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

Guest Blog: Violence against Children

Seventy seven cases of child sexual defilements cases have been recorded at the Mtwapa Health Center since January 2015[i]. Of these only 10 are before court, or have had convictions. These are reported cases. Just how many cases remain unreported is a mystery. This is seen in the light of the fact that “less than one percent out of every females or males who experienced sexual, physical, or emotional violence as a child knows of a place to go to seek professional help[ii]”In fact the statistics are grimmer in taking into cognizance the fact that cultural barriers and local face-saving attitudes held by village elders makes it very difficult to get justice for a child who has faced sexual violence.

Sexual violence reported in the coastal region at three centers are: Coast Provincial General Hospital from August 2007 to Feb 2015 – 5,464 survivors of sexual violence; Kilifi District Hospital-June 2013 425 to Feb 2015 – 493 and Mtwapa Health Centre-104 (June 2013 to Feb 2015 – 137[iii]), both adult and children. These statistics are yet again, for reported cases alone! We can only imagine the numbers if it included unreported cases.

It is important to note that Trace Kenya and Safe Community Youth Initiative only get complaints from mothers whose children have been defiled by their relatives when they do not benefit from the process of arbitration. Statements like “I did not benefit at all because the elders ate kanjama[iv].  Are quite common when they report the cases. The welfare of the child is not a priority. Usually, at that moment all evidence of the defilement is lost, unless of course the child is infected by sexually transmitted infections or HIV and Aids.

Mtwapa, in Kilifi County like Bombolulu in Mombasa report worrying cases of incest and defilement – especially on school holidays. Perpetrators are believed to be mainly people that abuse drugs and alcohol in the area. Sauti Ya Wamama organization in Mombasa has been working closely with other stakeholders in fighting sexual abuse in the region. However, they lament the lack of information by parents, worsened by loose marriage relationships people engage in the two counties.

Kenya Demographic Heath Survey show that violence against children is represented by 32% of females and 18% of males aged 18-24 years. It also shows that the most common perpetrators of sexual violence for females and males were found to be boyfriends/ girlfriends/ romantic partners comprising 47% and 43% respectively followed by neighbors, 27% and 21% respectively. National Statistics[v] conducted between November 2008 and February 2009 indicate that a total of 13.3% of women reported having been sexually violated while a further 39.0% reported having been physically violated by a spouse within that year .The study showed that:  12% of women 15-49 report that their first sexual intercourse was forced; 1 in 5 Kenyan women have experienced sexual violence; Almost half (45% of women 15-49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence; 6.3% of Kenyan adults 15-49 are infected with HIV ; and that prevalence in women age 15-49 is 8.0% while for men same age bracket it is 4.3%

Even with an array of legal frameworks for protection of persons from sexual violence such as Constitution, 2010; Penal Code; Sexual Offences Act,2006; HIV Prevention and Control Act, 2006; Children Act , 2001; Basic Education Act; Anti Female Genital Mutilation Act; Counter trafficking in persons Act, 2010; Witness protection Act, 2010; Employment Act- sec 6; Marriage Act, 2014; Security Act, 2014; Victim Protection Act, 2014 there is still rampant violence especially directed at children in many communities.

Besides the cultural barrier mentioned earlier, ignorance and lack of information by communities put them at risk. For instance “Less than 10% of females and males who experienced sexual, physical or emotional violence as a child actually received some form of professional help” Says Elizabeth Aroka, a consultant on Gender Based Violence in Mombasa. She adds that “Three out of every ten females 30% aged 18 to 24 who reported experiencing unwanted completed intercourse before the age of 18 (i.e., sex that was physically forced or pressured) became pregnant as a result. And that among females aged 18 to 24 who experienced sexual violence as a child; about 7% had received money for sex compared to 2% of those who did not experience violence prior to age 18”[vi].

The cultural space of a woman places her at a disadvantage when “Over half females and males age 18 to 24, regardless of whether they experienced violence prior to 18, believe that it is acceptable for a husband to beat his wife. Furthermore, 40% of females and 50% of males believed that a woman should tolerate spousal violence in order to keep her family together”. Experience by Trace Kenya and other stakeholders on the ground indicate that girls are particularly susceptible to sexual violence at home. Culture denies boys from reporting cases of sexual violence, and hence they are only found to be violated when they are showing signs of such violation, usually too late to mitigate against HIV and Aids.

Sexual violence is well defined by the various legal regimes as inter alia: defilement (with reference to children); Attempted defilement; Rape; Gang rape; attempted rape; Indecent act with a child; Promotion of sexual offences with a child; child trafficking; child sex tourism; child prostitution; child pornography. Child trafficking is clearly defined as a violation of children rights and this is the reason why the awareness created by Trace Kenya and the pursuit for justice we constantly engage in is very pertinent.

