Modern Slavery in Kenya

660-human-trafficking2-APThe term modern slavery is often described using different terminologies which vary from country to country and include the term slavery itself, but also other concepts such as human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, and the sale and exploitation of children. We use the term “modern slavery” as defined in the Global Slavery  Index, where the term modern slavery involves: one person possessing or controlling another person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty, with the intention of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal.

In the pat two years, Child Aid Organization Kenya in partnership with the Walk Free Foundation and othe local civil society organizations has been implementing a program aimed at addressing the issue in Kenya. In order to achieve this goal, CAOK sought to provide space for organizations working on issues related to modern slavery, to  hold frank conversations and to collectively recommend pragmatic solutions to tackling the current challenges Kenya as a country faces in child sex tourism, human trafficking and domestic slavery.

One such forum was held late last year (2015) in Nairobi, where over 20 agencies came together in a half day round table forum to explore ways of working collaboratively to harness tools, and organizational resources to address the problem of modern slavery in Kenya.

Modern Slavery in Kenya: Insights from Key Panelists

Winnie Mutevu, Programmes Officer HAART Kenya: HAART Kenya is an NGO that mainly deals with fighting human trafficking in Kenya. Winnie shared insights of how HAART Kenya uses community engagement to stop and or prevent Human Trafficking through community mobilization, sensitization and empowerment. Some of the strategies HAART Kenya uses include: community mapping in order to understand the problem (of human trafficking) and the existing resources; they also conduct social research so that their interventions are evidence – based. Training and awareness raising is also one of their core activities in their programming. Their trainings entail: safe migration; building the capacity of local groups through training of the trainers (TOTs); community Sensitization through Art to end modern slavery. These exhibitions use art to illustrate and pass a message of the various forms of modern slavery existing in Kenya.

Joan Birika Executive Director Missing Children

Child Labour 1


Joan explored opportunities to counter transnational child sex offences, modern slavery and human trafficking. She brought to the limelight that slavery is present and happening regularly in our societies. She posed tough questions which she asked participants to ponder upon. These were:

  1. What is modern slavery? For us to be able to address modern slavery we need to start by defining what it is – in fact understanding the problem!
  2. To what extent do we understand the problem?
  3. How will we get into the minds of the offenders? She said that human trafficking is complex, organized and is happening under the noses of governments and prevention agencies. She further added that we [concern agencies] are working with cartels which are well organized and informed; that there is a circle of agents and aiders of these crimes. Therefore the need to critically think about what practical strategies should be adopted. She concurred with Winnie Mutevu, that there is a strong need to do community mapping, to understand both the problem and what available resources exist; and to understand vulnerabilities –such as what patterns does modern slavery form? Joan said that human traffickers are like a “moving target” and they are always a step ahead of us [protrction/ prevention agencies] in terms of their planning and strategizing.  She posed tough questions for all to think about. Some of the questions she posed are:
  4. Are we ready to ask tough questions; like whose interests do they (human traffickers) serve?;
  5. what are the risks we face in doing this work?;
  6. Do we understand criminology?; and
  7. what is the Government’s commitment to drive policy change, support victims, cooperate and coordinate with other governments/agencies locally, regionally and globally as well as formulate sophisticated and smart strategies? All these questions helped to initiate deep and serious discussions as the meeting progressed – and to also individually think [deeply] about the challenges we face in our respective sectors in child protection.

Sister Pat Beyran of Sisters of Charity  based at the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Thigio:



Sister Pat shared real-life case scenarios on human trafficking that their Charity has practically helped to address or witnessed. She continued to say that human trafficking  more often than not happens due to the ignorance of the victims.  She said that in their parish, at least every one person you ask this question on human trafficking knows of a person who has been trafficked either from their own families or that of their neighbours. She shared several examples of both young and old people who have been tricked and trafficked out of their Ndeiya community. She gave a daring example of a mother who made a scene at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, upon learning that her daughter was about to be trafficked out of the country. She managed to rescue her, sadly though— the girl managed to sneak out of their home a few weeks later and disappeared never to be seen again to this day!

She shared with the participants another example of a young boy who was kidnapped by a family driver the boy’s family had trusted for many years – this boy however managed to alert police officers along the way as he was being trafficked [smuggled] to another town in Kenya and was able to be re-united with his family – “this is just one of the very few cases that have a happy ending!” She posed.

What shocked the participants most is the fact that traffickers in this area target even old men and women with an offer of better jobs abroad. Some, she said, were in their late 60s! She concluded by asking all present that there was a strong and urgent need to create more awareness to our people. In conclusion she said, “That is why Sisters of Charity have resolved to train lay child protection workers and have already developed a child protection policy for all our staffs which we have translated into Swahili and the local Kikuyu language”.

