds for various social, cultural and bonding reasons. Unlike the previous Sunday, this particular Sunday was rife with big numbers. The numbers sored as the hours progressed. The Ugandan security officers, DCI officers and officials from both CHTEA and MCS infiltrated the girls as they entered the grounds and as they herded in groups. The under-cover media too did their bit.

At the top of the hour, all Kenyan police officers who had been formed to be part of the rescue operation left their command center at one of the nearby schools and entered the Kamukunji grounds………some on foot, others in lorries and senior commanders on small police vans. The lorries were supposed to ferry the rescued girls to the Ugandan Chancery. Both plain clothes and uniformed officers dotted the grounds. The heavy presence of the police in their different attires while some were heavily armed created a total confusion and send panic across the grounds. The girls got into a frenzy and started running in all directions while screaming at the top of their voices.

The crowd at the grounds at the time of police rescue operation was estimated at over five hundred (500). Most of them were aged between 8 years and 15 years. Some appeared to be expectant mothers while others dotted young children on their backs.

When the police swung into action, they were able to rescue eighty seven (87) who were ferried in two lorries to the Ugandan Chancery compound at Kileleshwa. When combine with the Eastleigh group, the total Karamoja girls rescued totaled 95 (ninety five) and one Ugandan trafficker.

Shelter at the Chancery

As explained elsewhere above, the shelter arrangements at the Chancery proved inadequate, especially at the first night. Due to a heavy down pour, the first night destabilized the whole shelter arrangement. Most of the girls were exposed to rain water and the temporary tents proved to be inadequate and less protective towards the vagaries of wet weather. MCS, the main sponsor of the rescue operation resorted to revamping the tent facilities in order to better protect the rescued victims.

Repatriation and Border Crossing

In a record three days, the Ugandan Embassy was able to process all necessary travel documentation for the ninety five girls. The trafficker was charged with child trafficking at a Nairobi court. The Ugandan Embassy pledged to bring back a total of 4 (four) victims who would give their testimonies at the court during the case hearing.

A team from the DCI escorted the bus carrying the ninety five Karamoja girls up to the Busia border where they formally handed them over to the Ugandan counterparts for onward journey to Kampala, where they were further screened and place under appropriate care of the NGO shelters while others (the mature category) were left at the hands of Government. The matter is still evolving on both sides of the border and this report remains inconclusive.

Prosecution and Partnership: The Case of Cross Border Child Trafficking – The DCI

In an unprecedented partnership arrangement, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) handed over a cross-border case to CHTEA. The case had fully been prosecuted at a Kenyan court in Makadara where the two Tanzanian traffickers were found to have a “prima facie” position (a case to answer).

The two children aged 6 and 8 years had been trafficked by their own aunt who used to live in Nairobi. She also trafficked another two Kenyan children to Tanzania. At the point of case handover, the DCI had concluded the traffickers’ case in court but had been unable to bring out the children’s father to Nairobi for a family reunion in the presence of the presiding judge.

Upon successful consultations with CHTEA, the DCI finally handed over the matter on 21st October 2019. CHTEA immediately mobilized the Tanzanian Chapter based in Singida for a possible intervention from that end. The children’s father originated from the Manyara region, Babati District, Dareda village. After back and forth consultations on whether to have the CHTEA Tanzanian chapter act on the matter, the Nairobi office made a decision to undertake the very delicate operation.

At exactly 2.30 pm on 29th October, one CHTEA senior staff from Nairobi set off for the Tanzanian mission. It took seven hours to get to Arusha where he luckily got the last bus to Babati at around 8.15pm. He was only allowed in after pleading with the bus driver as it was reportedly full.  The journey to Babati took another six hours; arriving at around 1.00am and booked himself to a hotel for a few hours rest before embarking on an unprecedented journey to a remote village, almost 100 kilometers away.

On the following day, the staff set out early after a simple breakfast meal at Babati. At the back of his mind, he did not expect the journey to be too long, but alas, a shocker awaited him. He first contacted the Administrator (Afisa Mtendaji) who confirmed that she was expecting him at her office at Dareda. His intention/expectation was to accomplish his mission in good time to be back at Arusha in time to travel back to Nairobi the same day.

The journey to Dareda was by use of a motor bike, hence, he had to first connect the motor bike rider to the Dareda Administration in order to get directions. It took almost an hour to get to Dareda which turned out to be a big shocker to the CHTEA staff who had earlier thought that Dareda was within the environs of Babati. On arrival, he called the Dareda Administrator who indicated that she was on her way to the office. Two hours later however, she had not still arrived and even after her arrival, she did not bother to seek him out. She instead embarked on another journey to the nearest township. Our staff had to send the motor rider (whom he had asked to wait) to bring her back to her office. Once back, she neither had any apologies for her delay nor her decision to leave a CHTEA staff waiting for her at her office, even after they had earlier telephone conversations.

No sooner had the CHTEA staff introduced himself to the Dareda Administrator than she began summoning her colleagues and community leaders for a consultative meeting. At the meeting, she claimed that Kenyans were not straight forward people as she asserted that during an earlier visit to Nairobi for the court testimony, the Tanzanian team (herself included) did not receive their reimbursements as promised by the Kenyan DCI officers. She further claimed that it could have been the reason why one of the Kenyan DCI officers did not notify her of CHTEA’s mission….this even as she was handed an official letter from the DCI confirming CHTEA’s mission.


