Though Thailand is the most well-known s*x tourism hub, Kenya’s coast is rapidly becoming a popular destination for people looking for underage prostitutes.
A UNICEF study found that as many as 30 percent of girls aged 12-18 in Kenya’s coastal areas are involved in some form of s*x work. UNICEF also estimates that among Kenyans’ s*x workers, one in 10 began before reaching puberty.
S*x work, including for children, is seen as an acceptable means of earning a living in coastal Kenya. To parents and relatives, a child with a white tourist as a girlfriend or boyfriend is the fastest way to get the family out of poverty.
Young girls and boys are encouraged by their families to look for tourists who will cater to family needs. This means families will purposefully keep the children out of school to free them to search the beaches for “work.”
Sr. Redempta Kabahweza, a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa who recalled rescuing two girls aged 10 and 12 from two Italian tourists who had s*xually abused the girls for two years. Many tourists, drawn by the cheap cost of living and the ready availability of s*x, purchase homes and live in the area for all or part of the year.
“After school, their older cousin would take them to a private beach house where the Italian men lived,” said Kabahweza. “They would be s*xually exploited and their older cousin was paid the money.”
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The sister described the trauma of counseling the older girl. “I would get her into the counseling room and, once I closed the door, she would start shaking. Preparing her to testify in court was very difficult because she had to recall all the horrific s*xual experiences,” said Kabahweza. The girls lived in the center for five months before they moved in with their aunt.
The cousin was arrested and released on a 200,000 Kenya shillings ($2,000) bond. The two Italian men left Kenya immediately after the girls reported the case to the police. Many offenders escape detection for a long time because they abuse children in private residences, particularly along the coastal areas of Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu.
S*x tourism is a serious business on Kenya’s coast, including pimps or “beach boys” who act as intermediaries. Kazungu is urging the government to allow the child protection department access to private villas in cases of suspected child s*xual exploitation without the current restrictions.