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Modern slavery: The complexities of fighting a faceless enemy

Theresa May is leading a Global Commission on Modern Slavery meeting in Nairobi aimed at accelerating political momentum to achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking.

It is Monday afternoon in a tiny compound in one of Nairobi’s suburbs. A dozen teenage girls are hurdled in one of the corners, waiting patiently for a very special guest, Theresa May.

Until today, some of them had only read about her on the internet and maybe a couple of times watched videos of her on YouTube answering tough questions in the House of Commons.

Today it’s their turn to ask the questions, though not as tough as those fielded by British Members of Parliament. It’s also their chance to tell their stories with the hope that the brief interaction will inspire a wind of change that will break the shackles that have enslaved millions of others around the world.

One by one they greet the former Premier, who is on a global assignment to get governments talking and taking deliberate actions to end modern slavery and human trafficking. They then begin to narrate to Mrs. May how they ended up at the Maisha Girls Safe House.

Pendo *not her real name* was trafficked from Nairobi to Nakuru to work as a house manager. She had just dropped out of school when a relative convinced her to take up the role. Determined to help her parents cater to her three younger siblings, she put her life on hold and moved in with a family in Nakuru with the hope of raising money to send back home.

“Everything seemed normal at the beginning, until my boss’s husband began sneaking back to the house to sexually abuse me,” Pendo tells Theresa May. “He would force himself on me and threaten to kill me if I uttered a word to his wife.”

“For weeks I was restricted to the compound, and never allowed to venture outside, until one afternoon when I was finally sent to buy groceries,” Pendo says with teary eyes. Overwhelmed, she then pauses before she continues to narrate how the shopkeeper took her by the hand and whisked her to the nearest police station.

“On our way to the station the shopkeeper told me that he had been monitoring the happenings at the home and felt that I needed saving, ” says Pendo.

Just like Pendo, every girl here has a story. Moraa* says she was molested in Kisii, trafficked and raped in Narok, then trafficked once again to Nairobi where she endured more sexual abuse before she was rescued and sent to the safe house.

Sheila* has been at the Maisha Girls Safe House for 7 years. She says that in that time, she has managed to finish high school and is now studying criminology at the University. Sheila appears oldest among the girls here and has a litany of questions for the former British Premier, who chairs the Global Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.

“What are you going to do to ensure perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence are made to pay for what they are doing to us?” Sheila asks Theresa May. “I cannot promise that results will be achieved by tomorrow, but we are in this to ensure governments recognize the magnitude of the problem and raise political momentum towards the eradication of modern slavery and human trafficking.” May tells Sheila.

The Global Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking is an international initiative led by The Rt Hon Theresa May, MP, aimed at accelerating political momentum to achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking. The Commission comprises CEOs, former world leaders, academics, and influential civil society leaders.

The recent Global Estimates of Modern Slavery report revealed a rise of 10 million people forced to work or marry since 2016. The report estimates that about 50 million people are currently living in modern slavery. Launched on 5th October 2023, following a scoping study that highlighted the urgent need for such an initiative, the Commission seeks to address the increased vulnerability to exploitation exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, new and protracted conflicts, and the direct effects of climate change.

May is leading the Commission at a meeting in Nairobi and has convened cross-sector stakeholders to discuss the direct impact of these issues in Kenya and across the African continent. While in Nairobi, the Commission will also host meetings with African leaders, civil society organizations and people with lived experience to acquire a geographical perspective on a range of issues such as the effect of conflict and the civil society response in conflict situations, forced labor in supply chains including mining sectors in the region. The visit will be a scoping exercise ahead of the Global Commission report due to be published next year.








Edward Kabasa
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