Child Prostitution Thrives in Kenya’s Coastland By Moraa Gitaa

Child Prostitution Thrives in Kenya’s Coastland

By Moraa Gitaa

Published on Mon, Sep 22 2008 by Moraa Gitaa

It has been proven futile to try to discourage these amorous men from sleeping with girls some as young as their granddaughters. A favorite word that has been coined in reference to their young catches is Katsanga Kenye. The Mijikenda (the nine sub-tribes inhabiting coastal Kenya) word for a very young girl.

Every other year, reports have been published about. Child sex-tourism at the coast and donors from the west double their efforts in contributing towards the kitty of NGO’s to fight the vice that is sexual exploitation of our children, but it is not abating. It has only gotten deeper and dirtier because poverty is not being alleviated.

It has even been noted that senior officials from the Tourism ministry and senior police officers hide their cars in corners adjacent to Mnazi Mmoja Road in Mombasa, a twilight red-light district so to speak where young girls ranging in ages from 11 to 17 are kept by pimps.

Talk to some of these young ‘children’ and they mention names of their clientele and the list reads like the ‘Who is Who’ in Kenya.

Some journalists may remember an incident that happened several years ago. It happened before the very full glare of a battery of local and international media. Politicians were campaigning ahead of a looming General Election at a famous beach hotel in Kilifi. A young girl aged about 11 had caused a commotion at the gate when the beefed up security personnel had denied her entry. She had thrown tantrums and screamed and refused to leave saying that she had an ‘appointment’ with one of the presidential aspirants! ‘’He is my man! How can you stop me from meeting my man? We spent last night together and he gave me a date to come here for some more money today!’’

To say that the gathering was shocked, would be the understatement of the century. But why would a 10 year old tell such a tale?

Nevertheless, she was let in and it took the combined efforts of a senior security personnel and an aide to the aspirant to calm her down, take her aside and gave her a fat brown envelope for her ‘trouble’. The child smiled happily, took the envelope and left.
Yet despite such incidents, even as a society we abet such acts. In Bamba district of Kilifi district I encounter another spectacle. Young girls are taken to Bamba market by their fathers and paraded. Men of varying ages including the elderly octogenarians ogle them and pick young ‘wives’ some as young as 10. I’m told it is an annual ‘event’. I am utterly shocked. To me it is reminiscent of the slave trade, yet we are told that it is only the ‘wazungu’ (white men) who are defiling our children.

The tourist police department was introduced several years ago and their remit is to protect the tourist and her or his interests and generally keep law and order, but It seems that roles have been reversed and that now for child prostitution to thrive in coastal Mombasa, the children pay the police for protection and for them to look the other way. In some cases it has been reported that police act as intermediaries for a commission.

Beach operators and beach boys whom I encountered in my few days in the coastal province, I deduced are recognized as key middlemen in sex tourism. They offer a number of different ‘services’ to tourists ranging from the licit to the illicit. They even go as far as identifying clients and girls or boys and negotiate rates and venues!

They, like the female sex workers, look for women and men tourists to form long-term and commercially fruitful relationships. A few operate as pimps with a ‘stable’ of several girls for whom they obtain clients. This, I established is a more common practice among Muslims and local girls who face a greater risk of being ostracized by society if seen soliciting in public. These middlemen are usually close male relatives ‘helping their sisters get the elusive jobs’. Commissions are charged up to 50 percent of the negotiated rate.

One girl I met even confided in me that her own brother was the one ‘hustling’ to get her clients!

Tourist hotels and workers are the direct beneficiaries of the tourist trade. Many of the hotels, particularly, mid-range hotels who have suffered during the downturns in the tourism sector do little to discourage sex tourism. Superficially, most appear to have checks in place to prevent tourists bringing underage sex workers / boys and girls back to their rooms. However, these are frequently monetary checks and balances and the hotels benefit as non-residents of a hotel pay a cover charge to drink at the bar, or if a tourist brings a guest to spend a night in their room, they pay double occupancy rate for the entire length of their ‘guests’ stay. The hotel workers are known to act as procurers for resident tourists.

Mr. Mohammed Hersi the Chair of the KHKCA (Kenya Hotel-Keepers and Caterers Association) recently said on the popular Louis Otieno ‘Live on the road’ TV show in Mombasa that private villas run as tourist cottages are actually out of the hands of the KHKCA and that they live such villas in the hands of the police.

The Government receives tax directly and indirectly. They include license fees, business levies and the fines levied on arrested sex workers and tourists. The Treasury benefits a lot as tourism is the second largest source of foreign exchange.

I caught up with former Malindi Mayor Gideon Mungaro who during his terms in office, residents agree that he tried his best and brought positive change to Malindi, which improved the image of the popular resort town. The charismatic persona’s take that society has failed our children and that the salient silence shrouding child sex tourism and the low prosecution rates of foreigners coupled with the compromising of the children’s parents enables the crime which is the flesh trade to grow.

My prayer is for all hoteliers to sign the Code of Conduct by UNCICEF that promises to help curb and contain this plaque that is child sex tourism.

If we do not stand up for our children, the child slavery will continue to rob our children of their child-hood and our nation will be wiped out.

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