East Africa: Human Trade Is Alive and Thriving Across East Africa

Nepalese women arrested in Kenya's coastal town of Mombasa as police investigate international human trafficking. (File photo)

Rose (not her name), 24, travelled from Rwanda to Kuwait in 2015 for a job she had been promised by someone she met online.

Upon reaching Kuwait, her host received her warmly, offering her accommodation and food but a few days later, her host took away her travel documents. Then, together with other people, her host performed a medical procedure to remove parts of her reproductive organs. For two years she was stuck in Kuwait doing any job she could find.

The Rwanda Investigative Bureau probed the case and alerted the embassy in Kuwait, which organised her travel back to Rwanda.

Rose left Rwanda and arrived in Kuwait not knowing her host was a human trafficker and represents a dreadful reality waiting for thousands of young people travelling under shady circumstances on the promise of finding lucrative jobs, particularly to Asia.

Although some victims are lucky to be rescued, their perpetrators are often never caught, and usually there is insufficient evidence to convict others that are caught, according to a new report by local NGO Health Development Initiative.

The report indicates that the increased number of human trafficking rescues made in Rwanda over the past five years can be attributed to increased knowledge of the crime of human trafficking.

Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania serve as primary transit points for trafficking in the region, the report shows, while ease in travel across border posts -- which no longer require passports -- contributes to the flow of trafficking.

However, experts say that gathering information to ensure prosecution of suspects is still proving difficult.

"The main reason why it is difficult to get evidence is that victims refuse to co-operate. In some cases, human traffickers remain in the destination countries and co-ordinate with victims on the phone making it difficult to prove the purpose of their travel," Eugene Ntaganda, a human rights researcher told The East African.

Another recent report by the United States shows that although Rwanda and Kenya do not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, they have over the years made significant efforts to do so.

In Rwanda, the National Public Prosecution Authority reported increased efforts to curb human traffickers, initiating 86 trafficking case investigations out of which 53 suspected traffickers were tried between October 2017 and September 2018.

Prosecutors managed to obtain convictions for at least 13 traffickers with penalties ranging from two to seven years' imprisonment and fines between 1 million ($1,120) and 10 million Rwandan francs ($11,240).

"We work with our embassies and international security agencies to ensure that any Rwandan victim of human trafficking in any country is offered a ticket and documents back home. We also intensified actions on borders and at the airports to ensure that suspected human trafficking victims are intercepted," Modeste Mbabazi, spokesperson of Rwanda Investigative Bureau said.

Kenya reported at least 142 investigations into potential human trafficking in 2018 compared with at least 148 investigations the previous year.

It also handed down 98 convictions -- including 30-year prison sentences to two convicted child traffickers -- 61 of these convictions were in 2018.

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