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Untold suffering of Kenya’s children


Updated on 24 September 2009

By Jonathan Rugman

Jonathan Rugman reports on the child sex trade in Kenya, amid fears that up to 20,000 children are engaged in some form of under-age sex work – often with white men.

Kenya's beaches represent the best in tropical paradise, mutually beneficial for both the thousands of Europeans who head there and the locals who thrive from their tourism.

But Kenya's coast has a seedier face – visiting white men who pay children, some as young as three years old, for sex. In a country where ten million people are going hungry, there are fears that this abuse is spiralling.

Foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Rugman journeyed from around the villages of Mombasa, and then onto Mtwapa and Malindi.

Extracts from Jonathan Rugman's blog

Kenya's beaches are the stuff holiday brochures are made of – mile after mile of glistening white sand, kissed by equatorial sun. Tourism is a major money spinner for one of the world's poorest countries, but Kenya's tropical paradise hides a dark secret.

We have been on a harrowing journey – from nightclubs where European men pick up 12-year-old Kenyan girls; to an orphanage where children as young as six have found sanctuary after sexual abuse by foreign tourists.

A journey into a world of cruelty and desperation, a world we could scarcely have imagined. And both talking and filming with children brutalised and traumatised by their experiences has not been easy.

Our journey began in the nightclubs on the outskirts of Mombasa. Visit the Mtwapa suburb after midnight, and white male European tourists are busy ogling and fondling teenage girls.

The teenagers wear high heels, or pay a bribe at the club door to get in. The ultimate prize is a "muzungu " or white man, who will pay for sex five times what a Kenyan labourer can earn in a day.

But the price these girls are paying is nothing less than a stolen childhood.

Anastasia says she's 13 now, and has been prostituting herself since she slept with a British tourist at the age of ten, a crime which in Britain would be classed as rape.

Her parents couldn't even afford school shoes, so she set out for a better life amid the bright lights of Mombasa. That life is sharing a flat with a fellow prostitute, Leyla, who is 14. And both girls say the number of children involved is growing.

"When I started at the age of 12, I could go into a nightclub, and maybe I can get 10 or 20 girls," Leyla told me.

"At least you could count and say, 'that one and that one, they are prostitutes'. But now there are many, all over the place. Sometimes I get stressed. I ask myself, or God, what I have done wrong? I am still a child and I am doing this."

At that point in our interview, Leyla dropped her head in shame. Anastasia was crying.

Three years ago, a study by the UN children's agency UNICEF warned that there were thousands of girls like Leyla.

These are extracts from Jonathan Rugman's blog. Read the full blog now and watch the complete report tonight on Channel 4 News at 7pm.

Interview: Najib Balala, Kenya Minister for Touris

During the filming we spoke to the Kenyan Minister for Tourism Najib Balala MP (Mombasa). Below are some edited extracts from his interview:

On Kenya's tourism industry and its problems:

"We are going to surpass our best year, which is the 2007 figure of 1.4 million tourists. Our main source markets, the UK and US, had been hit by the economic recession. People are looking for deals. But people are still taking holidays.

"Yes, people take advantage and particularly in third world countries, where poverty is very pronounced. And people think that the easiest way to eradicate poverty individually is by sharing or selling their bodies and people take advantage. We don't have the magnified negative image of sex tourism in this country.

"We promote responsible tourism. We promote ethical tourism. We are going to take strict action on defaulters or criminals who are taking advantage of young children. As a parent as well as a country, we cannot afford abuse of our children, despite poverty. At the same time, if it is publicised, blown out of proportion, it will destroy the same effort of the eradication of poverty by destroying tourism.

"The only thing is that we might destroy the golden goose that is laying the eggs. Image is a problem we need to safeguard. Challenges need to be addressed, so we have to balance between the two."

On the 2006 UNICEF report:

"NGOs create an alarm for them to get funding, to use the abuse of children to get funding, and that is unethical. None of the UNICEF officers has been to my office. I will encourage UNICEF formally to send that report to my office….so that we can have a formal collaboration strategy together and be able to solve the problems.

"The government is working very hard to give food supplies to children, milk and other items to primary schools, so children do not go hungry. This particular report is 3-4 years old and it has not addressed what is current. There are efforts to make children go back to school, rather than allowing them to go to the beach.

"The Kenya Tourist (Police) Service…is going to be strict in the code of conduct on the beaches. Parliament is going to approve it hopefully by the end of this year. The hotel industry has been cleaned up. We are now going to move to areas which are not. Because of the publicity in the media we have decided to take action ourselves, proactively. We need to take action and I regret these things are happening.

 

Useful contacts

Soldarity with Women in Distress
http://www.solwodi.or.ke

The African Child Information Hub
http://www.africanchild.info

The African Child Policy Forum
http://www.africanchildforum.org

Unicef report on Kenyan child sex industry
http://www.unicef.org

Code of conduct for the protection of children from sexual exploitation http://www.thecode.org/

ECPAT UK
http://www.ecpat.org.uk/

 

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