That the story of Archbishop Gilbert Deya‘s miracle “miracle babies” broke just two months after the US State Department fingered Kenya as a country deeply involved in the human traffic trade made many sit up and take notice.
The Americans are threatening to impose heavy trade sanctions on Kenya if no steps are taken to prevent human trafficking. Such sanctions would affect all businesses involved in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) scheme and could lead to even tougher times for Kenya’s already cash-strapped economy.
While the Kenya police are treating the whole “miracle babies” affair with suspicion and caution, they are not yet convinced as are some NGOs that it is a human trafficking incident. However, they continue to hold a total of 21 children as they investigate the operations of the UK-based evangelist.
While Archbishop Deya, whose wife is being questioned, continues to maintain that he can and did create “miracle babies” for childless couples by exorcising demons to make them fertile, some charities have come out and said in no uncertain terms that his actions are, in fact, a front for trafficking babies from Kenya to the UK.
However, Police Spokesman Jasper Ombati told the Sunday Nation that for the time being, they were concentrating their efforts on trying to establish the parentage of the “miracle babies”. “If this proves futile, then we will follow leads to try and establish the source of the children and maybe then we shall find out if they have been victims of trafficking.”
One of the NGOs with an interest in the matter, the Child Rights Advisory Documentation and Legal Centre (Cradle), brought up the connection between the alleged activities of the Deyas and child trafficking, when they reminded Kenyans in a statement that since 1997, “the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women had identified Kenya as a conduit for the trafficking in women and children.”
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Ms Janice Ogonji, a programme officer with Cradle, gave the Sunday Nation access to material that gave a real life case study of a child who had been trafficked. The case study also went some way to show how child trafficking works.
The story is about a nine-year-old child living on the outskirts of Nairobi identified only as J.
J was a flower girl at a wedding from where she was abducted by a man who then took her to a nearby house and locked her in a room overnight before bringing yet another child, M, to join her.
The two children were kept in captivity for six days before a woman arrived to take M away. The following day, another woman came to take J away but J managed to run away and eventually found her way home.
Police investigating the kidnapping of J found that the woman who had tried to take her away actually knew J’s family and had intended to exchange her for another child before having her sent to work as a domestic servant for a family far from Nairobi.
Meanwhile, as a result of the country’s growing reputation for seeming lax on matters of human trafficking, Kenya risks losing substantial amounts in US aid and trade.
Earlier this year on June 14, US Secretary of State Colin Powell issued the annual trafficking in persons report and, as a result, US embassy officials told the Sunday Nation that sanctions would be imposed on Kenya if within the next year, no progress is seen in the area of the prevention of human trafficking.
Speaking to the Sunday Nation, an American government official explained that Kenya was seen by the US State Department as “a country of origin, destination and transit” for victims of human trafficking. As such, Kenya has been moved to a critical “watch list” where, if there is no improvement on the human trafficking front, the country will next June be automatically demoted from Tier 2, which it has inhabited for some years now, to Tier 3. This would mean closer and more critical scrutiny by the US Congress, which could decide to impose sanctions on the country in an effort to curb the practice.
According to the report, the Kenya government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Also the government stands accused of failing to provide evidence of its efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking.
The State Department’s suggested way out of the potentially dangerous situation for the already fragile Kenyan economy is to suggest that Kenyan officials take the matter more seriously.
According to the report, the government could show its determination to combat human trafficking by developing “a national action plan, step up border security, provide training to law enforcement officials, and conduct anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns”.
In connection with this, the American official said that already some funds had been disbursed to the Kenya police for the training and setting up of an anti-trafficking unit.
However, the Kenya police, through Mr Ombati, told the Sunday Nation: “As far as we know, Kenya is not in the business of trafficking. We are aware, of course, that the country is used as a conduit and we are taking corrective measures. So far, however, I don’t think we are a point of origin. Having said that, of course, if we break the Deya case we may finally get evidence that we are a country of origin. So far we have no evidence pointing to this.”
Nevertheless, the US report suggests that comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation to combat official corruption should be passed.
The State Department ranks countries in tiers. Being a Tier 3 country makes a state eligible for trade sanctions if Congress so decides. Tier 3 countries are also nations that are thought to be making direct profits from trafficking in persons.
Tier 2 countries are those where, though the government is not necessarily involved directly in human trafficking, they could do a bit more to improve the situation.
Kenya has traditionally been on this list as a result of incidents such as those from the early 1990s when Kenyan nationals were not protected by the government from being taken for jobs in places such as the Gulf States and the Middle East to work in inhuman conditions or as bonded labour.
The newly-created category of a watch list is designed as a sort of purgatory or stop-gap measure before a nation finds itself declared a Tier 3 country.
Tier 1 countries are those such as Canada and the United Kingdom, for instance, where the government is probably doing all it can to counter trafficking in persons, but is an ideal destination for human traffickers.
The US itself is not on the list and the official reckoned that this was because the report was prepared for the US Congress, where the elected representatives of the American people work and that, as representatives of the people, they were expected to have a good idea of the situation on the ground.
The American official, however, accepted that the US’s exemption from the list was often used by critics to discredit the whole operation.
This year, for instance, the South American country of Venezuela was put on the Tier 3 list and accused of not doing enough to stop the trafficking of thousands of people forced into servitude or the sex trade every year.
Worried about what trade sanctions could do to the domestic economy and fragile politics of the oil rich nation, the Venezuelan government fought back with their own statistics on the US.
The Venezuelan Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Arevalo Mendez, said: “The numbers on prostitution, illegal traffic of all kinds, and the permanent violation of human rights in the US and against other nations, places the US government between the permanent violation of those rights, cynicism and arrogance.”
“Has Colin Powell forgotten that 7 per cent of US agricultural workers are between 10 and 17 years old, and that [they] come mostly from the trafficking of people?” he asked.
Speaking to the Sunday Nation, the American official, who opted to remain anonymous, clarified that people or “alien” smuggling fell in a different category from trafficking in persons. Smuggling is a straight business deal with each party being aware of what they are getting into, whereas the victims of human trafficking were often abducted, or lured by false promises and then mistreated when they reached the other end.
Kenya stands accused of being “a country of origin, destination, and transit for victims trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour.”
According to the report, victims are trafficked from South and East Asian countries as well as the Middle East, through Kenya to destinations in Europe for sexual exploitation.
The report is also concerned with trafficking to Kenya of Asian nationals, principally Indians, Bangladeshis and Nepalese (colloquially referred to as Rockets) who are brought here and then coerced into bonded labour in the construction and garment industries.
The US State Department is also concerned that Kenyan children are trafficked internally from rural areas to urban centres and the coast into involuntary servitude including work as street vendors, day labourers and prostitution. The report also claims that women and children are trafficked from Rwanda and Burundi to Kenya to be exploited in what it refers to as “the growing sex tourism industry.”
In April last year, a UN special investigator, Juan Miguel Petit, said children from Angola and Mozambique were being trafficked and forced into prostitution on the streets of Johannesburg and Cape Town.
He added that the problem is growing with others from as far away as Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, and Ethiopia also being smuggled in to work as prostitutes. Mr Petit argued that the children were forced into the business by mainly Angolan, Congolese, and Nigerian syndicates.
He said that despite the fact that child trafficking in South Africa was not yet recognised as a criminal offence, police there had conceded that more needed to be done to tackle the problem. “The police authorities recognise that the problem exists, of course,” he said. “They deal with the problem. They also say at the same time that the problem has no exact figures.”
He says that the international police system, Interpol, had been invited to get involved.