Saturday, May 19, 2007

Vicious Circle: Poverty, HIV, Neglect, ending in the Sex Business

KENYA: Youth, sex and tourism on the coast

With so many tourists on the coast, and so few other jobs available, for some there is little option other than to join the sex trade. “There are no jobs and to get a job is very hard. We look for jobs but we can’t get any because there are so few,” said Alice

Many other young women, however, are forced into prostitution by members of their family, according to Stella Muchiti Mulama, assistant programme manager and researcher for the Straight Talk programme. “Children are often coerced into prostitution by elder people […] Parents actually push their children to do sex work. It happens quite a lot. Sometimes mothers, who are also involved in sex work, bring their daughters into it too. We have had stories of mothers forcing their children to have sex with clients in order to earn their school fees, she said.

Elizabeth Akinyi, the head of projects at the Coast Province branch of SOLWODI agrees with this view: “Parents play a big role. The children of sex workers are very much at risk. They are abused by the customers that come to see their mothers; sometimes the girls are also made to serve the men.” There are however many other factors that bring young women and girls into the sex industry: peer pressure, financial and social circumstances, and low aspirations, added Akinyi.

“Peer pressure is also a big factor as well as a lack of basic needs. There are children who are staying in families that are very poor. There are parents who can’t even afford to give their children sanitary towels. There is also the issue of ‘this is what I want’. There was one girl who was saying to me, ‘I wanted to buy these hipster jeans, but my mother refused, so I did this [prostitution] so I could get the jeans’,” she said.

Although earnings in the sex trade can vary widely, potential income is much greater than if working in any other profession. According to sex worker, Jane [not her real name], 22: “It [the income] depends on the competition, the season and where you are. It’s never specific. In the low season you end up offering yourself for 20 KES (Kenyan shillings) [US 30¢] if the tourists aren’t there. It can be 5,000 KES [US $70] if the tourists are there. House help is very badly paid. I used to go around and wash people’s clothes. But at the end of the day they give you 150 KES [$2], which is nothing. So you have to look for other ways to pay rent and buy clothes,” she said.

Winkler said, “Many children […] are orphans because of HIV. This often leads to them dropping out of school, and lack of education. I see it as a kind of ‘vicious circle’, starting with poverty, HIV, neglect, and ending in the sex business at the [Kenyan] coast.”

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