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KENYA (Tier 2)

The Government of Kenya does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.  The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Kenya remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included identifying more trafficking victims; providing identified victims with direct services or referrals to NGO-provided care; and developing a bench book for judges to improve hearing of labor trafficking cases.  The government finalized guidelines for the disbursement of funds for trafficking victims from the National Assistance Trust Fund for Assisting Victims of Trafficking and used the fund to support economic reintegration for trafficking survivors.  The government regularly sought input from survivors, particularly those exploited in Gulf states, on its anti-trafficking activities.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  Protection services for victims, particularly adults, remained limited and inconsistent in quality.  The government continued to rely on civil society to provide most victim services, including all shelter services, and did not provide adequate in-kind or financial support for these efforts.  Despite serious and sustained concerns of official complicity in trafficking crimes, which hindered both law enforcement efforts and victim identification, the government did not report any law enforcement action against allegedly complicit officials.  Government efforts to protect Kenyan trafficking victims abroad, particularly migrant workers in Gulf countries, remained limited, and the government did not report any efforts to hold fraudulent recruitment agencies criminally accountable for trafficking crimes.

  • Amend the anti-trafficking law to remove sentencing provisions that allow fines in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking offenses.
  • Significantly increase the availability of short-term shelter, long-term housing, and specialized services for all trafficking victims – particularly adult males, boys, Kenyan migrant workers returning from overseas, and victims identified in rural and coastal areas – including by partnering with and allocating increased funding to NGOs that provide victim care.
  • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, including complicit officials, which should involve significant prison terms.
  • Increase protections for Kenyan trafficking victims exploited abroad, including by providing pre-departure training to all migrant workers, training Kenyan embassy staff to identify and assist victims, negotiating additional bilateral labor agreements with destination countries that include strong protections for victims, and assigning additional labor attachés to Kenyan embassies to monitor migrants’ working conditions abroad.
  • Consistently enforce strong regulations and oversight of labor recruitment agencies, including by eliminating recruitment fees charged to migrant workers, holding fraudulent labor recruiters criminally accountable, and training inspectors to report potential violations to the appropriate officials.
  • Fully implement the NRM by encouraging law enforcement officials to formally refer trafficking victims for assistance and ensuring protection services are available for all victims, including adults, foreign nationals, and Kenyans exploited abroad.
  • Systematically and proactively identify trafficking victims by screening vulnerable populations – such as refugees, asylum-seekers, individuals in commercial sex, Kenyan migrant workers returning from overseas, and all foreign national workers, including those from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Cuba – for trafficking indicators and refer all trafficking victims to appropriate services.
  • Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
  • Expand training to all levels of the government, specifically to law enforcement personnel and local authorities in rural and coastal regions, on identifying, investigating, and managing trafficking cases.
  • Continue to increase victim-witness assistance for victims participating in the criminal justice process to prevent re-traumatization.
  • Finalize, adopt, and allocate funding to implement an updated NAP to combat trafficking.
  • Develop a comprehensive and centralized database on trafficking crimes to improve interagency coordination and accurately report anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and victim identification statistics.

The government made uneven anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts.  The Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2010 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 30 years to life imprisonment, a fine of not less than 30 million Kenyan shillings (Ksh) ($243,210), or both.  These penalties were sufficiently stringent.  However, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking, these penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape.  Sections 14 and 15 of the Sexual Offenses Act of 2006 criminalized the facilitation of child sex tourism and “child prostitution” and prescribed punishment of no less than 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 2 million Ksh ($16,230).  The government, in partnership with an international organization, continued to review an amendment to the 2010 anti-trafficking act to remove the option of a fine in lieu of imprisonment; however, the amendment was not approved by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection (MLSP) for the second consecutive reporting period.

