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Report reveals Kenyan child sex industry of ‘horrific’ magnitude

© UNICEF Kenya/2006/ Rohio
‘Tina’ was forced into becoming a sex worker when she could not support her baby.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 19 December 2006 – A report on Kenyan sex tourism has revealed that up to 30 per cent of teenagers in some Kenyan coastal areas are involved in casual sex for cash.

‘The Report on the Extent and Effect of Sex Tourism and Sexual Exploitation of Children on the Kenyan Coast’, released today in Nairobi, shows that the industry could involve 10,000 to 15,000 girls in the coastal regions of Malindi, Mombasa, Kalifi and Diani.

A further 2,000 to 3,000 girls work year-round in the sex industry, and nearly half of the girls began when they were as young as 12 or 13 years of age. (Click here to read the story of one 15-year-old who was drawn into sex-for-cash after having a baby.)

Code of conduct

Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori said the sexual exploitation of children in Kenya was “a vice that continues to grow to horrific magnitude.”

UNICEF Representative in Kenya, Heimo Laakkonen, said exploitation will only be defeated by a combination of reducing demand for child sex workers and prosecuting tourists and Kenyans who abuse children for sex. Mr. Laakkonen stressed that it was important to do so without criminalizing children. 

“Children who are exploited for sex are victims. They are the ones who are being abused,” he said.

One of the reasons the crime flourishes, the study found, is the extremely high level of acceptance amongst those who work and live around sex workers. Seventy-five per cent of bar staff, waiters and even parents said it was acceptable for girls to have sex for money and that families thought themselves fortunate if they could find such a way to put food on the table.

UNICEF is working with the tourist industry to expand endorsement of a code of conduct to educate hotel workers and their guests. 

‘Time for zero tolerance’

“We know that the problem is there and we are facing it,” said the Chairman of the Coastal Branch of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers, Mohammed Hersi.

The findings of the study were released at the same time as a wider UN campaign to stop such abuses following the release of the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children in October.

Mr. Laakkonen said the problem was enormous, but there was still hope because this issue has been addressed successfully in other countries.

“The time for zero tolerance of all forms of violence, and especially sexual violence against children, is now,” he said. “We must act to save our children from these horrific abuses before they do any greater damage.”




19 December 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the findings of a new study on the Kenyan child sex industry.
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