Guest blog by Paul Adhoch

Paul Adhoch is the Executive Director of Trace Kenya who is an NGO working to fight human trafficking in Kenya and a partner of HAART Kenya.

[i] Safe Community Youth Initiative reports 2015/Mtwapa Gender Recovery Unity

[ii] Equirights Consultants, Mombasa.

[iii] SGBV Recovery centers 2015

[iv] Complaining not about justice for the child, but the fact that she was excluded from the blood money or compensation shared out by elders.

[v] Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS)

[vi] Information from KHDS 2010

Finding Sylvia – A Child Trafficking Story

Sylvia* is 14 years old. I met her in a school in Nairobi. She was a class seven pupil and according to her teacher she used to be very bright, but her performance had dropped drastically over some time. Sylvia’s attitude was also different because she was always moody. These changes made the class teacher suspect that something was happening to Sylvia that was causing these changes. Upon investigation the class teacher found out that she was being abused by her cousin.

Sylvia would leave school early to go and pick her cousin`s children from school. She was also responsible for doing all the house chores. This meant that she would have to sleep late at night, was extremely exhausted from all the chores and still had to wake up early to attend school. This schedule was impossible for a young child who is only fourteen years old to maintain.

The class teacher was concerned and forwarded the case to the school social worker who coincidentally is a volunteer on a HAART project. He had previously arranged trainings for the students on human trafficking. The social worker contacted me and we discussed the issue at length. We concluded that Sylvia was being exploited for child labour, that this was a child trafficking case and the girl needed to be rescued. At the time of planning her rescue the schools were closed for holidays and Sylvia was to travel back to Kisii with her cousin. This made it impossible for us to implement our plans for her rescue. We talked with Sylvia and agreed that we would carry out her rescue when they came back from Kisii.

Schools opened and to our dismay Sylvia did not report to school. We were imagining the worst because if her cousin could exploit her as she was doing maybe she had harmed her. We had to figure out our next course of action because Sylvia’s welfare depended on it. We decided that the best way forward was to visit the girl’s home in Kisii to confirm whether she was fine. Luckily we had taken directions to Sylvia’s home in Kisii when we interviewed her. Therefore, we had an idea of the location of her home. I discussed the issue with the program manager and he agreed with our course of action.

I left for Kisii relying on the directions I got from Sylvia. I had never been to this area before. I had tried to follow the directions but became lost because it was an area I was not familiar with. I was also running out of time because it was becoming late for me to get  my destination. It took me two hours to realize that I had gone in the opposite direction and I had to find my way back. I did not despair because I knew Sylvia’s life might depend on my success.

It took two hours for me to find my way back to the town. When I got there I thought that the village was close but I had to travel for two hours on a motorbike to get to Sylvia’s village.

I got to Sylvia`s home at 7.30 pm. I found her cleaning utensils. Her brother and grandmother were also in the house. It was a relief for me to see her safe and she was very happy to see me. She was able to explain to me how she got home. Sylvia said that on their way to Kisii her cousin decided to visit her sister in Siaya. Her cousin did not want the burden of travelling with her all the way to Siaya and dropped her off at town near Kisii. She left Sylvia with an older man who was to take care of her for some months before they picked her up. When she explained this to me, I could tell that there was a very high risk that her cousin was planning to traffic Sylvia to this man for sexual exploitation. No one in their right mind would leave a fourteen year old girl with a man who is a complete stranger to her.

Fortunately Sylvia had attended one of HAART’s trainings. The information she got from the workshop made her notice that she was not safe and she needed to run away from him. To escape she devised a plan. She excused herself to go to the washroom and as soon as she was sure that she was alone, she ran away. Luckily she had a few coins in her pocket which she used as her transportation to get to her home village. She arrived home late at night, which meant that she had travelled alone using public transport. Since I had travelled the same route coming to see her, I knew what she had gone through to get home. When she arrived home she found her mother and brother. They were shocked to see her arrive at that time. She had to explain what had happened to her mother who broke down in tears upon hearing everything her child experienced in the hands of someone that is a relative.

Her mother works as a house help in the nearby village and was not earning much, which is why she allowed Sylvia to stay with her cousin. The mother said she was not aware that her daughter was going through such difficulties in her cousin’s hands. She took the initiative of taking her daughter to her nearby school and decided to take full responsibility of taking care of her. Sylvia was lucky to get away as she did because she knew what was about to happen to her. Most victims are not so fortunate because until they are trafficked they are not informed of the danger of trafficking.

By the time I had finished talking to the family it was very late but I had to begin my journey to a meeting I had the next morning in Homa Bay. I had to travel on a motorbike and down a mountain after dark for two hours to get to the main town where I could catch a connecting bus. Despite the challenges I was happy that Sylvia was fine and safely in the hands of someone that genuinely cared for her.

By George Matheka, edited by Winnie Mutevu and Sr. Elizabeth Mueni

* Name has been altered.