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69,000 Kenyans living in modern slavery

 Former British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with a representative of the Global Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking in Nairobi. [Marion Kithi, Standard]

At least 69,000 Kenyans were subjected to modern slavery between 2016 and 2023, a new survey by the Global Slavery Index has revealed.

The report released on Friday in Kilifi indicates that 269,000 Kenyans were also subjected to forced labour and marriage, ranking Kenya 88th globally in terms of the prevalence of modern slavery.

Speaking at Maisha Safe House in Kilifi, former British Prime Minister Theresa May said modern slavery was on the rise due to rising geo-political and economic volatility, conflict, and climate change.

“Progress towards eradicating modern slavery and human trafficking is falling alarmingly short of global ambitions,” said Ms May after her last week tour in Kilifi and other parts of the Coast.

The former UK Premier said modern slavery and human trafficking were not unique to Kenya as they affect all countries.

She emphasised it is vital to understand the challenges being faced in the region from a government and civil society perspective to address the root causes of the problem.

According to the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery report, 10 million people were forced to work or marry in 2016 across the world, bringing the estimated number of people living in modern slavery to 50 million. 

The report noted that child labour remains concentrated primarily in agriculture. Almost one in five child labourers work in the service sector.

Ms May said with support from the government, the Global Commission on Modern Slavery was exploring ways to reverse rising cases of modern slavery and human trafficking. 

The Global Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking met in Kenya to understand the impact of modern slavery and human trafficking on Kenyans and people in the region.

Social Protection and Senior Citizen Affairs Principal Secretary (PS) Joseph Motari said the government was committed to eradicating modern slavery and human trafficking.

Motari revealed that the Ministry of Labour has come up with regulations to ensure ethical recruitment practices for Kenyans keen to work abroad, especially in the Middle East, and reporting of slavery cases.

 Cast from the Youth Theatre Kenya perform a play on modern slavery at the Braeburn School in Nairobi. [File, Standard]

Sophie Otiende, the Chief Executive Officer of Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, and founder of Azadi Community, said as a survivor of modern slavery, she will strive to end the problem in the country.

“As a survivor leader, I also strive to make sure that incorporation of the people impacted by this issue remains a key goal," said Ms Otiende.

The commission held meetings with representatives of 17 African nations and 27 civil society organisations to come up with ways to end forced labour in supply chains.

Florence Keya from Maisha Safe House, an organisation that protects girls in the most vulnerable situations, said modern slavery and human trafficking of girls was hidden in plain sight.

Ms Keya noted that most of the girls subjected to modern slavery are employed as domestic workers or living with their relatives or benefactors, citing cases of the juvenile sex trade in Malindi.

A survey by the International Justice Mission (IJM) in 2019 showed that child sex trafficking is prevalent at the Coast, with 20,000 girls and boys being victims of different forms of the illegal trade.

The IJM survey identified Mombasa, Kilifi, and Kwale as the hotspots of the juvenile sex trade in the country. On Wednesday, governors of the three counties promised to lead the war against the vice. 

Modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, or deception.

It includes forced labour, forced or servile marriage, debt bondage, forced commercial sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and the sale and exploitation of children.

People in these situations lack the freedom to accept or refuse a job, leave an employer, or their freedom to decide if, when, and whom to marry.

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