Kenya: Sex-Trafficked Women and Girls Also Vulnerable to Organ Trafficking

Nairobi – With the highest rate of human trafficking in East and Central Africa, several nongovernmental organizations in Kenya are now under investigation by INTERPOL , the world’s largest international police organization, with 188 member countries. The Interpol Sub-regional Bureau for Eastern Africa is based in Kenya’s capital in Nairobi.

Young women as well as girls who are trafficked can also become a living supply for human body organ transplants.

“Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of using their organs, in particular kidneys, is a rapidly growing field of criminal activity,” says INTERPOL. “In many countries waiting lists for transplants are very long, and criminals have seized this opportunity to exploit the desperation of patients and potential donors,” continues Interpol.

The trail of corruption in Kenya may also reveal human trafficker’s collusion with Kenyan authorities which may include the police and intelligence, as well as the judiciary. This alleged collusion may enable the illegal industry to grow as it goes ‘unchecked’ inside the country.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most prevalent destinations for trafficked organs is Western Europe and the United States. These destinations have the highest number of patients waiting for a new kidney, liver, heart or pancreas.

Organizations currently under investigation are based in Kenya’s capital Nairobi and in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city. For legal reasons the organizations cannot be named since investigations are ongoing and there are pending court cases.

Investigations are also revealing that young girls under the age of 16 have been trafficked to Europe and the America’s.

“Victims are often misinformed about the medical aspects of the organ removal and deceived about the sums they will receive. Their health, even life, is at risk as operations may be carried out in clandestine conditions with no medical follow-up,” continues INTERPOL.

A growing number of naïve young women, who’s families are tricked by traffickers into thinking they will have a better life once they are in their respective western countries, can find themselves trapped inside an illegal organ ‘donation’ crime ring as their own organs are removed without their consent.

While many are trafficked for commercial-sex-work or for work as domestic household servants, a growing number of women are trafficked into and out of the Kenya for other purposes.

With the growing global rise of diabetes, along with the damage the disease can create in the kidneys, the demand for kidney transplants is on the increase. Currently Kenya has over six million diabetics and over 2 million people in need of kidney transplants.

Global organ trafficking is not something new.

“Organ trafficking appears to be occurring as flagrant and direct violations of the law of many countries with a flourishing of broker nations, intermediary brokers and corporations,” said the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2003. “The consequences are not merely for individuals; trafficking also has major “social, economic, medical and political” repercussions for involved countries,” continues the WHO.

Organizations in Kenya currently under the attention of INTERPOL are also being investigated on matters relating to local kidnappings of young women and girls who have allegedly been taken to backstreet Kenyan clinics in order to remove their internal body organs, such as their kidney and/or liver.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) is also investigating over 15 Kenyan based organizations involved in collusion with the illegal practice. Investigations are also looking into the misuse of donor money which has been connected to human trafficking.

“It is a shame that organizations that are supposed to protect the voiceless are now abusing their rights,” said Omar Hassan, a commissioner with KNHCR. “Many senior Non Governmental Organization officials have become wealthy over a short period of time and cannot account for their wealth,” he outlines. In 2011 KNHCR has been receiving international acclaim in its efforts to fight justice.

Even though KNHCR has been active over the last year in exposing human traffickers, many obstacles have also been in the way. Individuals inside Kenya who are immune to legal accountability, despite the new 2010 Kenya constitution, are still part of the norm.

While the majority of women who enter Kenya with human traffickers are brought into the country for sex purposes, a growing number are entering the country largely to donate internal organs for what could be considered ‘a throw away fee.’ Some of the most unfortunate women are not paid anything for their contribution and only left for dead.

A percentage of these ‘donations’ come through backstreet clinics in Nairobi and Mombasa. The illegal procedure comes with many dangers. Unethical doctors involved in the organ trade are often short on proper or adequate training with safe transplant medical procedure.

Kidneys and pancreas are the most common human organs illegally transplanted. Illegal heart and corneal transplants are also found in Kenya.

Today a Kidney transplant in a well respected Kenyan hospital can cost as much as $20,000. But a poor South East Asian immigrant in Kenya can receive just $650 in a backstreet clinic in Nairobi for a donated kidney. In South Africa the price is much higher. Someone interested in selling their organs can be paid up to $20,000 or more to ‘donate’ a kidney in a public hospital.

