TACOMA, Washington — Kenya is recognized major destination of persons subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Though the causes and sustainment of human trafficking are varied, a potential explanation for high instances of trafficking in Kenya may be due to labor migration and development patterns and the susceptibility of people crossing borders being deceived by ‘employers.’
The Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2010 criminalized both sex and labor trafficking, with penalties of 15 years in prison and/or a fine of at least 5 million Kenyan Shillings ($49,120 USD). Since the implementation of the act in 2010, many have criticized the Kenyan government for corruption and for allowing traffickers to obtain fraudulent identity documents. Of note is the potential for individuals to exploit corruption in the system in order to employ bribes to avoid sentencing. In 2018, a number of Kenyan-based NGOs and other international organizations implemented training for prosecutorial and judicial officials and other judiciary bodies of the government in an attempt to remedy this alleged corruption.
2020 Trafficking in Persons Report: Kenya
The 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report put out by the U.S. State Department asserts that the Kenyan government has made significant strides to eliminate trafficking; however, the report states that the government does not meet the minimum standards required to claim the elimination of trafficking entirely. In its efforts to improve the state of affairs, the Kenyan government has identified a higher number of victims, utilized the victim assistance fund and launched a cybercrime center to investigate claims of labor and sexual abuse.
The government of Kenya also increased its collaboration efforts with NGOs and various foreign governments, allowing for a greater number of trafficking victims to be rescued. This report also details that the government implemented the National Plan of Action Against Sexual Exploitation of Children 2018-2022 and made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex, which demonstrates strides to fight human trafficking in Kenya.
Despite these efforts to mitigate the impact of human trafficking, the government of Kenya continues to label some victims of trafficking as criminals, which in turn limits their access to victim resources and funds. The government has also failed to try all trafficking cases under the anti-trafficking law and instead has tried some as immigration law cases, which results in less stringent sentences for perpetrators. The report notes that the government “maintained uneven protection efforts” — “Victim care varied in quality depending on the age, gender, nationality, and location of the victim.”
Lacking Government Services
In 2018, the Kenyan Government funded the National Assistance Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking. This fund appeared to be a step in the right direction in aiding victims more justly, but the authorities did not distribute any funds to trafficking victims during the entire year of 2018. Along with this lack of fund distribution, identification of child trafficking victims was stronger than adult trafficking. Though the identification of child trafficking is crucial, any weaknesses in identification capabilities could force adult victims to unnecessarily wait longer before receiving help.
Kenya has to to provide “appropriate shelter and other basic needs” and “psychosocial support” under the Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2010. Kenya lacks enough state-run services, such as shelters and equitable distribution of funds to victims, which means the government is not able to fully adhere to the guidelines it signed in 2010. Systemic holes in trafficking procedures, such as where to comfortably house victims, mean delays for Kenya in the fight against trafficking overall.
Legal Proceedings in Kenya
Noordin Haji, Director of Public Prosecutions, surmises that the lack of state-run shelters is due to a heavy reliance on nonprofit organizations to provide temporary housing and security for victims of trafficking. Kenya actually arrests many victims, which can traumatize them further, moving them from one dehumanizing situation to another. Without a legislative framework and shelters provided by the government, there is a fear that procedural hurdles may lead to the rejection of victims from non-governmental shelters.
Mohamed Daghar, a researcher for Enhancing Africa’s Ability to Counter Transnational Crime (ENACT) urged Kenyan governmental officials to create and maintain legal and procedural frameworks to address factors that contribute to the likelihood of someone becoming a victim of trafficking. This advice suggests that victims can and should be reached before they become victims, hoping to confront larger systemic issues that affect certain populations in Kenya at a heightened risk of experiencing human trafficking. Consistently ensuring these governmental frameworks along with the provision of basic services, like shelters and counseling to victims, can help Kenya regain ground in the war on human trafficking.
– Tatiana Nelson