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Kenya: UN Women – Covid-19 Spikes Online Trafficking of Women and Girls

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UN Women has raised the red flag on the acute rise of online trafficking targeting girls and women during this Covid-19 pandemic period.

UN Women Deputy Executive Director Asa Regner, in a statement said it is unfortunate that the drivers of trafficking in women and girls have intensified as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

Ms Regner observed that due to Covid-19, there has been an increase in online recruitment by traffickers of girls and women for the purposes of online sexual exploitation, including through webcam and forced online pornography

Women and girls represent 72 per cent of all trafficking victims globally, and 77 per cent of detected female victims are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

The UN Women official noted that while it should have been safe to assume that restrictions on movement and closed borders would prove to be a barrier for traffickers, it has only provided them with the new and innovative opportunities.

“Europol has documented increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material since the crisis began,” said Ms Regner.

Global problem

Trafficking is a global problem that transcends borders and is often a crime just out of reach of national law enforcement agencies, especially when it moves to the online space.

“The only way to stop trafficking in women and girls is prevention, which requires changing cultural norms and practices that objectify, debase and control women’s and girls’ bodies,”she added.

She said reducing the demand for sexual exploitation requires challenging harmful masculinities and ideas of male entitlement to women’s bodies, and here we can draw lessons from broader strategies to prevent violence against women.

Non-violent masculinity

Ms Regner gave an example of Ecuador UN Women which has developed a programme on non-violent masculinities targeting young men as part of its efforts to prevent trafficking in women and girls.

Generally, prevention has been focused on awareness raising of trafficking, rather than addressing the gendered root causes.

She however added that now is the time to scale up prevention strategies as well as adjust them to “our new Covid-19 world”.

In August, during the celebrations to mark the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, the government released gloomy statistics showing human trafficking was still rampant in the country.

The statistics indicated out of those trafficked in and out of Kenya, 49 and 23 per cent of them are women and girls respectively.

Labour and Social protection Cabinet secretary Simon Chelugui said those trafficked from and into Kenya are subjected to sexual exploitation, slavery, forced labour, forced marriage, begging and removal of organs.

The CS singled out forced labour and sexual exploitation as the most rampant forms of trafficking in Kenya adding that high job losses perpetuated by Covid-19 pandemic has offered a fertile breeding ground for human traffickers who are promising thousands of innocent and desperate Kenyans non-existence jobs abroad.

Amend laws

Mr Chelugui also revealed the traffickers have now changed tack and have now resulted in online recruitment as a result of restrictions imposed by the government to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

To tame the trafficking menace, the CS said the government is seeking to amend the existing laws on human trafficking to make them more punitive to deter traffickers.

“The offices of Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) and Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) are partnering with us to help pursue traffickers in order to assist victims get justice,” said Mr Chelugui.

He added that the government is working with some UN agencies to enhance capacity building of law enforcers.

Reduce vunerability

Mr Chelugi said some of the government interventions such as Inua Jamii programmes are meant to reduce vulnerability of people such as orphans and those living with disabilities.

The staticstics by the government comes after a 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report by the US Department of State indicated that Kenya remains a source, transit point and destination for people subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.

The report observed that the Kenyan government 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 to the previous reporting period; therefore Kenya remained on Tier 2,” the report says in part.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently in his report on Trafficking in Women and Girls also noted that 47 million women and girls will be pushed below the poverty line as a result of the Covid-19 crisis which poses greater vulnerability for them to the risk of trafficking.

dmaichuhie@ke.nationmedia.com

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