Case lifts the lid on sex slavery in 'massage parlours' in the country

A 2023 trafficking in persons report by U.S indicated that Kenya does not fully meet the standards for eliminating trafficking but has remained in tier 2 in terms of compliance. [iStockphoto]

Before her arrest in 2022, Hanifah Nanyange ran a 'massage parlour' at Grace Villa bar and restaurant in Ngara, Nairobi.

From the outside, it looked like the men who frequented the place went there for drinks.

And to those who knew about the massage sessions in room J1 and J2, they thought massage was the only service being offered.

However, a case against Nanyange has revealed that all those who paid for'massage’ from the many girls at the parlour kept her sex trafficking well-oiled. 

Aggie (not her real name) was born and raised in remote Uganda. She had not experienced city life until Nanyange brought her to Nairobi.

In court, she could barely speak English or Kiswahili.

The victim testified before Kahawa court principal magistrate Gideon Kiage that the businesswoman offered her a job in Nairobi at a massage parlour.  Nanganye also gave her UG shillings 150,000 (Sh 5132) to cater for transport to Kenya’s capital city.

Nanyange used Aggie to look for other girls for the same job. The victim in turn persuaded her friend Jannie (also not her real name) to accompany her to Nairobi.

She dangled a Sh10,000 salary to lure the girls.

While in Nairobi, the destination was rooms J1 and J2. The two girls had not been in Nairobi before.

They left Uganda on October 10, 2022 and arrived the following morning at the bus station. Nanyange took them to Ngara which would then be their home and a base for their mental and physical torture.

The Director of Public Prosecution through prosecutor Kelvin Kamau called 15 witnesses in the case. Three were victims of sex trafficking.

According to Kiage, the victims were treated in the most inhumane way. 

“The first accused person, having invited them to the country on the pretext of offering them employment, now turned exploiter and exploited them in the most degradable way imaginable,” said the magistrate.

Nanyange took away their Ugandan national identity cards, mobile phones and directed them to undress. She massaged the girls as an illustration of what they ought to do.

However, it then turned out that their work was not just about being masseuses. She demanded that whenever they did a massage to a client and he became sexually aroused, they ought to do whatever he wanted.

The woman did not wait for the girls to at least rest for a day. She gave Aggie the name ‘Celine’ as well as clothes to wear on the job. She then ushered in the first client.

The man who was with Aggie demanded that she perform a catwalk for him.

In her testimony, the victim told the court that the terms of employment were that she was not to leave or move beyond the building.

Aggie said she was forced to perform oral and unprotected sex. She narrated that she was made to sleep with at least two men daily against her will.

As the girls were suffering from sex slavery, Nanganye was making millions. She had rented the two rooms for Sh 100,000 a month, meaning she was making more than the amount.

Aggie was never paid the Sh10,000 she had been promised nor did her parents get the money as promised. Nanyange released her identification documents after she was arrested in November 2022.

Other than Aggie and Jannie, there was a third victim we code-name Agnes. She had come to Kenya earlier on January 10, 2022.

Agnes learnt about the job offer from a friend called Sharon whom she was working with back in Uganda.  Sharon had in turn heard about it from yet another friend that Nanyange was looking for girls to work in a bar in Kenya.

She expressed interest and two days later, on January 1, 2022 she was on her way to Nairobi.

Agnes was put in a truck to Nairobi and Nanganye paid for it.

When she arrived in Nairobi, she learned that the job that Nanyange promised her was not the same as she was promised in Uganda.

She stated that the woman paid her between Sh3,500 and Sh4000 a week and was deducting the fare she paid the truck driver to bring her to Nairobi.

Agnes also narrated that she was forced to engage in sex with Nanyange’s clients and if she refused, the woman would tongue lash her.

A 2023 trafficking in persons report by United States of America indicated that Kenya does not fully meet the standards for eliminating trafficking. However, it indicated that the country is trying and has remained in tier 2 in terms of compliance.

In 2022, security agencies investigated 11 cases of trafficking. Out of this, 59 were of sex trafficking while 10 were about labour trafficking. The others were 42 unspecified forms of trafficking.

Data indicates that there was a surge from 2021 where 47 cases were investigated. In that year, five were sex trafficking cases, 17 were labour trafficking and 25 were unspecified.

There were 48 persons who were charged with trafficking for sex, three for labour and 34 for unspecified forms of trafficking.

Between July and June 2021, there were 115 individuals who were prosecuted.

According to the report, truck drivers and fishermen in Lake Victoria were used to ferry victims of trafficking.

“As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Kenya, and traffickers exploit victims from Kenya abroad.  Traffickers exploit women and children in sex trafficking, often facilitated by family members in informal settings and increasingly using online recruitment, throughout Kenya, including in sex tourism in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu,” the report reads in part.

It recommended that the country do away with fining those caught for sex trafficking offences.

Before Agnes, there was yet another Ugandan girl code-named Janet. She stated that when Nanganye visited her home, she offered her a massage job. She was brought to Kenya by a truck and dropped at Kikuyu, Kiambu County.

Nanganye picked her and the destination was room J2 at Grace Villa. The drill was the same - taking off clothes before being massaged. Nanganye then called an unknown man and informed him that she had a new Ugandan girl.

The first client to be sent to Agnes stripped naked. He then demanded that she do the same.

At this time, the frightened girl ran to Nanyange hoping to get protection. However, the employer shouted at her, saying that whatever happened was the job she was brought to Kenya to do.

She went back, massaged the man and had sex with him. After the session, the man paid Sh3000 to Nanyange. The court heard that she gave Agnes Sh100.

Agnes told the court that Nanyange baptised her ‘Shani’ and the victim repeatedly had forced sex with several men from that day.

She narrated that at one point, she sought help from Aggie to escape but Nanganye got wind of it. She said that she was beaten with a metal rod.

Agnes said that in 2020, her mother died and that gave her a chance to escape. However, after a week she returned. The victim explained that she came back because Nanganye owed her money for the entire period she worked.

David Njuguna, the owner of Grace Villa was the other witness. He told the court that Nanganye rented rooms J1 and J2 for Sh 100,000 a month.

Nanyange had been charged alongside Esther Matheka, a manager of Tikis Bar which is located at the first floor of Grace Villa. Matheka said she knew nothing about Nanganye’s business as the two rooms were at the ground floor.

On the other hand, Nanyange told the court that she brought Shani and the others to sell groundnuts in Kenya and after a year or so, they returned to Uganda.

She said that Agnes worked for more than two years without complaining and later she went to Uganda to look after a sick child. She claimed that the victim returned because she needed a job and could not secure one in Uganda, and also because the pay in Uganda was too low.

In the end, the magistrate acquitted Matheka but ordered Nanganye to be jailed for 20 years if she failed to pay Sh20 million fine.

“The narrations of the victims' experiences paint a bleak and pathetic picture of their existence under the reign of the accused person. lt is not lost on the court that all three victims were in unfamiliar surroundings removed from their family and community ties. PWI could hardly communicate in either English or Kiswahili hence her isolation was almost complete,” observed Kiage.