In Kenya, half of the people living in the country are below the poverty line. Climate conditions have restricted farming and families are suffering the economic consequences. In order to help raise needed money, young children offer sexual services to men living in and visiting Kenya, with studies showing one of every ten children in Kenya were involved in sex work before they reach puberty.
Trafficking for sexual exploitation grosses $32 billion per year, and according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), two million children around the world are believed to be exploited either by prostitution or pornography. Kenya is located in the horn of Africa where they are still feeling the effects of El Nina, which caused severe droughts. With such water deficits, farmers are not able to grow food for the 10 million Kenyans who can’t afford to buy it. Desperate, children are forced to perform sexual acts for money to Kenyan men and tourists. Most children perform five times a week, and this behavior greatly increases their chances for contracting HIV/AIDS, which is already widespread in the area, because most of the time they are practicing unsafe sex.
The African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), has been a recipient of the Gates Award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and since 1957 has worked with children in need of medical attention. With clinics set up around the country, Project Manager Rosemary Kamanu, in an interview conducted by email writes, “we meet children that have gone through cases of abuse” and that they are “living on the streets, are sodomised either as rape and in some cases they are paid by older persons.”
The majority of young people having to conduct these acts are young girls, estimated to be 30 to 45 percent, starting when they are twelve years old. They live together in slums outside the city and then go out to clubs at night where they are usually paid 20 ksh, equal to 22 US cents.
Tourism is a major part of Kenya’s economy, bringing in one billion dollars a year. But most Kenyans do not benefit from the industry. Many tourists come to Kenya to visit the beaches, which are known to be some of the most beautiful in the world; this is also where some tourists find these young children. While Kenyan men make up 38 percent of the abusers, studies show Italians (18 percent) Germans (14 percent) and the Swiss (12 percent), are all taking part.
One of the ways to reduce the number of children from having to perform these acts is to provide families with the tools they need to take care of themselves. UNICEF, a long with the Kenyan government, implemented a cash transfer program in 2004 where families are given money in order to improve their quality of life. So far, the program has reached over one hundred thousand families in Kenya, and aims to reach close to thirty thousand by the end of July. When the program first started in December of 2004, a select group of people were chosen based on their socioeconomic needs. Many families had fathers who were sick, unemployed, and members had HIV/AIDS.
The money they were given was used for food, school uniforms, and cooking oil. In the discussions that took place with the families, they agreed to make school and health a priority for their children. Other family members benefited as well. Half of the families who first received funds had members who were HIV positive or developed AIDS, and the money was used to buy them anti retroviral treatment. However, they all said that the money given to them was not enough to cover everything.
While the results of the cash transfer program are promising, there are still problems monitoring the progress of the endowed families, and dividing up the limited monies. On Friday, Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki is going to sign the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization’s Golden Book. By doing so, he is hoping more tourists will come to the country, spend money, and help grow the economy. But enforcing the laws that do protect children are weak, and hopefully Mr. Kibaki will be encouraged to protect some of his country’s most vulnerable citizens.