The following article was originally published by UNICEF in 2006.
A recent UNICEF-backed report on the effect of sex tourism in Kenya finds that exploitation thrives because many in local communities look the other way.
By Pamella Sittoni
A new report conducted by UNICEF and the Government of Kenya finds that thousands of girls in coastal tourist areas are being exploited in the sex-for-cash industry. Here is one girl’s story.
MOMBASA, Kenya, 20 December 2006 – “If my father knew that I do this, he would kill me,” says Annie (not her real name). “But he does not provide enough for me and my daughter, so I have to do this to make some extra cash.”
Annie is from a lower middle-class family in Mtwapa, a coastal township near Mombasa. Kenya. She lives with her parents, who put food on the table and pay rent and other bills. As far as the family is concerned, Annie is an obedient child who is never out of the home beyond the 8 p.m. curfew set by her father.
But what they do not know is that Annie goes out almost daily in search of men. “Most of the men are Kenyans,” she says, adding that they pay her from $3 to $8 for sex.
Occasionally she has had sex with tourists, who pay up to three times more. “But it is not easy to get tourists. I can’t go to the beaches to hunt for tourists because police are always on patrol and they would arrest me,” she notes.
Influenced by peers
Annie is barely fifteen. Her daughter is 11 months old.
Her troubles began when she got pregnant while in Standard Eight. “My parents started treating me like an outcast,” Annie recalls. “If I asked for anything, they would ask me to find the man who gave me the baby to buy whatever I needed. They always reminded me that I had let them down in school.”
Like many other teenagers in Mtwapa, Annie was introduced to sex-for-cash by her peers. “They told me I could earn money easily by simply having sex with men,” she says.
‘I will forget about this life’
But Annie is aware that what she is doing is dangerous. “This is not a good life,” she admits. “Sometimes the men treat me badly. Sometimes they refuse to pay me and chase me away. Sometimes they do terrible things to me which I can’t even describe.
“The most horrible ones are the bouncers, who demand that I have sex with them before they allow me into the club where I could meet the tourists,” she adds.
“My father has said I should go back to school next year and repeat Standard Eight. Once I go back to school, I will forget about this life,” Annie says hopefully.
Annie's experience is not rare in the Mombasa area. A UNICEF sponsored study estimated that 25-30% of 12-18 year old girls are involved in prostitution at least part time which corresponds to 10,000-15,000 children. About 3,000 of these work full time as prostitutes. About 44% of the customers come from Italy, Switzerland and Germany; about 40% come from Kenya and the rest come from other parts of Europe and Africa as well as the Middle East.