Case Study: Complexities of Safeguarding – Experience from Western Kenya

Dr Willis Okumu, Researcher/Peacebuilding Co-ordinator, Anglican Development Services Kenya


Description of the work and the partners involved

Anglican Development Services (ADS) is currently carrying out a study that seeks to document youth experiences of human trafficking networks in Kenya. In our work we partner with local Anglican Parishes, community-based organisations and the National Government, especially through the offices of the County Commissioners, Deputy County Commissioners, Assistant County Commissioners and Chiefs in all ten Counties in which we work.

Further, we strategically engage Children’s Officers given their unique mandate of protecting the welfare of any child within the boundaries of Kenya. We are also collaborating with other national and regional organisations working on preventing human trafficking in Kenya, such as the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa. Internationally, we partner in this project with Anglican Alliance.

As well as collecting stories from those who have experienced trafficking, we are also interviewing their family members and other key members of their communities such as local administrators and the police. In our work we also seek to understand and document the key vulnerabilities that drive human trafficking in every County that we work in.

Safeguarding issues faced



In our field experiences in Western Kenya, we sought to observe and possibly interview young under-age Ugandan girls that are trafficked to Busia in Kenya to work in local pubs/brothels for sexual exploitation. Our decision to interview these young girls was informed by our observation of the influx of young under-age girls from nearby border towns such as Bugiri that cross over to Busia County to engage in sex work. These girls are structurally vulnerable from the household level and they are attracted to cross the border into Kenya due to better economic opportunities.

The challenge with safeguarding in the case of many vulnerable Ugandan girls is that they cross over to Kenya using kinship relations; communities across the border speak Iteso language, there are inter-marriages across the border and cultural affinities. These ensure seamless movement of people across the borders. Many of the girls that cross over are therefore trafficked by relatives and recruited into sexual exploitation.

On the Kenyan side, the clients that these girls serve are mainly security officers within the major towns such as Amukura. During our time in Amukura we observed that the very people mandated to protect minors such as these Ugandan girls were the ones exploiting them sexually. The other complexity that we observed was in regard to the effectiveness of the law when dealing with these under-age girls. Even though Kenya and Uganda have anti-human trafficking laws in place, enforcement of these laws to protect young women from vulnerable communities or households was lacking.

Moreover, due to familial relations between victims of trafficking and traffickers along the Kenya-Uganda border, it was very difficult to convince these young Ugandan girls that they were indeed in a trafficking and sexual exploitation situation. We noted that they ‘trusted’ their link persons. This points to a general lack of awareness of what human trafficking entails. The lack of awareness of the exploitative and undignifying nature of human trafficking enables these dehumanising acts to be seen as acts of charity.

One situation we encountered involved ‘Lucy’,[1] a 19-year-old girl from Kisii County, about 250 kilometres south-west of Busia County in western Kenya.  She had been lured to come to Nambale town in Busia County to work as a waitress in a ‘local hotel’ by a friend.  Lucy lost her parents to AIDS at the age of 10. She grew up alongside her elder brother in her uncle’s house until she sat her high school examinations in 2018. By the time she sat her exams, her brother had left home and joined one of the local universities in Kenya in pursuit of undergraduate education.

After high school, Lucy found herself in constant disagreements with her uncle’s family. She felt that she was no longer wanted there, and she had not performed as per their expectations and therefore did not qualify for government subsidy to attend college. So she took up her friend’s offer to travel to Nambale to work as a waitress. When she arrived in Nambale, she realised that her workplace was actually a brothel. She was given a room away from her colleagues. Her room was next to the owner’s room and she confided in one of our female colleagues about the rape ordeals she underwent at the hands of her boss. While at the brothel, she was under constant watch and was not allowed to leave the premises. 

After listening to her story, we decided to intervene. We spoke to the senior clergy in one of our dioceses and it was agreed that if we could help Lucy escape from her bondage, the church would offer her a safe house. After two days, she managed to escape. We received her in Malaba town and escorted her to the house of one of our senior clergy, where she was received by the clergyman’s wife. The case of Lucy points to structural vulnerabilities such as poverty, broken families and lack of safety nets for the vulnerable as contributing factors to the challenges of safeguarding in Kenya. Human trafficking, as the case of Lucy has shown, also takes place within the network of friends.