As the needs for kidneys increase throughout the world the rates for kidney transplants also rises. In 2007, the cost in Russia for the sale of one kidney was set at approximately $25,000. In 2011, the total medical expenses for a kidney transplant procedure supervised by a medical team in a standard U.S. hospital is a staggering $262,900.

The situation for organ trafficking is strongly dependent on supply and demand.

“In the United States for instance, kidney donations between 1990 and 2003 increased by only 33% while the number of patients waiting for kidneys grew by 236%,” says author and Professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley Nancy Scheper-Hughes.

Currently Kenya has no enforceable law that regulates the transplant of kidneys or other internal body organs. There is also no reliable law that protects women, men or children from this kind of trafficking. Analysts have blamed the growth of illegal back-street clinics performing organ removal to the lack of laws in the country.

Located near the bottom of the list by German human rights group Transparency International with a 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index of 2.1, Kenya shares its position with Russia, Cambodia, Tajikistan and Congo-Brazaville.

Brought to the industry by a desire for financial gain corrupt government officials; organ brokers; airport officials; doctors and hospital personnel; police mortuaries and organ banks and repositories perpetuate the rise in the globalization of organ trafficking.

Recent 2011 improvements in corruption in Kenya have been visible though as judicial reforms aim to give stronger legal culpability to government officials causing some Kenyan leaders to face increased legal examination and accountability.

“Already, the country is in the process of extraditing a former Finance government Minister to the United Kingdom to face charges of money laundering,” says Judy Thongori, a family law attorney based in Nairobi.

Kenya’s new constitution is expected to come into full implementation in 2012 when the country holds its first election under the new system. With laws and policies on the table, lawyers say that justice inside the country will improve as new laws and the new constitution are fully established.

“Justice is still on since the constitution was promulgated last year. But we hope by next year, many of the pending cases will be solved fairly,” says Thongori. ”The new law gives hope to many Kenyans, unlike the previous one; it holds many leaders accountable for their actions.”

While numerous Kenyan women are trafficked outside of Kenya to provide human organs for organ transplants, many others are also trafficked into the country to provide live potential organ donors. Most women who become victims to these traffickers easily fall through the cracks, as many come to Kenya from conflict affected regions in and surrounding Somalia.

“Of late there have been so many migrants from Somalia who have been involved in all sorts of activities such as prostitution. Most illegal immigrants in the country come from war torn Somalia Republic,” continued Thongori.

In an attempt to slow the tide of trafficking, the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently working with respective countries to return trafficked children, who have been identified, back home to their families.

Organ trafficking is also an issue for children. According to the United Nations Convention Against Organized Crime, also known as the Palermo Protocol, outlines the punishment for traffickers, especially for those selling women and children through exploitation.

“Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs,” says the protocol.

Consent of the victim is “irrelevant” says the Palermo Protocol. Transporting, harboring and holding a child for exploitation is considered by the protocol to be ”trafficking in persons” even if none of the usual means of trafficking are employed.

“We are doing what we can to make sure that many of these children return safely to their families. It is not an easy process since the laws in some of those countries mostly in Western Europe give a lot of requirements,” said an official in the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs who is not allowed to speak to the media. In the past few months, the country has deported hundreds of illegal immigrants to their home countries as a way to battle human trafficking and dealing.

But how many legal patient recipients for organ transplants are most of the women in Kenya?

“…the circulation of kidneys followed established routes of capital from South to North, from East to West, from poorer to more affluent bodies, from black and brown bodies to white ones and from female to male or from poor, low status men to more affluent men. Women are rarely the recipients of purchased organs anywhere in the world,” says Professor Scheper-Hughes.

A new Birth and Deaths Registration Bill 2011, which is still in review in Kenya’s transitional parliament, may be instrumental in tracking illegal crimes in the human organ trade, which can happen easily without consent or public knowledge after death.

For the first time a formal registration of all deaths and births in Kenya will be “compulsory,” which hopes to help with the problem of illicit human organ harvesting. The ‘cause of death’ is also required to be included on all death certificates and signed by a medical officer who has knowledge or who has been in attendance at the death.

Under the new law, those taking charge of the body after death, such as administrators of funeral homes or mortuary facilities or other institutions handling a body following death, will also be traced and named.