The government did not maintain a centralized law enforcement data collection system on trafficking crimes, hindering its ability to disaggregate national human trafficking statistics and likely resulting in underreported anti-trafficking statistics.  Fewer government agencies provided data than in previous years, and the government did not differentiate between human trafficking cases and cases related to other crimes, such as child pornography, defilement, or sexual assault, making it difficult to compare law enforcement data with prior years.  In 2022, the government investigated 111 cases – 59 for sex trafficking, 10 for labor trafficking, and 42 for unspecified forms of trafficking – however, this data may have included other crimes.  This compared with the government investigating 47 cases – five for sex trafficking, 17 for labor trafficking, and 25 for unspecified forms of trafficking – in 2021.  The government reported prosecuting at least 48 alleged traffickers – 11 for sex trafficking, three for labor trafficking, and 34 for unspecified forms of trafficking – under various laws in 2022.  In previous years, the government provided some prosecution data that fell outside of the reporting period; the government previously reported prosecuting at least 115 individuals from July 2020 to June 2021.  The government reported convicting nine traffickers in 2022 – two for labor trafficking and seven for unspecified forms of trafficking.  Courts convicted at least three traffickers under the 2010 anti-trafficking law but did not provide information on individuals convicted under non-trafficking laws.  This compared with 32 convictions – 30 under the 2010 anti-trafficking law and two under the 2011 immigration act – in 2021.  Courts continued to sentence convicted traffickers to varying degrees of punishment, which often involved the option of prison time or a fine, but did not report sentencing details for all convictions.  Civil society reported courts overturned some high-level convictions, including a case involving a convicted trafficker sentenced to 60 years’ imprisonment, on appeal for unspecified reasons.  Observers criticized the court system’s lax practices, including the tendency to release alleged traffickers on bail, which often resulted in alleged traffickers – particularly foreign nationals – absconding.  During the second half of 2022, the government temporarily reassigned many law enforcement officials, including some mandated to investigate trafficking crimes, to election-related security duties.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action.  Police officers continued to accept bribes to warn traffickers of impending operations and investigations, particularly along the coast, and officials reported perpetrators sometimes escaped conviction by bribing magistrates and court officials or intimidating or paying witnesses to make false statements.  Observers alleged that criminal syndicates colluded with various law enforcement and immigration departments, including those at border checkpoints and airports, to transport trafficking victims into and within Kenya.  Traffickers continued to easily obtain fraudulent identity documents used to facilitate trafficking crimes from complicit officials.  An NGO research study on child sex trafficking in coastal areas reported government officials, police officers, and local authorities were the perpetrators in approximately 30 percent of cases.

The National Police Service’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations maintained two specialized units mandated to investigate trafficking crimes.  The Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit (AHTCPU) investigated child trafficking crimes, and the Transnational Organized Crimes Unit (TOCU) investigated transnational trafficking crimes.  The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) maintained a specialized human trafficking unit, which included prosecutors trained on human trafficking and related crimes.  The government, both independently and in partnership with NGOs and international organizations, provided regular trainings to police, prosecutors, judges, immigration officials, and labor officers on how to detect and respond to trafficking crimes in their respective capacities.  The government, in partnership with civil society, developed and distributed a bench book for judges, which outlined best practices for judges handling labor trafficking cases.  Despite more trainings and new protocols, some law enforcement officers continued to lack an understanding of the anti-trafficking law and may have misclassified trafficking cases as other crimes or collected insufficient evidence for trafficking cases to proceed to prosecution.  The government reported collaborating with the Governments of Tanzania and Uganda on cross-border trafficking investigations.

The government maintained victim protection efforts.  The government identified 556 trafficking victims, compared with 482 victims identified in 2021.  Of the 556 victims identified, traffickers exploited 275 in labor trafficking, 31 in sex trafficking, and 250 in unspecified forms of trafficking; the majority of victims identified were Kenyans exploited in the country, while at least 24 were foreign nationals from South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.  The government identified 10 Kenyan victims exploited abroad, compared with one in 2021.  The government continued to use its SOPs for victim identification, and the Counter Trafficking in Persons Secretariat (CTiP Secretariat) partnered with law enforcement, immigration officers, and social services to screen for trafficking indicators among individuals in commercial sex and foreign migrants involved in migrant smuggling cases.  Despite these efforts, officials reported the lack of available interpretation services, particularly for Amharic, hindered adequate implementation of victim identification SOPs and screening tools in cases involving foreign trafficking victims.

