Kenya: Poor regulation of recruitment agencies fueling human trafficking

Author: Miriam Gathigah, Inter Press Service , Published on: 9 October 2019

"Human Trafficking – It Came Disguised as the Opportunity of a Lifetime"

Six years ago Mary Njambi* received news of a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity far away from her poverty-stricken village situated in the heart of Kiambu County, Central Kenya. She was 20 years old, a single mother and out of work...Her friend took her to a recruiting agency in downtown Nairobi where all travel arrangements were made at no cost to her. Three months later, Njambi and 15 other girls made that fateful journey to Saudi Arabia. “We all separated at the airport and I was taken to my employer’s home. The moment I walked in, a woman started barking orders at me in Arabic even though I did not speak the language,” she says. At this point, Njambi had no way of knowing that she had been trafficked. Njambi says that back-breaking house work, working for at least 18 hours a day and sleeping on the floor characterised the first few days of employment. It quickly escalated to physical and sexual violence. Days spiralled into months without a single day off and with no pay...

This was in 2013, at that time, news that hundreds of Kenyan girls were distressed and stranded in the Middle East was spreading across the country. “The lucky ones made it home bruised and battered. Others came back in coffins. In 2014, the government banned Kenyans from travelling to the Middle East for work,” says Dinah Mbula*, who runs a recruiting agency in downtown Nairobi... Although the Trafficking in Persons report affirms that there are now more prosecutions and convictions of traffickers in Kenya, Amugo says that the numbers could rise if all prosecutions were made under the anti-trafficking laws rather than the more lenient immigration or labour violations laws... “Victims of human trafficking are treated like criminals. That is why recruiters continue doing their job because they know chances that a victim will report to the police are next to zero,” Mbula expounds...The government insisted on re-vetting recruitment agencies after lifting the ban. But Mbula says that more than 1,000 agencies were vetted and only 100 were cleared but because of corruption “we are still in business with or without a license.”

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