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60-year sentence – Kenyan court sets precedent on trafficking for sexual exploitation

On November 26, 2021, a Resident Magistrate in Kenya’s Shanzu Law Court delivered a landmark ruling, finding a prominent businessman who holds Canadian and UK passports, guilty of trafficking 12 Nepalese women and girls into Kenya and sentenced him to 60 years in prison.  

Equality Now, in collaboration with our partner Trace Kenya, has been actively monitoring the case and is thrilled by the Court’s bold decision. We believe that it sets an important precedent that will serve to deter other perpetrators from trafficking girls and women for sexual exploitation. 

The accused was called to answer to six charges including trafficking in persons, promoting trafficking in persons, interfering with travel documents, being in possession of proceeds of crime, engaging in business without a work permit, and unlawfully employing foreigners without work permits. 

Uncovering the exploitation

The case was first reported by the Daily Nation, a Kenyan daily newspaper in June 2019, following the arrest of the Nepalese women and girls by the police as part of their investigation into trafficking and sexual exploitation. The women and girls have since been repatriated to Nepal in July 2019, following collaboration between the International Organization for Migration, Trace Kenya, and government actors.

The women and girls were brought into Kenya to work as dancers at the New Rangeela club, an exclusive bar owned by a Mombasa-based businessman, where they performed the mujra dance. They were each assigned and identified by buckets that were marked with their stage names and numbers.

This case highlighted the complexities surrounding the prosecution of sex trafficking matters including the often multi-jurisdictional nature of sex trafficking, the vulnerability of survivors and victims, and poor implementation of anti-trafficking laws.

A landmark case

We know that perpetrators of sex trafficking and exploitation take advantage of sex, gender, and structural forms of discrimination and inequality that are inherent in our patriarchal society that disproportionately affect women and girls, and is glad that the Court confirmed this reality. 

The Court also found the accused to have been deceptive and that he took advantage of the victims’ financial vulnerability stating, “…the women and girls were kept in a state of slavery and subjected to practices similar to slavery being used to get money from customers at the bar. The exploitation of the girls was also manifested in the way their movements and communication were controlled.”

Equality Now’s Yvonne Oyieke explained, “This is a landmark case for us; finding cases where sex trafficking and sexual exploitation have been successfully prosecuted is difficult. Traffickers are often prosecuted for offenses related to labor trafficking but not nearly enough for trafficking for sexual exploitation, despite its high prevalence. This is because the nature of sex trafficking offenses is complicated, requiring the engagement of several actors to establish the case. Reporting of such cases is also low. There is a lot of stigma associated with sexual exploitation, and victims fear that they will not be believed or taken seriously by the authorities.” 

Equality Now will continue to work collaboratively with Trace Kenya seeking to raise awareness around the prevalence of trafficking for sexual exploitation, and the various laws and policies that exist in response. 

A key aspect in bringing perpetrators to account is ensuring that all justice sector actors are aware of and fully rely on the various anti-trafficking laws that exist. Equality Now and Trace Kenya will thus continue to engage various stakeholders and advocate for full implementation of the anti-trafficking laws in Kenya.

Sex trafficking is a global problem, affecting women and girls in every country in the world. Equality Now will continue to work to highlight the vulnerabilities that render women and girls more likely to be trafficked for sexual exploitation and to advocate for global and collaborative solutions that are grounded in international human rights law and standards.