After five months of evading arrest, local police working with the Department of Children Services at the Kenyan coast recently secured the arrest of a man for sexually abusing and exploiting Saida* after luring her into a villa with a promise of assisting her with school fees. He has been charged under the Sexual Offenses Act, and faces up to 15 years in prison, if convicted.
This is the first case of Child Sex Trafficking that International Justice Mission (IJM) has engaged in under its new project on the Kenyan coast, which aims to increase reporting of Child Sex Trafficking cases and strengthen the effectiveness of the justice system in investigating and prosecuting Child Sex Trafficking perpetrators.
Investigations revealed that the man promised to give a bursary (a grant that the Kenyan government offers to families in poverty) to the girl’s mother who then arranged for Saida to be taken to meet him in one of the luxurious hotels in the area. Like so many Child Sex Trafficking perpetrators, the act of promising financial provision was the driving force of his exploitation of Saida. Equally troubling: Saida’s mother was fully aware that her daughter would have to have sex with this man and facilitated the process of getting Saida to the villa.
Thinking that she was meeting someone interested in paying for her education, Saida brought her school documents to meet the man who then abused her sexually.
Saida returned home crying and reported what happened to her family. Her mother responded violently – angry at her daughter for complaining about being exploited for financial gain. A neighbor who learned of what had happened to Saida accompanied her to a Community Justice Center where she informed Human Right Defenders (HRDs) of what had happened to her. The HRDs then accompanied Saida to the police station where she courageously reported the abuse.
When Saida’s mother learned that the case had been reported to the police, she chased Saida away. Saida then sought refuge with a relative.
The suspect, who members of the community described as untouchable due to his deep pockets, political connections and influence, remained free for months after Saida reported the abuse to the police. The Justice Center would make follow-ups on her case but the police did not take any action.
To ensure victim’s like Saida are able to safely and successfully report cases to the police, IJM is building the capacity of community stakeholders to address challenges in Child Sex Trafficking case referral and reporting. With support from IJM in February, the Justice Center was able to finally prompt police to take action in Saida’s case.
On March 22 the suspect was arrested, and the following day he was charged. This arrest signifies the growing momentum in the fight against Child Sex Trafficking, which is rampant in the region.
The Justice Center’s persistence in prompting police action more than once demonstrates the crucial role of grass roots actors in supporting victims in pursuing justice at the critical stage of referral to law enforcement. Likewise, the response of the police station responsible for the arrest is an important example for police throughout the region. In the near future, IJM will begin rolling out efforts to train and mentor several police stations in Child Sex Trafficking hotspots along the coast, as well as the Directorate of Criminal Investigation’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit in Mombasa. These upcoming efforts will be crucial for strengthening Child Sex Trafficking investigations and arrests, including trauma informed engagement with victims like Saida.
On the day of the arrest in March, Saida was sitting for her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations. As soon as she finished her final examination, officials from the Department of Children Services and the community Justice Center placed her at a shelter where she is receiving care. Going forward, IJM will ensure Saida receives counseling to help her on her journey of healing, as well as the legal support victims like her need to be able to navigate the prosecution of her abuser. IJM will also support the public prosecutor, one of several throughout the region who will benefit from IJM’s effort to strengthen the capacity of prosecutors in pursuing convictions against Child Sex Trafficking perpetrators.
While Saida awaits justice through the prosecution of her perpetrator, his arrest and detention sends an important message of accountability to other criminals engaging as customers and facilitators of Child Sex Trafficking.