The government had an NRM that outlined guidelines for victim referral to services; however, its use outside of Nairobi remained limited.  The government reported partnering with various NGOs to offer routine assistance to all 556 identified victims, including medical care, psycho-social support, legal assistance, repatriation for foreign victims, and referrals to NGO-run shelters, compared with providing services and referrals to 435 victims in 2021.  The government did not operate any shelters for trafficking survivors and continued to rely on NGOs to provide shelter.  However, in 2022, the CTiP Secretariat began renovations to establish a shelter for trafficking victims.  The Department of Children’s Services continued to operate five drop-in centers – located in Garissa, Kisumu, Machakos, Nairobi, and Thika – to provide services to children, including potential trafficking victims; the government did not report the number of trafficking victims provided services at the centers, compared with providing temporary shelter to 47 potential victims at the centers in 2021.  Protection services for adult victims remained scarce, and NGOs reported the government’s overall victim assistance remained limited and inconsistent in quality.  Despite reliance on civil society organizations to provide victim services, the government provision of financial or in-kind support to such organizations remained minimal.

During the 2022-2023 fiscal year, the National Treasury allocated 20 million Ksh ($162,270) to the National Assistance Trust Fund for Assisting Victims of Trafficking, the same amount as the previous fiscal year.  The government disbursed more than 7.6 million Ksh ($62,270) from the fund to provide direct victim services, including repatriation assistance, basic needs, and reintegration support, as well as support to NGOs; this was a decrease compared with 10.3 million Ksh ($83,570) disbursed from the fund in the previous reporting period.  The government also used the fund to support a pilot project for economic reintegration of trafficking survivors and provided 17 survivors with funding to start small businesses.  The CTiP Secretariat finalized guidelines for the disbursement of these funds, which included steps to allow NGOs to apply for support from the fund.

Authorities continued to inappropriately penalize victims of trafficking, often detaining or deporting them, for immigration offenses committed as a direct result of being trafficked.  In previous years, NGOs across Kenya reported officials sometimes charged potential sex trafficking victims with commercial sex crimes or labor violations.  Officials and NGOs reported the government often placed adult trafficking victims in prisons or detention centers due to the lack of shelters available for adult victims; authorities sometimes placed child victims in centers for juvenile offenders until officials found a shelter or safe house with space available.  The government maintained its Witness Protection Agency (WPA) that offered victim-witness assistance to victims participating in investigations and prosecutions; however, officials reported WPA remained without sufficient staffing or funding to provide adequate assistance to victims.  The government provided victims the option to speak with CTiP Secretariat staff instead of law enforcement, and some courtrooms had facilities or equipment that allowed victims to provide testimony via video, one-way glass, or written statements.  Due to the lack of shelters and long-term services available and the often protracted nature of criminal courts, victims frequently decided not to participate in criminal proceedings.  NGOs also reported some witnesses appeared to have been intimidated, disappeared, or did not appear in court for fear of reprisal.  The law allowed officials to grant foreign national victims the ability to leave the country, seek employment, move freely within the country pending trial proceedings, and remain indefinitely in Kenya if they would face hardship or retribution upon repatriation.  The 2010 anti-trafficking law allowed courts to order convicted traffickers to pay restitution to victims; however, the government did not report awarding restitution during the reporting period.  Under the Employment Act and the 2010 anti-trafficking law, trafficking victims could file civil suits against traffickers for damages; however, the government did not report any civil suits filed in 2022.

