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Exploring The Role Of Court Users Committees In Enhancing Access To Justice For Survivors Of Trafficking For Sexual Exploitation

A girl with her back turned to the camera

Trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation, also known as sex trafficking, is the most common form of human trafficking in the world. According to the United Nations Office on  Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2020 Report, sex trafficking accounts for 50% of the world’s detected cases of trafficking, compared to 38% for labor trafficking. Women and girls are the majority of victims of human trafficking, and make up 92% of all victims of sex trafficking. In Africa, sex trafficking mirrors the global situation with the majority of victims being women and girls, many of whom are vulnerable as a result of factors such as poverty,  little or no education, and are without viable economic options. They are lured by traffickers on the promise of better employment and living conditions only to be trafficked and exploited in the sex industry.

Sexual exploitation in Kenya

Kenya is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking, and women and girls are victims of both internal and external sex trafficking. In addition, Kenya is one of the countries with the highest levels of sexual exploitation in travel and tourism, also referred to as “sex tourism”, mainly along the coast with beach resorts, historical monuments, and other natural resources as major attractions that attract a high number of tourists and travelers. It is also rife in other inland areas in the rift valley, such as Nakuru and Naivasha, with its natural attractions. The most likely victims of sex tourism are the most vulnerable in society including children, girls, those in child-headed households, orphans, and those affected by high levels of household poverty.

Sexual exploitation in its various manifestations remains widespread in Kenya and many women and girls have been denied justice where they have suffered this violation. The failure to fully implement relevant laws such as the Counter Trafficking in Persons Act as well as a lack of effective coordination among different relevant agencies has unfortunately allowed for impunity to thrive.

Court Users Committees

The Kenyan Constitution in a bid to enhance access to justice establishes the National Council on Administration of Justice (NCAJ). This council, which brings together all the relevant actors along the justice chain, is mandated to facilitate access to justice in several  ways, including the use of  Court Users Committees (CUCs).

CUCs are official convenings of actors who regularly use court services and, as such, have firsthand experience and information concerning the legal, administrative, and practical barriers to accessing justice. Convened under the auspices of the presiding judge or magistrate, CUCs bring together a police representative, a prosecutor of the court, a lawyer representing members of the bar who practice in that court, members of the community as represented by a non-state actor, and other relevant court users. Using specific guidelines,  they come together to discuss the prevailing issues brought before the court or those prevalent in the immediate community whilst addressing any barriers to accountability or redress for these issues through the court system.

CUCs, therefore, are a critical mechanism for promoting, facilitating and coordinating key actors in the justice and service delivery chain to function effectively and ensure optimal service delivery and justice for the public. As the day-to-day challenges are addressed at each CUC meeting, key lessons learned as well as the systemic barriers to justice are reported up to the NCAJ for resolution through heads of agencies.

Role of Court Users Committees (CUC) in ending sexual exploitation and sex trafficking

Given the high prevalence of sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation in Kenya, failure to see commensurate numbers of cases in court indicates the existence of barriers in accessing justice for survivors. In counties such as Kilifi, Mombasa and Naivasha where sex trafficking and sex tourism are rife, CUCs present the perfect entry point in addressing the accountability of perpetrators and access to justice and support services for survivors. CUCs have been identified as key actors in the delivery of justice in Kenya. They provide a platform for actors in the justice sector at the local or county level to consider improvements in the operations of the courts, coordinate functions of all agencies within the justice system, and improve the interaction of these stakeholders. 

Equality Now’s engagement with the CUCs

Together with our partners Trace Kenya and Lifebloom Services International, we have been engaging civil society actors, community-based and women’s rights organizations, in Mombasa, Kilifi, and Naivasha to mobilize and support them to highlight the barriers to justice for survivors of sexual exploitation in travel and tourism through their participation and engagement with respective CUCs in Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa. Through supporting civil society actors to analyze various survivor narratives, legal frameworks, and relevant reports, our approach allows meaningful state and non-state actors engagement toward justice for survivors of sexual exploitation.

In the broader context, our engagement with the CUCs fits into Equality Now’s ongoing work around ending sexual exploitation in Kenya. Using gender equality and human rights-based approaches, one key area of Equality Now’s work is to promote the enactment, reform and implementation of laws that protect women and girls from all forms of sexual exploitation and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for identified violations. 

Therefore, Equality Now is engaging with diverse state and non-state actors on the laws addressing sexual exploitation including sex tourism and sex trafficking, and ensuring that linkages between sex tourism, sex trafficking, and commercial sexual exploitation are acknowledged and addressed. 

Ultimately, we hope that this will promote the effective implementation of laws that protect women and girls from sexual exploitation in Kenya.