Kenya, one of Africa’s most popular tourist destinations, is being targeted by Western paedophiles who are exploiting the country’s poverty and lax law enforcement to abuse children, an investigation has discovered.
Reporters for Channel 4 News filmed children – some as young as 12 – in nightclubs in Mombasa where they had gone to meet Western men who had travelled to the country for under-age sex.
Fees for sex with Western tourists can amount to almost five times what most Kenyan labourers earn in a day, and many view the industry as the only way of putting food on the table. “Fatuma goes everywhere because I have no food at home and no money to support her,” Filomena Kangombe, the mother of a 13-year old child prostitute told the programme makers.
At a clinic in Mombasa which specialises in sexual violence over a thousand children have been treated for sexual abuse in last two years - the youngest only six-years-old. Managers estimate that between 40 to 50 per cent of them have been abuse by foreigners.
Leyla, a 14-year-old Kenyan girl who has prostituted herself from more than two years. “When I started I could go into a nightclub, and [could count] 10 or 20 girls. At least you could count and say ‘that one and that one, they are prostitutes,” she told Channel 4 News. “But now there are many, all over the place.”
Much of the trade is propagated by the poverty and economic destitution that has engulfed Kenyan villages, making prostitution a desperate last-ditch option that pushes into the cities and coasts that are frequented by tourists.
In a small village near the town of Malindi, teenagers concede that it is normal for young children to sleep with African men during the low season to prepare for rich foreigners that are set to arrive later, while in a another village near Mombasa, local elders battle to stop their children from heading to the beach in search of sex with foreign visitors.
The film also outlines the plight of children such as Henry, a seven year-old molested by a white man in exchange for pocket money. Despite calls by his father to bring charges, police have told the parents that the tourist has fled to Europe and may never return.
Ms Kaluhi, who shares a flat with a 13-year old peer that first slept with a British tourist at the age of 10, concedes to feelings of guilt. “Sometimes I ask myself, or God, what have I done wrong? I am still a child and I am still doing this.”
Yet a few positive signs suggest that her calls may not remain forever unanswered. In the face of horrific child abuse scandals and authorities that prefer to turn a blind eye, some Kenyans have taken the law into their own hands. The documentary depicts locals hacking down a string of beach huts after discovering that a European tourist had been molesting nine year-olds children inside.
A Unicef report published in 2006 found that thirty percent of Kenyan children between 12 and 18 were engaged in casual sex for money, with over half their clients considered to be European.
According to the study, Italian, German and Swiss nationals were the most common clients – at 18 per cent, 14 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.
Sarah Jones, who wrote the Unicef original report, believes the problems have since intensified further. “We are talking about fifteen to twenty thousand children, and maybe more now, because the population has grown in that time.
“The researchers I work with tell me now that they have a lot of visual evidence of increasing numbers of younger and younger children.”
Meanwhile a new tourist police force is set to be patrolling the beaches by the end of the year. Kenyan Minister of Tourism Najib Balala told Channel 4 News that the government would take “strict action on defaulters, or criminals, who are taking advantage of young children”. But his statement is accompanied by conspicuous reservation that the issue is not “blown out of proportion”.
This, after all, is a country that would far rather be known for its coconut trees and coral reefs, than some of the darker reasons that tourists may be inclined to visit.
* The special investigation airs tonight on Channel 4 News at 7pm