The government slightly increased efforts to prevent trafficking.  The CTiP Secretariat, the operational arm of the Counter Trafficking in Persons Advisory Committee, continued to spearhead government efforts to combat trafficking.  Observers continued to report the CTiP Secretariat was staffed only by children’s officers, which may have limited its focus to address trafficking of adults.  The CTiP Secretariat reportedly had dedicated funding in the national budget, but the government did not provide the total amount of anti-trafficking funding allocated for the third consecutive year.  Civil society and other stakeholders reported the CTiP Secretariat continued to engage them regularly; however, as in prior years, the CTiP Secretariat did not have sufficient staffing or funding, hindering progress on new anti-trafficking efforts and publication of required reporting on government efforts.  The National Coordination Mechanism on Migration (NCM), chaired by the Department of Immigration, maintained responsibility for managing national coordination on migration issues, including addressing allegations of forced labor of Kenyans abroad.  While the CTiP Secretariat and NCM regularly coordinated, some stakeholders reported the two groups had overlapping mandates, which created confusion and discrepancies on which mechanisms were most effective.  Officials continued to operate under the 2013-2017 NAP, although it formally expired in 2018.  The government never operationalized its draft 2019-2022 NAP and reported updating it to a 2022-2027 NAP, which remained pending final approval.  The government launched an updated National Plan of Action Against Sexual Exploitation of Children 2022-2026, which included activities to prevent online child sex trafficking.  The government regularly sought input from survivors, particularly of those exploited in Gulf states, on anti-trafficking activities.  In partnership with civil society, the government held awareness campaigns targeting populations vulnerable to trafficking, particularly Kenyans seeking work abroad and individuals in coastal areas and other local communities.  In November 2022, the National Crime Research Center published a research study that analyzed human trafficking trends in the country and among Kenyans abroad.  The government, in partnership with an NGO, continued to operate a 24-hour hotline to report child abuse and exploitation, including child trafficking.  In 2022, the government reported identifying at least 10 suspected child trafficking cases through the hotline, compared with at least 12 cases identified in 2021.  In July 2022, the MLSP’s National Employment Authority (NEA) launched a 24-hour, toll-free hotline for Kenyan workers abroad to report exploitation, including trafficking.

The NEA continued to regulate labor migration and other labor-related matters, including labor trafficking.  The NEA had a total of 518 registered private employment agencies, compared with 504 registered agencies in the previous reporting period.  Although the government made efforts to vet recruitment agencies, NEA officials reported more unregistered agencies remained in operation than registered agencies.  The NEA maintained an external employment management system, which functioned as a “one stop” internet portal, where Kenyans could search and apply for all pre-vetted overseas employment opportunities through licensed recruitment companies.  The NEA continued to require recruitment agencies to pay into a security fund intended to cover airfare for Kenyan migrant workers, including potential trafficking victims, in need of repatriation due to exploitative situations.  However, NGOs reported the use of the security fund was minimal and migrant workers regularly sought other means of assistance due to the government’s lengthy process to address complaints.  The government required migrant workers to attend a pre-departure training course that included information on human trafficking and migrant rights; it also included specific homecare management training for domestic workers.  The NEA continued to employ labor attachés in Kenyan diplomatic missions in Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia.  Reportedly, the attachés advocated for Kenyan workers’ rights with host governments, screened workers for trafficking indicators, resolved workplace disputes, provided identity documents, and partnered with licensed employment agencies to find legitimate work opportunities for Kenyans; the government did not report specific actions taken by the attachés during the reporting period.  The NEA maintained a reporting tool on its website for overseas workers to report exploitation, including potential trafficking crimes, and request assistance.  As in previous years, the NEA utilized an e-platform for recruitment and placement of Kenyans migrating to Saudi Arabia to promote a safe migration process.  During the reporting period, multiple high-level officials traveled to Saudi Arabia to monitor the conditions of Kenyan migrant workers and engage with the Saudi officials on labor issues, including human trafficking.  Additionally, the Kenyan government approved the establishment of a shelter in Saudi Arabia for vulnerable migrant workers, including potential trafficking victims; the government reportedly identified a space for the shelter, but it was not yet operational.

Despite efforts to improve recruitment practices and enforce regulations, government officials and civil society continued to report that a lack of leadership, uneven regulation enforcement, and corruption hindered NEA operations.  Government regulations continued to allow recruiting agencies to charge migrant workers a recruitment fee of up to one month’s salary.  NGOs reported recruitment agencies bribed labor officials to bypass required procedures, which potentially included allowing recruitment agents to sign the contract on the worker’s behalf when the worker did not appear in person.  Labor inspectors conducted routine inspections of worksites; however, the government did not report training labor inspectors on identifying trafficking crimes or reporting any potential trafficking crimes to law enforcement.  The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Kenya, and traffickers exploit victims from Kenya abroad.  Traffickers exploit women and children in sex trafficking, often facilitated by family members in informal settings and increasingly using online recruitment, throughout Kenya, including in sex tourism in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu.  In 2020, an international NGO reported there are between 35,000 and 40,000 victims of sex trafficking, including child sex tourism, in Kenya, of which approximately 19,000 are children; most perpetrators are Kenyan, including government officials, police officers, and local authorities, and, to a lesser extent, foreign tourists.  In a 2023 research study, one NGO estimates traffickers – including family members, peers, taxi drivers, and intermediary recruiters – exploit over 2,000 children in child sex trafficking in Kilifi and Kwale counties.  Government officials and NGOs report traffickers increasingly exploit children in sex trafficking in private villas and vacation homes to avoid law enforcement detection in hotels.  Workers in khat cultivation areas and near gold mines in western Kenya, truck drivers along major highways, and fishermen on Lake Victoria also exploit children in sex trafficking.  Traffickers exploit Kenyan children in labor trafficking in domestic service, agriculture, fishing, cattle herding, street vending, and forced begging.  Reports indicate criminals and gang members may exploit children in forced criminal activity, including as drug couriers.  Observers report returning Kenyan migrant workers are vulnerable to trafficking due to lack of available assistance and limited economic opportunities.

