As many as one in ten children in Mombasa in Kenya are thought to be either selling themselves or being forced into having sex for money, and a warning this story contains sexual references.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Imagine a town the size of Adelaide with tens of thousands of child sex workers. There’d be a national outcry. Well that is the case in the busiest port in East Africa, Mombasa. There are some estimates that as many as one in 10 children in the city either sell themselves or are forced into having sex for money. Africa correspondent Martin Cuddihy reports from the Kenyan coastline, and a warning: his story contains sexual references.
MARTIN CUDDIHY, REPORTER: Where Swahili culture meets the white coral sands, it’s the mix for a perfect family holiday. Inviting waters and the warm hospitality have attracted people for generations.
JANET KIOKO, BEACH MAKER: Yeah, I’m loving the beach so much. I’m also coming here like every day, every time I’ve got some time, I go to the beach.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: It’s well known that Mombasa is the sort of place where you can buy a holiday companion, for a month, a week, a day or even for a couple of hours.
Mombasa has long been a place of trade. For centuries, slaves from East and Central Africa would leave here bound for foreign shores. But today, human trafficking has changed. There are some estimates that in this city, there are as many as 40,000 child prostitutes.
A few streets back from the beach, away from the resorts and pubs, women and men make life-changing decisions. They’re desperately poor and many sell their bodies to the tourists who come here. Some of the prostitutes are as young as eight and 10.
PAUL ADHOCH, HEAD, TRACE KENYA: I’ll call it a crisis and it’s an increasing crisis in the sense that, one, it’s not even being addressed, it’s not even being seen.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: Paul Adhoch is the head of Trace Kenya. It’s an aid agency working to return trafficked children to their families and eradicate child prostitution.
PAUL ADHOCH: I’m appalled. I’m unhappy about it. That’s why we’re doing something about it too. One, we’re making communities aware that relationship with mzungu (white man) or with any other person as such does not necessarily pull you out of poverty.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: Some of the children involved are from Kisauni. It’s just five kilometres from the centre of Mombasa. There are a variety of reasons why they become sex workers. Some are forced into prostitution by criminals, others do it without their parents’ knowledge, some are even pimped by relatives, including their parents. In communities like this Kisauni, mothers worry about their daughters.
GRACE MAGOME (voiceover translation): I’ve been asking around and I was told my daughter had been out and she’d started taking drugs. She’s very young, just 14.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: Grace Magome’s teenage daughters are sneeking out at night. She doesn’t know where they go, but they come home with money. The girls tell us about an underage friend who sold herself to a mzungu, a white man.
CHEBET MAGOME (subtitles): Yes, he abusing her because the mzungu (white man) sleep with that girl. And that girl is too small, but the mzungu (white man) is big. He is abusing that girl.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: It’s local knowledge that the epicentre of child prostitution is a place called Mtwapa. It’s difficult to film here because of the sensitivity of the subject. Perhaps what’s most telling is that you do see tourists, but very few of them are women. Most of the visitors are older men – wazee in Swahili.
JANET KIOKO: I know the place, I know the beach very well. I’ve been here for some time. Now the wazee (older men) from the white man country come here looking for little girls under 12.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: When the sun sets, the pubs and the hotels come alive. Prostitution is illegal in Kenya, but sex workers keep the bars full. Most of the clientele are older white men, many with younger partners.
EUNICE NYARIMBO, SEX WORKER AND EDUCATOR: They really affect them, ’cause some of them, they want maybe – maybe she’s – she started at the age of 14, now she started, she want to get married, she cannot get her children, some day contact HIV and AIDS and they have chronical STIs.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: Eunice Myarimbo is a 35-year-old sex worker and she’s also a peer educator.
EUNICE NYARIMBO: So if you want to use this female condom, so you put it like this and you push. After you have pushed, you put your finger inside here.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: She says some of the older women in the industry perpetuate the problem and explains it from their perspective.
EUNICE NYARIMBO: I’m growing older, so I have to recruit new young girls to the market. But now for the men, they cannot come for the old ladies, they come for the young ladies.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: Today, there are several underage prostitutes learning how to keep themselves safe. One of them agrees to meet us at the beach later on, 17-year-old ‘Phoebe’. She’s been working for two years.
‘PHOEBE’, UNDERAGE PROSTITUTE (voiceover translation): I was a school dropout and there was no work to do. My friends invited me to join them. I thought it was cool.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: She recalls an occasion when she and her friends were forced into group sex by white tourists.
‘PHOEBE’ (voiceover translation): My friends and I were there with them and after that they refused to pay us. They said that they were naughty and that sort of thing. They did not want virgins. They only wanted anal sex.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: Many now suspect paedophiles tell each other just how easy it is to break the law in Kenya.
PAUL ADHOCH: I think there is a network and I think they believe that you can get sex with children and I also believe that quite a number of these travellers, the mzungu (white man), they come here specifically for sex or for sex tourism.
JANET KIOKO: It’s still happening. Even if they say it’s got to stop, but it doesn’t stop, because the children are so poor, they are sent – sometimes they are sent by their parents to come and get money from the mzungus (white men), so they do come and fetch money and then they go back.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: The illegal trade has links to other countries in East and Central Africa. Some children are abducted from their homes and trafficked from as far away as Somalia, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo. When they arrive on the coast, innocence is stolen and dreams are robbed by predators from abroad.
PAUL ADHOCH: They are not relaxing on some beach or enjoying wildlife. They are specifically deep in the communities, in poverty-stricken areas, looking for sex, nothing else.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: And that is the problem at its most basic level: poverty. And for as long as that lasts, so too will child prostitution.
LEIGH SALES: Martin Cuddihy reporting.