Challenges and barriers


  • The ADS research project was not envisioned to offer protection services to survivors of trafficking, but in many cases, we encounter cases where we have to intervene.
  • Generally, the protection infrastructure is almost non-existent, this is a huge challenge for prevention and protection of survivors.
  • In other cases, the victims/survivors do not want to go back to their home countries, thus they would rather stay in the exploitative environment.
  • In terms of legislation, the Kenyan government passed the Counter Trafficking in Persons Act in 2010, but so far only one person has been prosecuted using the law.

Actions taken to overcome the challenges


In this specific case, we took the following actions:

  • We took time to listen to the victims of trafficking, to understand their situations, hopes and aspirations.
  • We asked the victims if they wanted to leave the pub/brothel/ sex work.
  • In the case of Lucy, we organised for a motorbike rider to pick her up once she felt she could leave/escape, and we sought permission from the clergy on her behalf so that she could get accommodation (protection). We also collaborated with the clergy to ensure her placement in a vocational training institute.
  • In the case of the Ugandan girls, we sought to inform the Deputy County Commissioner in Teso South and the Children’s Officer on the ongoing sexual exploitation of minors in Amukura, though no action was taken.

Outcomes and impact


Our project is focused on projecting the voices of victims of trafficking. By listening to their stories, we seek to project their voices in terms of responsive policy change and interventions. In the case of Lucy, we managed to rescue her from an exploitative situation and placed her in a protected environment.

In our engagement with the Ugandan girls, we informed them that they were in an exploitative situation that was illegal by both Kenyan and Ugandan laws. They felt, however, that going back to Uganda was not an alternative to them. They expressed the desire to proceed further inland to other Kenyan towns such as Kisumu, Eldoret and eventually to Nairobi.

Unresolved issues


The policy environment is still not helpful to victims of trafficking, the law focuses on prosecution and not prevention or protection of victims. If the law were more educative and empowering to local communities then it would be easier to protect many young girls from being exploited.

What would have made the situation better for you / your organisation or project / survivors


Personally, I was not fully prepared to handle someone who had undergone a lot of emotional turmoil. I felt inadequately prepared to handle a victim of trafficking. Secondly, most of the victims of trafficking are women; being male, I had to rely on a female member of the team to reach out and engage many of these victims, so I was limited in not being able to engage them directly. If I had any basic training on handling people who have undergone trauma, it would have helped a lot in navigating these emotionally draining experiences.

For ADS Kenya, the expectation is that as part of the Anglican Church of Kenya we can provide empathy and also offer practical solutions that addresses victims’ challenges, for example provision of protection services; this we don’t have and we therefore rely on the kindness of our clergy. The Anglican Church of Kenya has massive infrastructure across the country, including children’s homes and vocational training centres. It is time for the church to seriously consider using its massive infrastructure and goodwill to protect victims of trafficking such as young and vulnerable girls who face exploitative situations daily.

For the victims, I felt that we needed to walk with them longer to enable us to document their progress, but given that this is a research project we could not offer elaborate victim support services. Partnerships between research projects such as this one with local victims’ protective agencies could enable a deeper understanding of victims’ journeys, rehabilitation and repatriation processes and experiences.

Strengths or skills that helped

In my team we were two males and a female. The composition enabled us to talk to women who are the majority victims of trafficking. Secondly, being a faith-based organisation was a clear strength because the church is trusted and once the victim heard that we were from the Anglican Church they trusted us and opened up more. Lastly, our focus has been on projecting the voices of victims and this we do by listening more to them, this enables victims to open up and the whole session therefore becomes not an interrogation but a conversation based on humanity.

Lessons learned from listening to the perspectives of those directly affected

One of the key lessons learned from this specific experience is that human trafficking is local as it is international. The focus of human trafficking research has so far focused on cross-border, but in Kenya local trafficking especially targeting women, girls and children from vulnerable backgrounds needs to be looked into as well. Future research needs to focus on policy intervention and public education to stem this vice.


[1] Not her real name.