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Kenya not yet out of the woods over trafficking in persons vice

By MICHAEL LUSWETI
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As the World Day against Trafficking in Persons was marked on Monday, Kenya was still considered a source of origin, transit point and destination for victims.

Not too long ago, the government suspended the recruitment of persons to work in the Middle East following many reports of mistreatment, non-payment of salaries, overworking and denial of food to Kenyan workers there. But that, it seems, was a cosmetic measure to deal with a vice that is deeply rooted not just in Kenya but throughout the globe.

Rivalled only by drug trafficking, human trafficking is widely viewed as modern-day slavery with victims mostly denied their free will and subjected to acts that run counter to human rights principles.

Yet it appears most people do not understand what human trafficking entails.

It is common to find people who are not aware that they are victims of trafficking. As is said, the eye cannot see what the mind does not understand.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

The complexity of human trafficking and lack of an agreed definition of the subject could be the reason. For instance, to prove the crime, one must establish the act, the means and the purpose.

The act (what is done), can be recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of trafficked persons.

The means (how it is done) includes threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim.

The purpose (why it is done) means the purpose of the exploitation — which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices and removal of organs.

Even more worrying is that those who suffer trafficking most are women and children. Sexual exploitation as a result of child trafficking stands as the greatest threat to any child, posing a danger to its health, psychology and wellbeing.

UNDERAGE PERSONS

In fulfilling its obligation under international instruments calling for measures to curb trafficking, Kenya enacted the Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act 2010.

Among other things, the law criminalises human trafficking and imposes a penalty of imprisonment for not less than 30 years or a fine of not less than Sh30 million or both and, upon subsequent conviction, life imprisonment.

Despite all this, the media continues to report cases of trafficking of underage persons as well as Kenyans seeking jobs abroad, who are subjected to untold suffering and even death.

Lured mostly by the promise of well-paying jobs, threats of conflict and, sometimes, marriage, hundreds of Kenyans leave the country every year hoping to find a better future.

This, most people argue, is a result of the prevailing lack of employment in the country.

An estimated one in six young Kenyans is unemployed — a sharp contrast to neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania, whose ratios average about 1:20.

PROSECUTION

On the other hand, child negligence and poverty in general are mainly attributed to child trafficking.

Whatever the reasons, what remains undoubted are the myriad challenges faced by such persons once they follow the promise of those opportunities.

In giving credit where it is due, we must appreciate the progress, albeit little, towards countering human trafficking. Kenya’s National Plan of Action (NPA) for Combating Human Trafficking 2013-2017 signals a pragmatic shift in dealing with this global concern.

The plan employs a three-fold approach in countering human trafficking, laying emphasis on prevention, protection of victims and prosecution of perpetrators. This has, arguably, changed the way human trafficking is viewed.

RAISING AWARENESS

People now appreciate that affected persons are victims of circumstance who are, at most times, in need of care and protection. This is evidenced by recent media reports of 21 underage Nepalese girls rescued from a strip club in Nairobi. Years ago, the reports would probably have said they were arrested for being illegal aliens.

Looking at human trafficking from a criminal point of view takes away the sensitivity of the issue and, as such, gives a lower priority to human rights.

It appears, however, that this fight requires concerted efforts of not just the government and civil society organisations, as is the current situation, but the general public as well.

This has to begin with raising awareness about the vice, especially to the most vulnerable persons.