A US report has accused Kenya of uneven protection of trafficked adults, saying majority of victims are subjected to forced labour.
According to the report, Kenyan authorities "continue to treat some victims as criminals, and the availability of protective services for adult victims remains negligible”.
The US State Department graded Kenya in the second of four tiers in its 2019 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report released last week.
Countries are grouped into Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch list and Tier 3 based on their efforts to fight human trafficking. Those at Tier 3 risk triggering US sanctions. Libya, Somalia and Yemen are classified as Special Case.
Kenya has been in the second best category since 2015 when it was upgraded from the watch list.
The report says Kenya does ‘not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so’.
It credits Kenya with achieving more prosecution and convictions of traffickers, probing claims of official complicity in tackling trafficking and allocating Sh60 million for the victim assistance fund.
However, convicted traffickers are said to be walking away with less stringent sentences as they are being tried for violating immigration or labour laws rather than crimes under the anti-trafficking law.
“The Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2010 criminalised sex trafficking and labour trafficking and prescribed penalties of 15 years to life imprisonment, a fine of not less than Sh5 million, or both,” the report notes.
It adds: “These penalties were sufficiently stringent. However, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking these penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape.”
The report says corruption remains endemic across the government, saying, the officials supposedly under investigation are not prosecuted.
“Traffickers sometimes fraudulently obtained identity documents from complicit officials, and police often took bribes to warn traffickers of impending operations and investigations, particularly along the coast.”
In highlighting the no prosecution, the report outlines how a Cabinet-level official reportedly signed special sports and cultural work permits for women to dance in a murja club notorious for exploitative practices.
“…authorities removed the official from office shortly after the allegations surfaced, but investigations into the official’s conduct remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period.”
Whilst Kenya received praise for making improvements to protect child victims, the report points to widespread trafficking of children.
“Girls and boys are also exploited in commercial sex throughout Kenya, including sex tourism on the coast, in Nairobi and Kisumu, particularly in informal settlements; at times, their exploitation is facilitated by family members,” the report says.
It observes that IDPs who live near highways are prone to these exploitations than their settled counterparts.
The plight of Kenyans working in the gulf is also highlighted with the report noting, “they are exploited in domestic servitude, massage parlours and brothels, or forced manual labour.”
It adds: “Kenyan women are subjected to forced prostitution in Thailand by Ugandan and Nigerian traffickers. Young Kenyan men and women are lured to Somalia to join criminal and terrorist networks, sometimes with fraudulent promises of lucrative employment elsewhere.”
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