Human Trafficking in Taveta sub-County, Kenya: Context, Experiences and Policy Challenges

Posted on 17 October 2019 by Dr Willis Okumu from Anglican Development Services (Kenya)


Taveta sub-County is located in Taita Taveta County in the former Coast Province. It is about 305 kilometres from Nairobi and borders the Tanzanian town called Holili. Taveta lies along the Voi-Mwatate-Taveta-Holili-Arusha route. Taveta is therefore a major border point with a One Stop Border point manned by Kenyan and Tanzanian customs/immigration officials. Demographically, Taveta is inhabited majorly by the Taveta people. Other communities inhabiting Taveta include the Pare people who also inhabit the Tanzanian side of the border. Immigrant communities such as the Luo and Luhyia also came and settled in Taveta in the 1970s as sisal plantation workers. Other communities that have also settled in Taveta since the 1980s include the Kikuyus and the Akamba. Taveta is a major trade center that attracts Kenyan and Tanzanian traders. The open air market in Taveta is on Tuesdays and Saturdays. As per the 2019 census, Taveta sub-County has a total population of 91,222[1] persons.

The Context of Trafficking in Taveta sub-County

Taveta sub-County lies at the Kenya-Tanzania border. Trafficking victims found in Taveta include young girls who are duped by truck drivers into sexual relationships and moved across international borders for sexual exploitation. Tanzanian children also come to Kenya to work in the farms and also to help carry farm produce (bananas) to Taveta market, this happens mostly on Mondays and Fridays (pre-market days). Kenyan children with kin relations across the border are also easily trafficked into Tanzania to under-go female genital mutilation. Older girls from vulnerable households in Taveta often get recruited by local trafficking networks to work as house maids in Taveta town, Voi and even Mombasa city. Many young girls from Taveta are also recruited by human trafficking agents and sent to the Arabian Gulf to work as house maids.


Map of Kitobo location, Kenya-Tanzania border


We visited Kitobo location in Taveta. The last settlement at the Tanzanian border is Madarasani village. We met and interviewed Chief Yunus Jireji and he detailed cases of Ethiopian victims of trafficking being ferried in the night through the Taveta-Kitobo-Madarasani-Moshi route to Tanzania and onwards to South Africa. According to Mr. Jireji, the Kenya-Tanzania border is vast and unmanned and therefore easily enables traffickers to ferry victims of trafficking through the thicket.


Shops at Madarasani center in Kitobo location along the Kenya-Tanzania border in Taveta, Kenya


Human Trafficking in Taveta: Experiences from the Field

In Taveta sub-County, stories detailing people’s experiences of trafficking are abound. I met a young Tanzanian girl called Nazia who came to Kenya in 2016. Nazia claims that at the time she came to Kenya, she was 16 years old. She was recruited by a mutual friend to work as a house maid in Taveta town. When she came to Taveta her monthly salary was KES. 2,000. As of mid last year she got a salary increment of KES. 1,000 and now earns KES. 3,000. Her work involves cleaning the house, cooking, going to the market to buy groceries and picking kids from school. Nazia loves her job and through her several Tanzanian girls some who are under-age have come to work for other households in Taveta town. Ultimately, Nazia hopes to get married in Taveta and acquire Kenyan citizenship.

In Taveta I also met Felicia a Kenyan woman, 31 years old and a mother of a 10 year old boy. Felicia was recruited by a lady known to her mother in 2012  and sent to Saudi Arabia to work as a housegirl. She arrived in Saudi Arabia in September 2012, she stayed at the airport for 11 hours as she waited for her employer to pick her up. In the end, the employer never showed up and instead, the Office Manager at her recuitment agency came and picked her up. She spent two days accomodated at the recruitment agency offices in Saudi Arabia. At last her employer arrived and took her home. She described the house as a ‘huge two storey building’ her job was to cook, clean and take the litter out’. The house was owned by a couple who had young primary school age children as well as teenage girls in secondary school. Felicia described her working conditions as ‘tough’ because she had to work long hours cleaning all the rooms, cooking, washing clothes and even at times cleaning undergarments belonging to the teenage girls. She narrated several instances when she was gropped by  men who came visiting her host family. After six weeks in Saudi Arabia, Felicia decided to quit employment, and for go her salary so that she could return back to Kenya.

Policy Challenges

In Taita Taveta County, many married women have left their homes to look for greener pastures in the Arabian Gulf. Most of the women view the opportunity to travel abroad to seek gainful employment as the only way to escape biting poverty coupled with the need to earn an income. The need for income is more exacerbated by local loan sharks (fraudulent micro-credit schemes) that have entrapped many women into loans with high interests that they are unable to repay. Illegal recruitment agents who really are town-based human trafficking agents understand that poverty drives the need for people to look for alternative sources of income. Many of the women who have travelled abroad im search for jobs do so in many cases with full knowledge of their spouses but their abscence at home leads to increased vulnerability of their children. The husbands in  end up in other relationships (marrying second wives) thus further exposing their families to continued cycles of poverty.

Unemployment among the youth in Kenya also leads to increased vulnerability and the exodus to the Arabian Gulf. In Taveta, many youth have been recruited through friends and relatives. In one particular case, we interviewed a Kenyan lady currently stuck in Saudi Arabia. She is a mother of one five year old girl. She left  Kenya in June 2019 after securing employment through local agencies. Her contract is a one page document that does not state her duties apart from the word ‘maid’. Neither does the contract outline her rights.

The lack of public awareness of Kenya Government information that pertains to seeking employment abroad also contributes to human trafficking. In Kenya, the National Employment Authority under the Ministry of Labour is responsible for overseeing the recruitment of Kenyans abroad. The National Employment Authority[2] is responsible for registration and monitoring of recruitment agencies that offer jobs to Kenyans abroad. Many of the young men and women that we interviewed in Taveta have never heard of the National Employment Authority. This means that many people travel abroad for jobs using their own local networks and unregistered recruitment agents/human trafficking networks. Thus, provision of information using apps like Just Good Work[3] could bridge the policy gap and enable many young people to search for employment safely without falling into human trafficking traps.


Our experience in Taveta sub-County has shown that human trafficking is a result of vulnerability within the household in terms of poverty and unemployment especially among the youth. The movement of young Tanzanian boys and girls who come to Kenya to seek employment under exploitative conditions can further be attributed to their own structural vulnerability within their households and within their nation. However, lack of enforcement of anti-human trafficking laws especially in Kenya and lack of coordination between key state offices such as the Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Labour has led to lack of awareness that massively contributes to the thriving of local human trafficking networks in the towns and especially among cross-border communities such as Kitobo locati


[1] Government of Kenya (2019) Kenya Population and Housing Census, Kenya National Bureau of Stastics, Nairobi

[2] National Employment Authority of Kenya (2020) List of Accredited Recruitment Agencies, National Employment Authority HQ, Nairobi