He was 12 years old, growing up in an informal settlement in Nairobi. In the afternoon, he left school to walk the five kilometers home, as he always would. That day, a car he had seen frequently near his school stopped next to him, and the driver offered him a lift home. The boy was excited. He had never been in a private car before – this would be fun! Trustingly, he boarded the car.
Once inside, the driver forced a substance into the child’s eyes that left him paralyzed. When he woke up, he was in another country. He was brought to a farm and left with the owner there. His place to sleep was with the goats. He herded goats and poultry for that family. At that farm, he met another Kenyan boy, an age mate whose body was marked by frequent and brutal beatings and who had never found a way to escape in two years. The children did not understand the local language, and the next houses were far away. They were threatened not to communicate with anyone. When they tried to speak to visitors at the farm, the owner physically assaulted and beat them. They would be denied food often and mostly live on milk and very light food.
They endured this life for five years.
One day the farmer beat the other boy so violently that he later had to take him to the hospital. There, the child was admitted with severe injuries. At night, the boy escaped from the hospital. We have no knowledge of where he went or how he is doing, we only hope he is well.
That his fellow sufferer managed to escape gave the boy hope and courage. Not long after that, visitors came for a celebration at the perpetrator’s house, and the boy overheard a lady saying she intended to go back to Nairobi that same day. When she left the house, he followed her secretly to a stage where she boarded a pickup. He sneaked into the back of the car and hid where the luggage was. At the last stop, he went off. He immediately knew he was finally back in Nairobi from the language he heard around him. Someone helped him to get to the stage where the matatus left for his home area. The boy had no money, but the matatu took him for free. The collector simply said: “You just go home.”
Arriving near his place, he did not find the way home. The area is large and most streets have no names. People nearby accompanied him to the next police station. The boy remembered the name of his school, and when the police called, teachers recognized him and alerted his parents. Five years ago they had reported their child missing to the police, now they are reunited. That day, there was great joy and many tears.
The Long and bumpy road to Justice
The parents and the police took the boy to hospital for treatment. When he got better, the police asked him if he could recognize the person. He remembered the car and was able to give an accurate description, and he also informed the police that he had frequently seen that car near the school before he was abducted. The teachers were informed which car to look out for. One day they really saw and reported that car, the owner of which was arrested and taken to the police as a suspect.
When the boy was asked if he could identify the person who had offered him a lift five years ago, he answered without hesitation: “I will never forget that face.” He went to the police station and identified the suspect as the person who abducted him.
The accused defended himself by giving information on the exploiter to the police: He argued that he had been paid to get the child, but was not the one who exploited him. He passed on the information that the perpetrator came to Kenya regularly. When that man tried to do so the next time, he was arrested right at the border.
At that point, HAART was involved to support the boy with his reintegration. This included psychosocial support, therapy, but also legal aid. At present, we also work with his mother for economic empowerment.
Remember, the boy had been trafficked directly from school, and since then he had never again been able to visit a class. At that time, he had developed a learning disorder. He could not write or read. He went to therapy for a couple of years and underwent a process of getting better. HAART supported him in all of this. Finally, the boy was able to go back to school again and begin to learn, starting from scratch.
In order for his family to support the boy while he goes back to school, his mother needs to be financially stable to pay for lunch and transport. So as HAART we also involve and work directly with her. One of HAART’s Caseworkers is supporting the mother in setting up a business plan and empowering her in her economic capacities so that the boy can go to school.
The court procedure dragged along for quite some time with the judgment was postponed several times, and we even feared there might be corruption involved to delay the case forever or bribe the accused out of justice. But HAART got a personal lawyer for the boy, and then the case finally moved forward and the judgment was delivered early this year. The court acquitted the person who kidnapped the boy, but the man who exploited and harbored him for years was sentenced to a long time in jail.
Five years of violent exploitation and separation from his family cannot be undone. Also, the long duration of the court procedure was hard for the family. Nonetheless, after so many years, at last, there is some justice.