A Kenyan man, James Zengo, who was at the center of a BBC Africa Eye investigation, has been convicted of trafficking disabled children. He has been given a 30-year prison sentence or a fine of 30,000,000 Kenyan shillings ($242,000; £196,000).
An undercover investigation by the BBC revealed that Zengo and other human traffickers transported disabled children from Tanzania to Kenya. The children were promised a better life in Kenya; however, upon arrival, they were made to work as beggars in the streets of Nairobi while their captors kept all the money. Some of the victims claimed that if they did not earn enough money, they would be beaten.
These criminals are taking advantage of Kenyans’ generosity to profit from a long-standing practice that has evolved into organized crime. One of Zengo’s victims, Fara, who has spent the better part of his life beggaring on the streets of Nairobi, was trafficked from Tanzania in 2014. Fara lived with him in a house in Kariobangi, being mistreated, and leaving every morning to go to his begging station.
Zengo misrepresented to Fara’s mother that he would provide her a portion of the more than Sh700,000 that Fara earns on an annual basis, but this has never materialized. Fara is made into a slave by his exhaustingly long days of begging for nothing. He was taken in by the Zabibu Center after the rescue and is now learning a skill there as he waits to reunite with his family.
An individual beggar can earn up to Sh4,000 per day, which is then split among an undercover network of traffickers, motorcycle taxi drivers, and minders who all play crucial roles in getting the beggars from their temporary home in a shanty in Kariobangi to their begging stations. These criminals also keep an eye on them during the day in order to secure their gains and guarantee that they do not expose their identities to anyone.
The children, some of whom spend the entire day crawling on the streets in search of spots with high human traffic to boost their earnings after a full day of begging in the sweltering sun, cold, or rain, do not receive medical care when they become ill.
Zengo has a disability himself and was found guilty of the offenses yesterday. The judge, however, warned that he might find it difficult to live in prison because of his condition. The judge was also lenient; she stated that “Since this is your first offense, I’ve given you the lowest possible sentence, which is to pay 30,000,000 shillings.” If you don’t have it, you’ll spend 30 years behind bars.
Child trafficking in East Africa
In Tanzania, mothers are duped into handing over their children to human traffickers under the guise of providing them with a means of support, not realizing that they are handing them over to be abused physically, sexually, and mentally.
The BBC documentary showed that there are a lot of security gaps at the Kenya-Tanzania border, which is where children are trafficked. Human rights observers have also criticized the Kenyan government for turning a blind eye to the situation of crippled beggars in the streets who were well known to have been trafficked to Kenya. If the East African country had swiftly taken measures, disabled children would not have spent close to 10 years begging in Nairobi streets.