Sun, Safaris and Sex Tourism in Kenya

Prostitution Turns Child Exploitation

Sex for payment is so common in Nairobi, on the coast of Kenya, particularly in the vacation towns of Mombasa and Malindi, that the thirst for prostitution has led to the widespread exploitation of children. Kenya is now considered one of the worldwide hubs for child sex tourism.

In 2006, UNICEF released a report on child trafficking in Kenya revealing that up to 30 percent of teenage girls ages as young as 12 living on the coast were involved in casual sex for cash.

And it's the Western tourists who are driving the trade, according to the report. Men from Europe make up more than half of the clients.

"Tourists that exploit children are at the center of a ring of corruption that involves many from the local community," the report states. "It is vital that the adult perpetrators and not the victims themselves are prosecuted for these crimes."

In Mombasa, young Kenyan men, known as "beach boys," are known to couple up with older white women, often Western tourists who have flown down specifically for sexual encounters. Just like their female counterparts, these young men are supplied with money and some prestige of being the "boyfriend" of a rich Western tourist.

Kenyan Prostitutes Hope for Rescue

But the reality of what these arrangements mean for young Kenyan women and men are usually much different than the fantasy they are selling. Some are not actual professional prostitutes, but poor young men and women who believe a rich "white knight" will come and rescue them and give them a life of Western luxury.

While there is the occasional story of a couple who end up in a loving, long-term relationship, for the most part, it's the Kenyan who ends up eventually suffering. Kenya is still a relatively conservative, religious society, and men and women who get involved in "relationships" with tourists are often ostracized.

"For the tourist, they really don't care," said Naruk. "The attitude is: 'I can have sex with you, I can make you pregnant, I can even infect you with HIV and move on with my life. As long as I give you money, it's fine.'"

She tells the story of an acquaintance of hers who at 23 years old became involved with a 45-year-old British man in Kenya on business. He wined and dined her, and when his business was over he went back to the United Kingdom, leaving her pregnant. Naruk says her friend has not seen the man in years. The encounter ruined the woman's life.

"She had to quit college, her job and move back home with her mother," said Naruk. "She has never recovered, and her child will never know his father."

And while most Kenyans admit that no one forces these young women and men to get involved with Western tourists, they are unhappy about the reputation for easy sex the country has -- and they place the blame squarely on the "immoral" behavior of the tourists coming here.

"It's like, because you're white and you have money you can get away with all of this, and it's OK," said Naruk. "But it's not."

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