The matter deteriorated further when the Administrator decided to instruct that the children’s father not to show up, lest he gets lured to Kenya before the reimbursement matter is settled. After a very long protracted discussion, the CHTEA official disclosed a mobile money transfer from the DCI to the same Administrator.  The disclosure created more discomfort and she changed the story line to non-payment of allowances. The mobile money transfer was for Kenya Shillings 16,000 (equivalent to Tsh. 320,000). The CHTEA officer had at one point make a threat to the Administrator…….telling her that all he was seeking was to get the Tanzanian children back to their parent and if they did not recognize his effort towards the same, he could as well choose to travel back to Nairobi. His threat yielded some traction and the Administrator sent him back to Babati to meet the Regional Commissioner and the Regional Commander of the Criminal Investigations’ Division (CID).

While all this was happening, time was running out for the CHTEA officer to catch a bus from Arusha to Nairobi. At 2.45pm, he headed back to Babati to seek clearance from the Regional heads but this proved to be another uphill task. The Regional Commander was not available, so he was asked to wait at a wooden bench. The officers in the office tried to reach him out on his mobile phone but nothing was forthcoming. He had to learn the important virtue of patience. After waiting for 30 minutes, he returned to the same office and charged at the officers……seeking to know if they had made any further efforts to reach out to the Regional CID Commander. They made another call where the boss instructed the police officers to refer the CHTEA officer to the District Police Force to deal with the matter. The officer in charge of Dareda police post was instructed to process the matter and ensure that the children’s father was released to the CHTEA officer.

A security officer from Babati was released to accompany the CHTEA officer back to Dareda to take charge of the orders given by the Babati Regional leadership command. Even so, the Administrator at Dareda tried to persuade the CHTEA officer to allow more time so that he travels back to Nairobi the following day…….this he turned down and insisted that he preferred spending the night at Arusha.

Finally, at around 6.45pm, the children’s father was escorted to the Administrators office where a brief meeting was convened to explain the mission to him. The father disclosed how he had earlier been advised against meeting the CHTEA officer……but all this was now in the past. The and the CHTEA officer immediately took a motor bike to his home where he bade farewell to his family and picked his travel documents and immediately embarked on a journey of about 100 kilometers to Babati, enroute to Arusha.

By 7.30pm, the duo were on their way from Dareda to Babati where they would ride on any available means to Arusha. Eventually, they got a bus which was transiting from Tabora to Arusha where they arrived at 11.00pm and booked themselves into an overnight stay hotel. They however made an Arusha-Nairobi shuttle bus booking for the following day before retiring for the night. The two left Arusha for Nairobi at 7.30am the following morning, 31st October where they arrived at around 2.00pm and had lunch and booked the children’s father to hotel for overnight stay in order to appear at court the following day, 1st November 2019 for official handover of his children.

Family Re-unification at Court

The presiding court at Makadara had set 1st November 2019 as the handover date for the two children whose matter had involved two countries. The DCI, working in collaboration with CHTEA prepared for a proper handover of the kids to their biological father. Once the children’s father was in Nairobi, the DCI officer responsible for the case was immediately notified and logistical matters relating to the handover agreed on phone.

In the early morning of 1st November 2019, the DCI officer in charge of the court case collected the children’s father from CHTEA’s offices in South ‘B’ and returned with the reunited family at around 12.30pm. The head of DCI, Child Protection and Human Trafficking expressed a lot of gratitude of the support given by CHTEA to make the reunion possible. The kids looked quite excited to be with their father. CHTEA treated them to lunch and took them for shopping ……..kid clothes and bags. A special hotel room was booked for the reunited family – with two beds and a shuttle bus booking made for the following day.

The Return of a Reunited Family

On 2nd November 2019, 7.30am, the reunited family was picked from their hotel accommodation by the CHTEA Patron and taken to the Panari Hotel stage where an Arusha bound shuttle bus picked them up for their final journey home at Dareda, Tanzania. The Patron prepared a thermos flask full of tea and some snacks for the children to feed while on journey. An extra Kenya shillings 3,000 (Tsh 60,00) was also given to their father for journey incidentals and immediate family subsistence when they get back home.

The journey back home for the family was however not flawless. When family got to the Namanga border, the customs’ officials threatened to block the children from entering Tanzania for lack of travel documents. The shuttle bus driver called CHTEA Patron to inform her of the border challenge. The Patron liaised the Chief Executive Officer who in turn got in touch with the DCI. The matter was resolved in a record short time due to DCI’s intervention…….they spoke to colleagues at the Namanga border who got the family released proceeded to Arusha with the rest of the passengers.

Important Future Considerations

  1. A robust and active Tanzania CHTEA (Jukwaa) platform will go a long way to alleviate some of the difficulties of dealing with the Tanzania Government authorities. Establishing working relationships with the Government is key to success.
  2. Costs associated with cross border counter human trafficking cases keep fluctuating depending on the prevailing circumstances
  3. Partnership is the way to go in creating a flawless infrastructure for cross-border counter human trafficking interventions. Partnerships further enhance the attainment for the fourth pillar – Prosecution
  4. The two traffickers will be handed down a jail term of up to a maximum of 30 years. CHTEA will sit at the court to hear the final verdict of the case

The case was closed on 2nd November 2019


Sr Mary O’ Malley & Mutuku Nguli CEO