Underage Prostitutes in Mombasa Share Their Stories
MOMBASA, Kenya — When Liz finished her primary school education and found herself unable to afford tuition for secondary school, her future looked bleak.
However, when her childhood friend invited her to Mombasa, with promises of a job and good life, she figured her fortunes were about to change.
But the moment she landed, the 16-year-old village girl discovered that she had been duped and trapped in a sophisticated web of the commercial sex trade.
“Immediately I arrived in Mombasa my host promised to secure me a job — which she did,” said Liz (not her real name). “But it later turned out that although I was to work in a saloon that doubled up as a massage parlour, I was forced to sleep with men.”
Liz said that when she protested the unfair treatment, her host threatened her with dire consequences, including being thrown in jail on trumped up charges.
“But what annoyed me most was when I discovered that she charged her clients, which included both tourists and locals, between 2,000 shillings (US$24) and 4,000 (US$48) shillings but only gave us 200 shillings (US$2.40),” Liz said.
“One day, together with two other girls we worked with, we ran away from our host and rented a one-room house and started visiting nightclubs and beach resorts to look for clients and that is what I have been doing for the past five years.”
Liz’s story demonstrates the problems of commercial sexual exploitation of children in the East African country.
But Liz said that the ordeal she has endured as she struggles to earn a living are not only degrading and humiliating, but also traumatizing.
“It is as if I have been to hell because of the harrowing experiences I have gone through at the hands of sexual perverts and I am now ready even to return to school if I can get a sponsor,” Liz said.
Liz and her friend, Judy (who also asked to be identified with a false name), stunned participants when they shared their stories during a UNICEF-sponsored workshop on protecting children from sexual exploitation in the tourism industry.
“Some of our clients demand that you massage them throughout the night, kiss them all over their body, while others want oral sex, but the worst say they prefer unnatural sex,” Liz said.
They talked about how they were subject to all kinds of humiliation, including being beaten up, being robbed by clients, being forced to have sex without condoms or being denied any payment even after providing their services.
“On one occasion I was thrown out of a tourist hotel after a disagreement with my client in the middle of the night, forcing me to seek refuge with watchmen who turned against me and attempted to rape me,” Liz said.
On another occasion, she was forced to trek for more than five kilometers in the middle of the night after being beaten up by another client and thrown out of his house after she refused to have sex without a condom, she said.
Their stories moved some of the workshop participants to tears, while others gaped at them in astonishment. But their presentations put a human face on the problem of commercial sexual exploitation of children in the country.
Elizabeth Akinyi, project manager of Solidarity With Women in Distress, is currently counseling and rehabilitating girls who have been forced to enter the sex trade.
A survey conducted by Kenya’s national statistics bureau suggests 10,000 to 30,000 children under 18 are involved in commercial sex, according to
Grace Banya, chief technical advisor for the International Labour Organization, which works towards eliminating child labour.
“What is terrifying is that some of the children involved in commercial sex are as little as 10 years old yet this is the worst form of child labour,” Banya said.
Banya said her organization was planning to conduct surveys in 10 districts in Kenya to establish the extent of the use of child labour and the necessary steps needed to address the problem.
The government’s failure to ratify two international protocols on children’s rights has undermined the campaign against violation of children’s rights, according to Joanne Dunn, UNICEF’s head of child protection.
Although the country signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, optional protocols on sexual exploitation and trafficking and children involved in armed conflict were not ratified.
“Despite being a signatory to both optional protocols of the CRC, Kenya has yet to ratify (them), and enforcement of even minimal protections available for sexual exploitation is low,” Dunn said.
Dunn said the failure to ratify these protocols has undermined efforts to curb incidents of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.
Mohammed Hersi, the chairman of the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC), says stakeholders recognized the dangers commercial exploitation of children poses to the tourism industry. They’ve initiated programs to eradicate the problem.
“Players in the tourism industry through KAHC have come up with a code of ethics for the sector, which they ratified last year to, among other things, deal with the problem sex tourism and child sexual exploitation,” Hersi said.
“Some foreign tour operators are already skipping certain hotels due to repeated concerns and complaints raised by upmarket and family tourists.”
Hersi asked the government to take the lead in protecting children’s rights by providing budgetary support for child protection and adopt appropriate social welfare policies for children.Africa, developing world, journalism, Kenya, prostitution, tourists