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Building local resilience to modern slavery after Covid-19

Research summary on the impacts of Covid-19 in Kenya and Senegal.

Published: 4th October 2021

This is a research summary of Building resilience against exploitation in Senegal and Kenya in the context of Covid-19, a Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (the Modern Slavery PEC) research project carried out by the Right Lab at the University of Nottingham in collaboration with Free the Slaves, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The full report can be accessed through the Rights Lab website.

This research looked at how COVID-19 affected trafficking in Kenya and Senegal. The team examined how systemic factors that contribute to resilience against exploitation are being impacted by Covid-19 in urban centres within Senegal and Kenya. The research provides evidence towards effective targeting, adaptation and implementation of anti-slavery interventions in the wake of Covid-19.

Key findings

  • The pandemic significantly increased risks and vulnerabilities that had already existed before its outbreak and are likely create conditions promoting exploitation in the months and years ahead.
  • The pandemic has increased vulnerability of children getting exploited in forms such as forced begging, domestic work, early marriage or sexual exploitation. The key factors contributing to this increase in vulnerability are economic pressure for families, high levels of poverty, the loss of housing and closure of schools.
  • Covid-19 restrictions have increased the delays in legal processes for addressing human trafficking increased the likelihood of hazardous migration, made repatriating people who experienced trafficking abroad more challenging.
  • Slow legal processes and a lack of training for judiciary and law enforcement agencies limited the implementation of legal frameworks which criminalise human trafficking
  • There was a noted absence of agreement between international definitions of slavery or trafficking and practices that were deemed to be exploitative by local communities

Priority recommendations

  • Reframe the anti-trafficking work. International governments and civil society should take time to agree on terminology that reflects a shared understanding of exploitation. The focus of anti-trafficking work should expand beyond children to include adults, families and the role of communities.
  • Adopt a whole-systems perspective on funding and policy implementation. Governments and development organisations and funders should work together with communities to address structural factors that are the key to making people vulnerable to exploitation. International funders of anti-trafficking interventions should consider funding these prevention-focused activities as well as more targeted measures such as victim identification and support.
  • Governments should review and address the impacts of the pandemic for anti-exploitation coordination and collaboration, from central to local levels and with civil-society organisations.
  • Build on local knowledge and expertise. Funders should draw more extensively on local and grassroots expertise, including local academic institutions, to plan and design effective interventions. More extensive use could be made of local languages to communicate law, policy and concepts relating to exploitation, and alternative communication methods explored.