It’s the second largest criminal industry in the world, taking in an estimated $32 billion and affecting about 2.5 million people at any given time. It spans continents, economic classes, and education levels. And yet human trafficking is largely ignored by the international community.
Human trafficking awareness workshop being conducted by HAART Kenya at the Tala School for Girls, Kangundo, Machakos County, Eastern Kenya.
Kenya, in particular, is a hotspot for human trafficking, with the highest rate in Central and East Africa. The main form of trafficking here is forced labor, and an astounding 41.3 percent of Kenyan children ages 10-14 are exploited for this purpose. But sex trafficking also represents about 25percent of human trafficking cases, affecting mainly women and children.
Main classroom at the Tala School for Girls, Kangundo, Machakos County, Eastern Kenya.
According to Winnie Mutevu, Project Officer for HAART Kenya, a non-profit working to abolish trafficking in the country, it’s primarily because of poverty. Young Kenyans looking for work combine with an influx of young people from neighboring countries who want to take advantage of the economic boom. It creates the perfect conditions for trafficking to take hold.
Visual communction used to demonstate forced labor during a Basic Human Trafficking workshop at the Tala School for girls, Kangundo, Machakos County, Eastern Kenya. Grassroots workshops are done to create awareness about human trafficking to prevent people from being trafficked.
Imagine your 11-year-old son working in the fields or selling goods in the street each day. Or your 18-year-old daughter, lured to the Middle East or Europe with the promise of well-paid employment, only to have her passport seized and wages withheld, left completely at the mercy of her employer.
Child trafficking workshop being conducted by HAART Kenya Project Officer, Winnie Mutevu. Grassroots prevention workshops are done to create awareness about human trafficking. Tala School for Girls, Kangundo, Machakos County, Eastern Kenya.
This is the terrifying reality for thousands of Kenyan men, women, and children.
Despite the immense challenges they face, organizations like HAART Kenya are working to combat human trafficking through educational grassroots workshops, which they conduct in slum and rural communities with high unemployment and poverty. The two-hour workshop topics range from basic human trafficking to safe migration to child trafficking, targeting those who are most vulnerable to becoming victims. On average, the organization hosts about 20 per month. The key focus? Raising awareness among community members.
A student at the Tala School for girls in Kangundo pays close attention during a Child human trafficking workshop being conducted by HAART Kenya Project Officer, Winnie Mutevu at the Tala School for girls, Kangundo, Machakos County, Eastern Kenya.
As one participant in Mathare slums explained, child trafficking is often perceived as a normal and accepted practice – one not worthy of being reported to local authorities.
"Trafficking in Kenya . . . does not follow the typical narrative of big, organized criminal groups – although those also exist,” clarifies Mutevu. “It is one person exploiting another, and in many cases it is someone the victim already knows, such as a relative, a neighbor, or a friend.”
Caught in a web of secrecy, lies, and manipulation, many trafficking victims don’t even realize what is happening. Mutevu believes teaching human rights in school can help address this. While the topic is included in the new secondary school curriculum, it remains to be seen how well it will be implemented.
Student at the Tala School for Girls sits outside her headmistress's office reading a human trafficking information booklet, Kangundo, Machakos County, Eastern Kenya.
For those who do see suspicious activity they wish to report, HAART Kenya offers a tip line. The tips often come in as a result of awareness workshops, which help community members understand what trafficking is and how they can identify it. For Mutevu and her team, it’s a sign of success.
HAART’s work begins after police carry out the rescue, when they turn the focus to healing through psychosocial support, economic empowerment, and education and training. The victims are survivors in every sense of the word. And despite all they’ve endured, they are the lucky ones – the ones who made it out.