The curse that is human trafficking

22 Mar

The curse that is human trafficking

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By Wanjala Wafula

Not long ago, I had a rare opportunity of being appointed a lead journalist of a project to document human trafficking and child prostitution on the Kenyan coastline. Other journalists were drawn from leading media houses across the globe and I will forever be grateful for having had a chance to dig deeper into the vice that is ravaging the lives of women, girls and children across the world. I have to pause here for a few seconds just to wonder where to begin. I will not tell you all the horrendous encounters we went through but I will single out two cases just to illustrate my point.

Meet fourteen year old Monica Atieno (not her real name) who is a standard seven pupil during the day and a daring child prostitute at night. Take a deep breath before you read the next line. Monica’s pimp is her aunt who brought her to the coastal city for upkeep after both of Monica’s parents died of AIDS five years ago. “I can tell you a story if you give me some money” her aunt who is also a prostitute operating on one of the backstreets in Mombasa reaches out to us oblivious of the hi-tech equipments we were using. “When I get customers during the day, I go to her school and use all sorts of excuses to get her out. I have bought her a mobile hand set which she secretly carries to school. One flash is a signal enough. She was reluctant in the beginning but she is an expert now”, she speaks as she suggestively turns the intoxicated frail girl around. “This is what these mature prostitutes do. We travel upcountry and get small girls who we groom into the business and we sale them to white men like the ones you are walking around with. Many girls have been taken oversees but some we have not heard from for a long time”.

Trafficking in persons thrives in the dark shadows of poverty, desperation, discrimination, corruption, dashed hopes and broken dreams, deceit, trickery, violence, political conflict and criminality. The victim may be female or male, child or adult, any race or ethnicity, from a country in any region of the world. Poverty and the lack of economic opportunities provide fertile ground for traffickers

Trafficking in persons for prostitution and forced labor is one of the most prolific areas of international criminal activity. The overwhelming majority of those trafficked are women and children. According to the most recent US Department of State estimates, between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across borders each year worldwide. Combined with trafficking within countries, the total figure is estimated at between 2 and 4 million. Human trafficking is now considered a leading source of profits for organized crime, together with drugs and weapons, generating billions of dollars.

The reasons for the increase in trafficking are numerous. In general, the criminal business feeds on poverty, despair, war, crisis, and ignorance. The globalization of the world economy has increased the movement of people across borders, legally and illegally, especially from poorer to wealthier countries. International organized crime has taken advantage of the freer flow of people, money, goods and services to extend its own international reach.

The continuing subordination of women in many parts of Africa is accurately reflected in the economic, educational, and work opportunity disparities between men and women. Many communities in Kenya still favor sons and view girls as an economic burden. We spoke to over ten parents who found no fault in their girls engaging in child prostitution. Two parents said “we marry them off when they turn fourteen so what is the big deal about them making some money with their bodies”

While there is no single victim stereotype, a majority of trafficked women are under the age of 25, with many in their mid to late teens. The fear of infection with HIV and AIDS among customers has driven traffickers to recruit younger women and girls, some as young as seven, erroneously perceived by customers to be too young to have been infected.

Trafficking victims are often subjected to cruel mental and physical abuse in order to keep them in servitude, including beating, rape, starvation, forced drug use, confinement, and seclusion. Victims are forced to have sex, often unprotected, with large numbers of partners, and to work unsustainably long hours. Many victims suffer mental breakdowns and are exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS. They are often denied medical care and those who become ill are sometimes killed.

Due in part to the increasing demand for sex tourism in many places and especially on the Kenyan Coastline, women and children are most often trafficked into prostitution and pornography. The demand for sex with virgins as is the case now along the Kenyan coastline means that younger and younger children are being trafficked and prostituted. For its victims, the impact of commercial sexual exploitation is devastating and may be permanent. It includes HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections, health consequences of physical abuse, psychological trauma, and the stigma of sexual abuse

The disinterest and in some cases outright complicity of the government of Kenya and other stakeholders is another big problem. Many law-enforcement agencies including the police ignore the plight of trafficking victims and downplay the scope of the trafficking problem. In some cases, police and other governmental authorities accept bribes and collude with traffickers by selling fake documentation. In addition, local police often fear reprisals from criminal gangs so they find it easier to deny knowledge of trafficking. It is vital to emphasis that Kenya recently passed the anti-trafficking legislation but the implementation of the law remains a major hurdle.

The priority placed on stemming illegal immigration in many countries has often resulted in treatment of trafficking cases as a problem of illegal immigration, thus treating victims as criminals. When police raid brothels, women are often detained and punished, subjected to human rights abuses in jail, and swiftly deported. Few steps have been taken to provide support, health care, and access to justice. Few victims dare testify against the traffickers or those who hold them, fearing retribution for themselves and their families since the Kenyan government does not offer stays of deportation or adequate protection for witnesses.

Let us narrow the operational space for human traffickers by conceptualizing and implementing holistic, simple, participatory and enduring initiatives aimed at curtailing the practice in the country. Human trafficking is no longer an academic subject but a curse befalling millions of women, girls and children across the world. Let’s stand up against human trafficking.

The writer is a Programs Director of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys community-based organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, foster HIV prevention and champion the rights of minority groups  in Kenya. Visit www.coexistkenya.com or email Wafula@coexistkenya.com- facebook-wanjala Wafula- skype:coexist.initiative. Tel: +254712653322

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