Mohamed Daghar is the Regional Coordinator Eastern Africa: Enhancing Africa’s response to transnational organized crime, Kenya
“Kenya is a technology hub in East Africa – but organized crime accompanies development, and increases avenues for crimes like sex trafficking. Online sexual exploitation is prevalent, mainly targeting women and children on social media apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram.
In Kenya you can find over 50 posts daily ‘advertising’ victims – over and under 18 – along with a number to call. Rate cards and information about the victim’s location, physical appearance and age are given. After, pictures are sent so perpetrators can select who they want and for what services. All arrangements and payments are made through a pimp.
In 2019, a big party organized on social media led to a number of young girls going missing. The families of the missing girls spoke up after videos exposing their sexual abuse surfaced.
The Department of Criminal Intelligence and their officers at police stations are responsible for investigations. But due to lack of training and equipment, officers often do not have the capacity to pull together evidence for online cases.
One of the most difficult things is dealing with police – ask any Kenyan! Reporting a crime is extremely time-consuming and bureaucratic. Some people also shy away from reporting because of victim blaming – the police can ridicule you and have the case turned against you.
For many communities, particularly in rural areas, it is difficult to talk about sexual abuse because it is accompanied by cultural and family shame – rather than focusing on the crime.
Kenya’s Trafficking Act and the 2006 Sexual Offences Act provide adequate protections with heavy penalties. The Trafficking Act reflects most international legislation and is in line with the 2000 Palermo Protocol.
But when it comes to implementation it is hard to measure successes, and submissions of evidence to the judiciary, prosecutions, and sentencing remain a challenge. In cases I have followed involving the trafficking of Kenyans to the Middle East, none have reached the prosecution stage even though this is the most prevalent form of trafficking.
There are also issues of detection. Children who have been trafficked are harder to recognize than adults; their trafficker or perpetrator could look like a parent. What’s more, some victims are recruited with consent from their families, so we need more monitoring of caregivers, including parents.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more children have been at home and online, with parents often working. This has led to a rise in sex trafficking and exploitation of children online and needs better monitoring.
The use of technology such as webcams has made it easier to target children. Traffickers craft ways to engage with minors, contacting children and telling them to produce videos. It often starts off with something innocent – a child being told to send photos or videos of themselves dancing – and later they will be told to take off their clothes and send images.
Government schools have also focused on getting students online with digital learning, but I haven’t come across any advocacy about internet safety.
This interview was shared as part of our 2021 report, Ending Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Girls: A Call for International Standards.