The universal definition of slavery is the holding of individuals against their will for forced
labor and with restricted liberty. Many at times we hear of the term slavery and
immediately click back to the 16 th century when our ancestors were forcefully taken, sold
and transported across the Atlantic to work in the west. However, as times go by, many
elements have evolved. It therefore goes without say that slavery has also evolved.
According to the UN, modern slavery encompasses practices such as forced labor,
human trafficking, worst forms of child labor, exploitation of humans for sex, debt
bondage among other aspects. ILO statistics as at 2022 reveal that approximately 49.6
million people were living in slavery. An eighth of this population were children.
To bring the context into the Kenyan jurisdiction, the Counter Trafficking in Persons Act
of 2010 defines trafficking in persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer,
harboring or receiving another person for purposes of exploitation by use of threat or
coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, giving or receiving payment to obtain consent or
abuse of power or position of vulnerability. The Act also defines exploitation as to
include keeping a person in a state of slavery, involuntary servitude, forced labor, child
labor, sexual exploitation among others. Trafficking can occur within the borders of
Kenya or internationally.
The major point of concern is how some of these activities are happening without
causing any alarm. Many households within our neighborhoods have young children
working as domestic workers. Chances are, one of them is working for your immediate
neighbor and you see them every day. Some of the children are also employed in small
hotels around or working for other small businesses. A deep dive into how some of
these children got into these households reveals elements of trafficking, which narrows
down to modern slavery. 2023 research published by Freedom Fund shows that most
child domestic workers are brought from rural Kenya to work in the urban areas like
Nairobi. The majority had been trafficked from Western and Nyanza regions. Other
children are brought from Uganda because they could offer cheap labor, ranging from
Kshs. 2000-3000 per month.
The common storyline in most child domestic work cases handled by Amka Africa
usually goes follows: ““Auntie” visited us back in the village, and told my parents
that she would take me to school in the city. My parents accepted the offer, as
they could not afford my education. I came with her to the city, but did not join
school. She employed me to work for her household.”
The nature of exploitation in this case comes from an element of trusting the
perpetrator. It does not have the forceful element we saw in traditional slavery where
people were abducted or even sold. In present scenarios, chances are the victim is not
even aware that they are being trafficked. Having brought the context right to our
doorsteps, how often do we encounter such children within our neighborhoods?
Chances are, they are not there voluntarily or did not even know what they were being
brought to the city to do.
Worse still, this problem seems to spill across the borders. There have been cases of
adult victims who have been promised work in foreign countries only to be sexually
exploited. Most of these also begin as honest job promises and the victims fall prey to
the words of the perpetrators. Research carried out in 2019 by Stop the Traffik Kenya in
collaboration with other organizations gave an analysis of trafficking routes in Kenya.
The destination with the highest number of victims was Saudi Arabia, whose record of
known trafficked victims from Kenya was 144. Other destinations included Libya and
parts of Asia.
Such scenarios call for a more vigilant citizenry. It may seem like poking one’s nose into
a neighbor’s affairs by having a small conversation with the small girl working in your
neighborhood but you may actually end up saving a young life that unknowingly fell prey
to the shackles of trafficking. It all starts by keeping a watchful eye over what goes on
around one’s own neighborhood. The problem is always right under our noses!!
Amka Africa Justice Initiative