A recent United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report revealed that up to 30 percent of girls aged twelve to eighteen in Kenyan resort towns of Mombasa, Kilifi, Malindi and Kwale are involved in the sex industry. According to UNICEF, nearly half of all girls entered prostitution as young as twelve or thirteen.
Much of the sex industry is fueled by tourism and, according to the report, European men – in particular Italian, German and Swiss nationals – represent almost half of all clients. Coastal communities are among the poorest in Kenya.
Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori called the sexual exploitation “a vice that continues to grow to horrific magnitude.” However, local community members are often complicit in the sexual exploitation. According to the report, a “staggering seventy-five percent of people involved in the tourism industry thought it was acceptable for girls to exchange sex for cash, and 60% said the same for boys.”
The head of Solidarity with Women in Distress, Elizabeth Akinyi, called on the Kenyan government for increased involvement. “The government is earning huge revenues from tourism, but at what cost?” she asked.
UNICEF is also conducting efforts with local hotel workers and their guests to combat the problem. According to Heimo Laakkonen, UNICEF Representative in Kenya, “The time for zero tolerance of all forms of violence, and especially sexual violence against children, is now. We must act to save our children from these horrific abuses before they do any greater damage.”
Worldwide, the numbers of child sex workers are staggering – approximately 1.8 million children have been forced into pornography or prostitution. The underlying causes are numerous, and include poverty, natural disasters and large scale urbanization.
UNICEF and ECPAT-USA are the two largest organizations working to combat child sex abuse.
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