Muthoni Likimani, Kenyan Author, Media Personality and Child Rights Activist: She is simply referred to as “Grandma.” Grandma emphasized the need to use community education to help our people understand more about human trafficking.  Muthoni, is in her late 80s and still very passionate about human and children rights. She took participants “down the memory lane” – back to the colonial times – when as a young girl, she saw all men and boys taken into forests to fight the oppressive colonial regime as underground Mau Mau fighters. “Some of these men never returned to their families!” – She said. She further shared several excerpts from local Newspapers – dating back several decades on the topic under discussion and how sometimes she was moved to intervene.

Muthoni Likimani has also authored several books, such as “Passbook Number F47927”, and “Fighting without Ceasing” amongst her other best selling titles, but her latest book titled “MY BLOOD IS NOT FOR SALE” was inspired by the fact that so many innocent children suffer brutality and end up dying in the hands of human traffickers. She concluded by posing a tough question “When did we stop selling cows, goats and chicken and began selling human beings?”

She challenged the participants to question any suspicious looking person accompanied by children who look disturbed or lost. Don’t be afraidd of asking – “whose children are these?”, or “where are you taking them?” etc. This way, we’ll be able to intervene at some points at least to scare off people with ill motives.

Guest Speaker – Paul Stanfield, Regional Manager, East and South Africa – National and Crime Agency (UK): Paul explored practical ways of protecting children from sex offenders. He spoke in detail about the work of the National Crime Agency [UK] and its role of protecting children everywhere from specifically British sex offenders.  He spoke in detail on public protection and why it was necessary that all actors in child protection prioritized the immediate protection of vulnerable children. He also explained that there is need to build and/ or provide capacity “what is measured gets done” for the local police to be able to pursue sex offenders, and reiterated the need to formulate a joint task force comprising of the police, civil society organizations and the government.  He advised that the task force should formulate clear objectives, a simple mission and attainable goals. Having such a task force would attract support from other governments and even donor agencies to provide more support in the fight of transnational sexual abuse of children. In summary he emphasized three main points:

  1. The need to set up a child protection task force – similar to CEOP in UK which has four key strategies; Protect, Prevent,  and Prepare
  2. To have a simple mission statement e.g. “Every Child Matters” and this should bring together all key organizations working in these issues.
  3. A clear strategy and action plan; identifying the right people; communication and a clear strategy i.e.  Tell the people why you are doing this, and have have an action plan with measurable outcomes. He said that “what gets measured, gets done.”


  1. How to engage with the media Khainga O’okwemba, a Journalist with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC)and a columnist with the Star Newspaper, shared with the participants practical ways of how to, and the need to engage the media in their (CSOs) work. He later scheduled an interview at the KBC studio where Tom Omwenga (CAOK), Sonia Kwami (Walk Free), Joan Birika (Missing Children), Winnie Mutevu (HAART Kenya), Evelyn Kemunto (The Cradle) and Simon Okello (Share A Meal Foundation) spoke about the role their organizations are playing in preventing human trafficking, domestic slavery and commercial exploitation of children. Tom Omwenga and Sonia Kwami spoke about the purpose of the CSOs round – table meeting that had just been concluded earlier on that day and asked the listeners to join hands in the fight against modern slavery – in whatever form.
  2. The participants also agreed that there was need for networking and collaboration across the board i.e. with the government, law enforcement and between civil societies themselves. To achieve this goal, the following strategies were proposed: a. Set up/ from a joint taskforce on child protection i. It was brought to the attention of the participants that there already is a special working group on children has been constituted by NCAJ comprising of the Police, Civil Society organizations, key/line government departments e.g. children services, and the judiciary – however, there is need for this group to develop a clear child protection strategy. For example Paul Stanfield, shared the “Every Child Matters” four pillars/strategies being used in the UK that this group could adapt moving forward; a) Protect, Prevent, Pursue and Prepare strategy- which can also be adapted in Kenya. b) Set clear objectives c) Have a simple mission d) and achievable work plans.
  3. The group also decided that there is an urgent need for more community sensitization/awareness rising around these three thematic areas. The Way Forward
    • Sonia Kwami, Walk Free’s Africa’s Snr. Campaigner shared Walk Free’s online campaigning tools. She said that these tools will be made free for willing partners to use
    • A Small drafting group/team was formed to draft a joint communiqué.

The final communiqué was circulated to all organizations represented for endorsement and then sent to all local media houses as a press – release.

By Tom Omwenga, Anne Wanjiru & Florence Cherotich – and all the CAOK team.