Christmas in Saudi Arabia

A few months ago we posted an email from a lady who was stuck in Saudi Arabia. Now she has written again to explain what it is like going modern day slavery. Read her first email here.

When opportunities come, always remember all that glitters is not gold.

A stranger gives a woman trying to fend for her children a promise of greener pastures. All she has ever wanted to do is raise her children well and educate them so that they can get a better future. She takes the deal without considering the negative side of the deal. She is promised a good life and a secure job for two years; little does she know she is signing up for modern day slavery. That woman is I.

The broker and agent were all smiles when I accepted the offer. They salivated for the big money they will make after sealing the deal. I was not aware of what awaited me in the country of destination in this case, Saudi Arabia.

The process was swift and all paperwork was done within a month. The agent promises that after you leave they will monitor your progress and will always communicate. All these promises are not true it’s just a way of making sure you don’t back off the deal.

As I am writing this, it’s been one year and four months in Saudi Arabia. Its been a struggle. I am being overworked, underpaid and discriminated against. No one values me here. I thank God I am able to use the internet to communicate.

It will be my second Christmas away from my family it feels so sad. I am lonely I can’t wait to return home to my family and children.

We can all join hands to fight modern day slavery and yes somebody is in the process of being trafficked, as I am writing this.

I wish you all a merry Christmas. Thank you HAART for standing with the survivors. Thank you for fighting for fighting with us.

By Anonymous

One Year Later

“Thank you for giving me my voice back. I thought my traffickers had taken it forever. I know this is not true because you have taught me that it is not true and I can use my voice to fight human trafficking.” (Testimony from a victim)

Last year at this time, we were preparing to receive 31 women who had been trafficked for forced labor in Libya. It had taken us five months to get this far and all this had been done remotely through Facebook and WhatsApp. The hopelessness of the situation was debilitating. There was nothing that we could do at that moment but offer words of comfort and encouragement until we figured out a rescue plan.  We never anticipated that this would take five months.

By James Kamawira

By James Kamawira

The first time we heard about this case was through our Facebook page. A woman in Libya was concerned that her friend was being mistreated and she was requesting for HAART’s intervention in the matter. This was in June and by late July the war in Libya had escalated and we got more information that 16 women were stuck in the Kenyan embassy and had no means to get home.  We quickly started following up the issue with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get these women back home. Their stories revealed that all of them were victims of trafficking and had been recruited by agents in Kenya promising good jobs. When they arrived in Libya, their passports were taken and many were also physically and sexually abused. None of them received the promised salaries and some did not receive anything at all.

We soon found out that there were more women stuck in houses around the country. The women had formed a WhatsApp support group and as soon as we started working on the cases, the other women who were not at the embassy reached out to us through WhatsApp to see if they could also be rescued.  In one case we followed updates the whole day on WhatsApp as a woman were trying to travel the 1,200 kilometers from Benghazi to Tripoli through the warzone. We guided them to the embassy and eventually worked with the International Organization for Migration and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to bring them back home just before Christmas.

Fast-forward to December 2015 and most of the women that came back are reintegrated back to society. The process included offering psychosocial support, medical aid for those that needed it and economic empowerment. When reintegrating victims there isn’t a one size fits all process, you have to treat each victim as an individual and cater for their specific needs. Sometimes we are not always able to meet those needs but we do our best. The women who survived this ordeal are stronger and are slowly healing from all the scars that they got and we are happy that we are a small part of that experience.

In the fight against human trafficking, social media can be used for prevention by creating awareness through the different social media. HAART has a vibrant Facebook page and we have used it to give people reliable information about human trafficking. Social media can also be used for protection purposes, especially in cases where victims are outside the country. Victims and families of victims have reached out to HAART through social media and through it we have managed to follow up on cases and in some cases ensured that the victims were rescued.

Human trafficking is a crime that evolves. Those working in counter- trafficking like us have to learn to adapt to these changes. Today, learning how to effectively use social media to fight human trafficking is very crucial because traffickers are using it as a tool to further their agenda.

Human trafficking is a complete violation of the most basic human rights. Most victims of trafficking go through more than one form of abuse, making the reintegration process slow and difficult. Some of the issues the women went through in Libya, they have only now started to share after a year of psychosocial support. The process needs to be comprehensive to be effective. To completely eradicate human trafficking, we have to continue learning and being vigilant in the efforts that we adapt and using social media as a tool is one of the many crucial lessons learned one year later.

By Sophie Otiende

Early marriage is a form of trafficking

Any person under 18 years old who is recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received for the purpose of exploitation is considered to be a victim of child trafficking.

Early marriage is a violation of human rights and a global challenge which impacts on millions of children worldwide. Girls are married at an early age considerably more than boys – more than 700 million women alive today were married as children (UNICEF 2014). It means that at least around 11 % of the world’s population has been married as children. This is around 17 times the population of Kenya or the total population of Europe. Early marriage is often seen as linked to trafficking, but not a form of child trafficking. It seems to be unclear if early marriage should always be considered as child trafficking.

Counter Trafficking in Persons Act (2010) includes the legal definition of human and child trafficking in Kenya;

  1. A person commits the offence of trafficking in persons when the person recruits, transports, transfers, harbours or receives another person for the purpose of exploitation by means of— (a) threat or use of force or other forms of coercion; (b) abduction; (c) fraud (d) deception; (e) abuse of power or of position of vulnerability; (f) giving payments or benefits to obtain the consent of the victim of trafficking in persons; or (g) giving or receiving payments or benefits to obtain the consent of a person having control over another person.
  2. The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation shall not be relevant where any of the means set out in subsection (1) have been used.
  3. The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purposes of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in persons” even if this does not involve any of the means set out in subsection (1).
  4. An act of trafficking in persons may be committed internally within the borders of Kenya or internationally across the borders of Kenya.

The term early marriage is often used when a person has not reached the age of 18, but is not under the national laws considered a child anymore. According to the Counter Trafficking in Persons Act (2010) a child shall mean any person under 18 years of age.

(3) The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purposes of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in persons” even if this does not involve any of the means set out in subsection (1), furthermore the consent of a child makes no difference when determining whether early marriage fulfils the criteria of child trafficking. In other words, any person under 18 years old who is recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received for the purpose of exploitation is considered to be a victim of child trafficking – and in early marriage the children are always at least received by their spouses. Hence, we should look at the purpose of early marriage – are children married for the purpose of exploitation?

Most commonly children are married for the purpose of financial and social benefits of the families, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. Usually in cases, where especially girls, are married “for their own benefit” the culture places a high value on a girl’s virtue in relation to morality and honour and determines that for a girl it is more important to become a wife and a mother than to get an education and economic opportunities. It is denied that early marriage is always harmful for the child (see for exp. UNICEF 2005) and that the children are neither emotionally nor physically ready to become wives or mothers. Early marriage is strongly rooted in gender based discrimination and leads to physical and psychological abuse, sexual exploitation, domestic violence and servitude, denial of education, and even denial of freedom of movement. Early marriage violates the rights guaranteed to children under international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The benefit of someone else (other than the child’s) is at the core of early marriage, no matter how “necessary” or justified it is. Early marriage should be always considered as child trafficking, because early marriage always occurs for the purpose of exploitation.

However, convincing parents and communities not to support early marriage is difficult – early marriage is seen as a part of traditions and religions – but it is possible. One step forward would be the change of entrenched attitudes and discourses and defining early marriage always as child abuse, exploitation and child trafficking. Local communities should be made aware of children’s rights and the harmful consequences of early marriage to the child’s development and future. Married children (and adults who were married as children) should receive protection and assistance as victims of child trafficking.

By Pauliina Sillfors