It is a heinous crime that claims hundreds of thousands of victims each year. It separates families; it degrades and exploits. It deprives human beings of their natural rights. It generates billions of dollars each year and is one of the fastest-growing international criminal activities. And yet, human trafficking is a crime that is largely overlooked and ignored, continuing to exist just out of sight of the law. Several countries in Africa, including Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Kenya, serve as both sources of and destinations for trafficked men, women, and children. While many organizations are working to end trafficking, the ubiquitous nature of the crime makes this a difficult task.
Human trafficking is a widespread problem across the globe, and Africa is no exception. Victims are trafficked both within their own countries and across international borders. Therefore, it is an extremely profitable trade: according to UNICEF, the profits that human trafficking yields are exceeded only by those of the weapon and drug trades (Consultancy Africa Intelligence). The problems with human trafficking are made clear in its most widely accepted definition: “The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs” (Consultancy Africa Intelligence). From this definition, one can see that human trafficking infringes on multiple human rights, many of which are outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; these include “the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose one’s residence; the right to decent work; the right to freedom from slavery; the right to not be tortured and/or submitted to other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the right to peace and security” (Consultancy Africa Intelligence).
There are many trafficking routes throughout Africa, passing through a number of countries from Burkina Faso to Nigeria. These countries both supply and receive trafficked men, women, and children along the routes. Traffickees are viewed by receiving countries as illegal immigrants, and therefore live in fear of imprisonment or deportation (Off Our Backs). They are also often lured into prostitution or exploited by those with power over them. Many children in coastal areas are pushed into prostitution, sometimes by their own parents, to receive payment from tourists. Gay and bisexual men in Kenya are often lured to the Middle East under the promise of employment, only to be forced into sex work. Many Kenyans in search of employment even voluntarily migrate to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Qatar, where they are exploited in massage parlors or brothels (Musinguzi).
Kenya is one of the many trafficking hubs of Africa. It is a source, destination, and transit country. Many children are trafficked from Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Somalia to smaller Kenyan towns (Trafficking in Persons Report 2015), while Kenyan girls are often taken to the coastal city of Mombasa, from which many are taken to Europe and the Middle East (Off Our Backs). Kenya is a Tier 2 country, meaning its government does not fully comply with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but is making significant efforts to do so (Trafficking in Persons Report 2015). For example, in January 2016, Kenyan officials appeared before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The committee examined issues issues such as child trafficking and female genital mutilation. The committee’s evaluation will be based on the delegation’s responses, along with the testimonies of other sources such as civil society groups (Merab). However, despite efforts to eliminate the trafficking problem, many traffickers were not held accountable for their crimes in comparison to the number of victims they claimed (Musinguzi).
Human trafficking is not only a crime but a form of warfare, both political and social. It often occurs under false premises of employment or is gradually forced upon its victims. Human beings are taken from their homes and bought and sold as commodities; abused and traumatized. This is done to spread a message: to convey the power, money, and resources that traffickers have. To keep their victims in a state of powerlessness and subordination. It sends a political message, and national governments must work together to form a solution combatting this problem. Countries who are plagued by human trafficking, such as Kenya, must enact explicit anti-trafficking laws and increase efforts to convict and punish perpetrators. Programs to provide victims with assistance would help not only with recovering victims but with raising awareness and gaining support. Only with changes in policy and general attitude towards the issue itself can we expect to see a change.