How sex tourists beat the law in coastal havens

A sailing boat at Mfangano Island. Sex offenders are now engaging in the illegal practice in boats sailing deep into the sea to avoid arrest.

A sailing boat at Mfangano Island. Sex offenders are now engaging in the illegal practice in boats sailing deep into the sea to avoid arrest.

Paedophiles and tourists looking for sex with underage girls and boys are shifting from the big hotels and establishments to private villas, smaller guest houses and boats sailing offshore to protect their dirty secrets, a new survey has revealed.

The number of children exploited in Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastal region has risen, and it is estimated that in Mtwapa alone between 10,000 and 20,000 children are trafficked for the purpose of sex tourism.

The survey by a Dutch NGO finds that Italian, German and Swiss men form the bulk of the foreign tourists who sexually exploit these children, but it also says Kenyan men make up 39 per cent of the perpetrators.


The survey by Terre des Hommes Netherlands confirms earlier findings that the sex workers usually engage the services of witchdoctors to ensure they attract a steady supply of rich clients.

The researchers found that the allure of the foreign tourist is greater than that of a local tourist as he or she is often able to pay more and is likely to be a client who comes periodically, thereby allowing the women and girls to have more than one “boyfriend”.

Many of the girls and some boys provide a steady income to their impoverished parents. Others make tidy sums of money from procuring the girls to sex tourists.

Lead researcher Desmond Boi said the situation is appalling and requires that affected societies, the government, investors in the tourism industry and Non Govermental Organisations combine efforts if the practice is to be eradicated.

“It looks like many organisations have been glossing over the issue. When we went in, the magnitude, in my simple description, would be devastating. We are talking about children suffering the worst forms of exploitation,” Mr Boi told the Sunday Nation.

He said older members of the society seem to have accepted the exploitation as a way of life and a source of income.

“The society has turned a blind eye because they draw income from it. We have pimps who take children to tourists for pay. They proudly say they have even paid school fees through these cruel activities,” he said.

Mr Boi says any investigator who wants to nail the big fish in the trade, including raiding hideouts, has only to pay a small amount of money but authorities may be unwilling to tackle the issue.

The research shows that the “deep sea” child sex tourism – where the “clients” rent a boat and sail into the ocean — is now becoming widespread.

 “The solitary environment makes it easy to coerce the child into meeting all the client’s demands. It was reported that a considerably higher number of victims are threatened or harmed with some even thrown into the sea,” according to the report that was concluded last month.

The deep sea exploitation of children is said to be favoured by foreign tourists because it offers them greater protection.

“Other players have since filled the vacuum, and these include small hotels, brothels, villas, taxi and tour operators. Workers in big hotels have also become link points between tourists with other agents who in turn link them to children. Simply put, child sex tourism has changed its face and has become more difficult to detect,” the report says.

“According to several key informants, boda boda has now emerged as a new sector contributing significantly to the increase in child exploitation. Boda Boda provides instant and regular income to the riders, most of them youths with no major financial burdens.


This regular disposable income gives boda boda riders an elevated status in the community which they exploit to lure the already gullible children into clandestine sex.”

According to the boda boda riders interviewed for the survey, young girls rarely turned their sexual advances down for fear of not getting the free rides they would get in return.

It is also reported that organisers of traditional dances have used children and school dropouts in their shows and that tourists often request the services of performers after the dances for sexual purposes.

But the report says the Children’s Department in Nairobi was under the impression that such exploitation had been detected and stopped.

Researchers singled out Malindi, which has a large population of residents and visiting Italians, and says their high numbers have opened doors for contacts with locals who are used to provide children to tourists.

According to the report, another element in the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Malindi are the female domestic workers who work in “guest cottages” that are mostly owned by expatriates.

It is reported that the cottage caretakers take photographs of the domestic workers and send them to guests abroad so they could “select their girl” before arrival.

Researchers found that some poor households encourage their daughters to sell themselves to tourists to give the family a livelihood.

“In fact, in most communities in the coast region, white tourists are referred to as gold for the considered change of better life they bring to their partners and their families.

Consequently, a large number of parents push their daughters and sons to befriend the white tourist and would marry them off to whites as soon as such a treasured opportunity unveils, much to the envy of some other parents and children who can only fancy such opportunity,” the researchers reported.

Poverty and the fact that societies tolerate the practice makes it hard to fight the crime because those who are supposed to report exploiters seem to encourage them.

A 14-year-old girl interviewed in Ukunda reported that she was under intense pressure from her father to get a mzungu.

According to her, the father has little interest in her education and cares even less if she does not attend school. Instead, he sees her as an end to his family’s poor state and hopes she will “search hard” and find a mzungu to marry her.

The researchers, who say they were often rebuffed at establishments from which they hoped to collect data and where they suspected that child sex tourism was taking place, say the Mombasa Coast Tourism Association says the picture is not all that grim.

According to the association, 70 per cent of the 827,000 international tourists who visit Kenya each year visit Mombasa and the majority are families, honeymooners or pensioners, with only a small percentage of individuals travelling alone.

“In the face of these statistics, it could be deduced that the tourist industry is not primarily sex-oriented,” says the report. “Nevertheless, in view of the large number of street children and curio vendors, the potential for increased commercial sexual exploitation of children must be recognised and preventative strategies put into place without delay.”




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