Speaking exclusively to PLive.co.ke she disclosed painful details of being locked up, raped and made a slave in relative's house.
At the age of 13, Sophie a class seven student was entrusted to her uncle to take her to Mukumu Girls, Kakamega by her parents at the beginning of the year. “We were poor and my father had just lost his job. Still, he would not compromise on education and he sold a car engine to pay for my fees. I was in boarding school then and it only made sense that my uncle who at the time was living in Kisumu takes me too school to cut on the expenses. Only, this didn't happen.”
Sophie, who asked to remain pictorially anonymous, ended up as her relatives' house help, preparing her cousins to go to school while she stayed back with her cruel aunt to do the house chores. With no mobile phones or easy access to any form of communication, she was left at the mercy of her relatives. A somber look captures her face as she recalls the many times that food was hidden, the beatings she received accompanied with scathing insults for the nine months that she was held hostage. “Somewhere along the way someone in the household started sexually abusing me. This went on every night for the rest of the time that I was there until one day I got my salvation."
Having being sent to Kisumu town for the first time, she was fortunate to meet a family friend to whom she explained her situation. “I think she could see that I was not okay. I looked sickly and my skin was chapped. That lady was the one who told my parents about it and the next day my mother came for me.”
According to Sophie, her story is not so different from the many others who have survived human trafficking in Kenya.
Human trafficking is an ancient trade that spans almost every culture, nationality and religion to the present day. It started out and developed as a system of social stratification under slavery and has over the morphed from being a legal institution in the 1600's to an internationally illegal practice that now constitutes various aspects such as organ removal, sexual exploitation, forced labor and domestic servitude.
Now, human trafficking has been generally described as recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
In Kenya, over the past few years, this has been seen with the copious number of reports on persons being trafficked to the Middle East under the presumption that they are going for work. None are ever aware of the harsh conditions they meet. These include sex slavery, drug traffickers and body part trafficking.
“Go to the airport at the international departure venue and see how many clueless girls you will find, eager to go to the Middle East. It seems like the answer to all their problems,” says Sophie, “What people don’t understand is that no one ever asks questions when money is coming in. Most of the time, you’ll be told to ‘vumilia’, it’s just work. You’re just being lazy or even worse, listen to your boss. People are always reluctant to send help.”
With the steady growth of awareness amongst people about rights and freedoms, it is easy for one to assume that everyone, in one way or another, has discovered human rights. Unfortunately this is not so. For Sophie, she found out that she had been violated at the age of 30. “I didn’t know it until the time I spoke to someone about my past and they explained it to me, I never thought of myself as a victim of human trafficking and rape.”
Sophie who has worked with various recovery cases says that most of the victims never talk about what is happening to them. “This can be seen in male victims. The idea that there are a lot of men facing abuse is very real yet ridiculed because of the societal expectations that men are not supposed to complain. A lot of them have been sodomised, infected with diseases but hurt in private due to fear of being laughed at when they ask for help.”
She confesses to have only spoken to her parents about rape after she became an adult. "At the time, I saw no reason for telling them. My mother was already torn by the fact that I had been taken in as a house slave. Telling her that a relative has been molesting me wouldn't change what happened and it wouldn't bring back my innocence."
Information released by the US Department of State last year enlists Kenya as a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.
The cases have mostly been heard in Mtwapa, Likoni and Lamu where the population of Italians is slowly overtaking the locals. Young girls are being taught Spanish before they can even speak English or Kiswahili. It’s a dark time for the girl child.
In 2014, the government passed law that was to make it easier to secure convictions for human trafficking by providing greater support to victims and encouraging them to give evidence. The Victim Protection Act was approved to improve support to victims of crime, including provision of a place of safety, food, medical treatment, psychosocial care and police protection. It also establishes a fund to assist victims.
However, these funds are yet to be availed to the various NGOs that are fighting Human Trafficking.