Two young women hoping for a job answered a newspaper advert and went to Nairobi for the interview. They were never seen again. Two years on no one knows where they are. Are they alive or dead? This is the sad story of many Kamba women. The Kamba people are talented artists, industrious workers and ever hospitable. Yet, they live in a semi-arid area riddle with social problems. There is no work, no development, no hope to improve one’s status. This is also a breeding bed for human trafficking.
The Awareness Against Human Trafficking Collaboration – to which I belong – realized there was a need to intervene in Machakos, the capital of the Kamba region. It was not matter of offering a series of workshops but also organize a capillary follow up programme to monitor human trafficking in the region. We worked through the Small Christian Communities of the Diocese of Machakos, an ideal network to stop this evil. The question was how to mobilise these people.
During the yearly Leaders Meeting in 2010, Machakos Catholic Diocese took up the challenge. In June 2011, 31 participants joined the Awareness against Human Trafficking Collaboration Team – composed mainly by Church personnel – in a Trainers Programme. The Awareness Teams have been challenged to work in the sixty-three parishes of the Machakos Diocese. They focussed on what human trafficking is, its signs and consequences. They discussed the practical ways Small Christian Communities could reach out and initiate projects to eradicate the problem at the grassroots, especially through Catholic Justice and Peace commissions and co-operation with other organizations.
Two members of our group selected people from across the Diocese. The criterion for selection was that the participants had had some experience of the consequences of Human Trafficking and would be ready to work against it. Bishop Martin Kivuva opened the Programme using the parable of the Good Samaritan. “Don’t just focus on the Good Samaritan, but also on the thieves and their need for conversion”, he said. He challenged the group to take all possible means to stop human trafficking. Radek Malinowski, a lawyer, spelt out clearly what human trafficking is. He also gave an illustrated journey through the concept of slavery from biblical times up to-day.
Other facilitators pointed out that human trafficking is a worldwide issue, and Kenya is a major player. Nairobi acts as a transit and marketing area where men, women and children are literally sold. This business generated 32 billion US$ profit in 2011. I had the chance to talk about forced labour, which is endemic in Kenya. No person under the age of 18 can be legally employed in Kenya. If a young person is sent to relatives to work and is not receiving an allowance or is denied education or is exposed to abuse, this is a criminal offence according to the Act against Counter Trafficking in Persons of 2010. This is a challenge, which has major consequences. Children of poor families and orphans are particularly vulnerable. They are often sent to work in town and end up abused or working in prostitution.
The participants went home with Wanjiku, a locally produced DVD, and a pack of pictures to be used where it is impossible to show the DVD. Each group also drew up an action plan which will be monitored by the local Caritas.
The Laity Leaders’ Council addressed the issue again at their General Meeting in November 2011, with the resolve that the process should continue. It was the largest representation of lay people – 179 leaders – the Diocese had ever brought together. Awareness activities are now underway in most parishes of the diocese. As a result, the understanding of forced labour is becoming clearer. This awareness has shocked people, especially those with children and young people staying with relatives. Now they realize how dangerous is to expose their children to the hazard of abuse and trafficking. There is a slow realisation that this is a religious and social issue.
In 2012, we shall organize more sessions for trainers, to improve their ability to work among the people. It will also be time to start activities to support victims of the trade. This will be a great difficult challenge. We also hope to reach out to Mombasa Archdiocese and their partners, especially SOLWODI – Solidarity with Women in Distress – a group working with prostitutes and other women with social problems initiated by Sister Lea Ackermann in 1983.
We are but at the beginning of a journey. By involving the grassroots and explaining in simple ways the complexity of human trafficking, we hope to make people aware of the issue, but especially of the positive role they can play in fighting this evil. Human trafficking is horrendous and its scale unimaginable. The victims are our young people, and the consequences for the next generation are dire. Yet, there is hope that we can all do something to make a change.