Kenya

Poverty drives Kenyan girls into sex work

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© UNICEF video
Following the death of her father, ‘Susan’ was forced by poverty into sex work in coastal Kenya at the age of 14.

By Chris Niles

MOMBASA, Kenya, 24 November 2008 — ‘Susan’ (not her real name) has been working as a prostitute since she was fourteen years old. She was forced into the business after her father’s death.

“Life was very hard. We would sell fish and if any was left over we would use it for a meal. We were many in the family and so I decided to try something. But it’s not because I like what I’m doing,” she said.

‘Susan’ is just one of thousands of young women in coastal Kenya who make their living as prostitutes. A recent UNICEF study estimates that at least 30 per cent of girls in the region are engaged in casual sex work, and they start as young as twelve.
 
UNICEF is working with its partners to address the causes and attitudes that make the sexual exploitation of children so prevalent.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
UNICEF and its partners are working to ensure that children who live in coastal Kenya are protected from the predations of the sex industry.

Poverty a driving factor

Poverty is one of the driving factors. Kenya’s tourism industry is booming, but it rarely provides significant economic opportunities for local residents.

“The lure of money to the families is huge. The parents see that when their daughters or their sons involved in this bring some money, their lives change and therefore they tolerate these things,” said Kenyan Government Director of Children’s Services, Ahmed Hussein. 

Helping vulnerable families

The government of Kenya began a cash transfer programme for vulnerable families in 2004. It now reaches about 65 thousand families. It has also introduced legislation to outlaw child prostitution and to ensure that children’s rights are protected.

Local businesses have signed a Code of Conduct, which commits them to discouraging tourists from exploiting children.

“One of the things we explain is that child prostitution is forbidden in this area. We also tell them that as a company we are signatories to the Code of Conduct and we completely prohibit it in our hotel and discourage it from the people we relate with,” said Chairman of the Hotel Keepers’ Association, Isaac Rodbrot.

Code of Conduct

Unfortunately, the Code of Conduct has not yet been signed by many of the smaller establishments in the region. UNICEF and its partners, including the government, are working to close these loopholes.

“There are a number of establishments that we have not reached, but we are going after them and I’m sure we’ll get to them, but how long it will take, your guess is as good as mine,” said Mr. Hussein.


 

 

Video

24 November 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on UNICEF and its partners’ efforts to end sexual exploitation in coastal Kenya.
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