Employment agencies, both legal and fraudulent, recruit Kenyans to work in the Middle East (particularly Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, and Oman), Central and Southeast Asia, Europe, Northern Africa, and North America, where traffickers exploit them in massage parlors, brothels, domestic servitude, or manual labor; Kenyans who voluntarily migrate in search of employment opportunities are often vulnerable to exploitative conditions.  Observers report foreign employers often hold migrant workers’ salaries until the completion of their contract period to coerce them to stay longer, and in some cases, employers sell or “trade” migrant workers to another employer without a legal change in the employment contract, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking.  Saudi Arabia remains a primary destination for economic migrants; government estimates indicate over 200,000 Kenyans are currently working in Saudi Arabia, of which over half are domestic workers.  The visa sponsorship system – common in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – binds domestic workers to one employer and prevents their freedom of movement.  Reports continue to document traffickers in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, exploit Kenyan women working in domestic servitude, often subjecting them to severe physical and emotional abuse.  In one research study, an NGO estimates more than 98 percent of Kenyans returning from work in the Middle East experience conditions indicative of forced labor, including non-payment of wages, physical abuse, passport confiscation, and excessive working hours.  Increasingly, traffickers in Southeast Asia use fraudulent job postings with false promises of high-paying jobs in the technology, education, or hospitality sectors to recruit Kenyans for work in Thailand; however, upon arrival in Thailand, traffickers transport victims to neighboring countries, primarily Burma and Laos, force them into deplorable living and working conditions, and exploit them in labor trafficking, including in cyber scam operations, and sex trafficking.  Ugandan and Nigerian traffickers exploit Kenyan women in sex trafficking in Thailand.  Criminals involved in terrorist networks lure and recruit Kenyan adults and children to join non-state armed groups, primarily al-Shabaab in Somalia, sometimes with fraudulent promises of lucrative employment.

Kenya hosts more than 590,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, primarily located in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement, and Dadaab Refugee Complex.  Refugees are generally required to live within the camps with restricted movement and limited access to education and livelihood opportunities, increasing their vulnerability to labor and sex trafficking; children and LGBTQI+ persons in refugee camps are especially vulnerable.  Nairobi-based labor recruiters maintain networks in Uganda and Ethiopia that recruit Burundian, Ethiopian, Rwandan, and Ugandan workers through fraudulent offers of employment in the Middle East and Asia.  Kenya continues to serve as a transit point for migrants seeking work in South Africa, and these populations remain vulnerable to trafficking; traffickers exploit transiting Ethiopians in labor trafficking and Burundian and Rwandan women in domestic servitude.  Authorities report business owners and employers exploit Ugandan girls, particularly from the Karamojong region, in sex and labor trafficking in Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood.  Recruiters use debt-based coercion to force South Asian women, primarily from Nepal, India, and Pakistan, to work in mujra dance clubs in Nairobi and Mombasa, where traffickers force them to pay off debts by engaging in commercial sex.  Traffickers exploit Somali women and girls in sex trafficking in brothels in Nairobi and Mombasa.  Traffickers bring children and persons with physical disabilities from Tanzania and other neighboring countries to exploit them in forced begging; traffickers often coerce foreign victims to serve as facilitators to further such trafficking schemes.  Cuban medical professionals working in Kenya may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.  PRC nationals employed in Kenya at worksites affiliated with the PRC’s Belt and Road Initiative were vulnerable to forced labor, particularly in construction.

U.S. Department of State

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