What you need to know:
- In the past few months, there have been growing appeals on social media over missing family members, but that seems to be as far as it goes.
- More disturbing, however, is that the perpetrators of these abductions, torture and murders have also increasingly been targeting innocent, defenceless children.
One family in Nairobi’s Zimmerman estate has been living in agony for a month now after their 14-year-old son, Abraham Nhial, disappeared without a trace on June 5.
Nhial went out to get a haircut during the recent school midterm break and was not seen again, said his father Daniel Mawut.
“He asked for Sh50 to go to the kinyozi and never returned. We have been looking for him ever since. We don’t know what to do as police keep telling us that they are still looking for him.”
The family had not received any calls for ransom, he said.
“We’re just trying to look for him. We aren’t sure whether he is alive or not. There’s no news about him,” he said.
A few metres away, the family of three-year-old Franklin Gicheru is desperately searching for the boy, who vanished on June 22 after breakfast.
Franklin’s parents James Mwangi and Loise Mwangi are in agony over his kidnapping in broad daylight. On the fateful day, James said he was notified by a neighbour that his son was seen walking away with an unknown woman. The neighbour thought she was a relative of the family.
“But owing to the rise in the cases of children disappearing in the area, she called to make sure,” he recalled. “Yet even before I picked up the call, the neighbour told me, the lady had already disappeared with my son,” a distraught James recounted.
The two disappearances were two weeks apart, but many more children have vanished leaving families in anguish. At least 61 children were reported missing between March and May 2021.
Although some 33 were found, with the whereabouts of the rest unknown, Missing Child Kenya, a non-governmental organisation, says there’s growing concern that a criminal network could be stealing the children.
In the past few months, there have been growing appeals on social media over missing children, but that seems to be as far as it goes.
Recent cases of missing children have caused great concern among parents in Nairobi. Every other day, it seems, another picture is posted of a young son, daughter, cousin or sibling who has disappeared.
More disturbing, however, is that the perpetrators of these abductions, torture and murders have also increasingly been targeting defenceless children. The fears are not misplaced given the horrific ending to the kidnap in May of eight-year-old Shantel Nzembi.
The girl was kidnapped in Kitengelain Kajiado County. Her abductors demanded Sh300,000 in ransom. The family contacted police only for the girl to be found dead days later.
In June, 11-year-old Priscilla Naserian, from Kajiado, went missing. Her body was later found dumped in a bush a few kilometres from her home.
Early this month in Moi’s Bridge, Eldoret, Linda Cherono, 13, who had been missing for several days, was found murdered. In Kasarani, Githurai and Zimmerman, victims who have been rescued and other eyewitnesses describe a woman reported to be luring the children with goodies.
The mystery woman has been cited by the family of 12-year-old Stacey Wambui, who went missing on June 24 when she walked out to dispose of garbage. Luckily, she was found safe and sound almost a week later.
She was spotted at around 9pm abandoned in Githurai by a Good Samaritan, who took her to a nearby police post. Stacey’s father Stephen Kiarie said the girl was lured away by a woman, who bought her a meal before she later found herself in a lodging in Githurai 45, where she was spotted by the Good Samaritan.
Frankline’s parents also recounted their neighbour describing a woman who led away the boy who is still missing. Kasarani Sub-county Police Commander Peter Mwanzo said police are aware of the reports but are not sure whether it is one woman who is behind the kidnappings.
“Yes, we have heard of a woman being mentioned but we don’t know if it is the same one behind the kidnappings. A man and a woman are in our custody and the matter is before the court. The hearing begins on Tuesday, July 13,” Mr Mwanzo said.
However, the police will not be drawn into discussing whether there is a child trafficking ring on the loose.
Mr Mwanzo said although people, especially in Zimmerman, are taking to social media to report of missing loved ones, the station has received only six cases of three children and adults reported missing in the past month.
"There is a lot being said out there, but here as you can see in the Occurrence Book, very few cases have officially been reported. Two of the three reported cases of missing children have been resolved," he said.
At least 242 children aged 18 and below were reported missing between January and December 2020, the report by Missing Child Kenya said — 125 girls and 117 boys. Some of them were found and reunited with their families, while others were taken to government shelters. A few were found dead while others are still missing.
“A total of 131 children were found and reunited with their families, 16 have recently been found, 10 were found dead while 18 are still missing,” the report said. From 2016 to 2020, a total of 780 children were reported missing. Of those, 496 were found and reunited with their loved ones, 73 were taken to government-run children’s homes, 21 were found dead and 190 were still missing.
The report comes a few weeks after the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) cautioned parents to monitor how their children use social media and the people they interact with.
In a statement last month, the DCI alerted parents about human traffickers targeting young girls to sell as sex slaves: “Sex traffickers have come up with a new technique of kidnapping targeting teenage schoolgoing girls or those who have just completed their secondary education”.
“The crooks lure the young girls on social media where they access their personal details before enticing them into a trap,” the statement read.