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Supporting young girls in Kenya's tourism sex trade

Primary school girls walking to school in the Kwale area of Kenya
Primary school girls walking to school in the Kwale area of Kenya

The stories coming out of Malindi in Kenya about young girls involved in sex tourism are not isolated incidents, nor is this issue limited to Western tourists.

A UNICEF report from 2006 found that up to 30% of teenagers in coastal Kenya are involved in some form of sex for cash. The issue extends along the whole of the coastal region of Kenya including Diani Beach in Kwale County just south of Mombasa where Build Africa is raising funds for a project aimed at addressing issues for girls.

Prostitution is prevalent in these areas for two key reasons: 

Firstly the coastal regions of Kenya are some of the poorest in the country. The land is arid and dry and people are faced with persistent droughts. Land grabbing has been a huge issue leaving many subsistence farming families homeless and having to find other ways to earn a livelihood.

Secondly, the attitudes towards girls at the coast makes entering into prostitution an easier transition than it might be in other places. A Build Africa consultation carried out in 2013 revealed that girls in this area are viewed as a commodity by their families: Their value comes from the bride-price paid when they marry and as such they are not considered worthy of investment, often being denied an education and married off young. Many girls seek support from men outside of their families to provide their basic needs and are involved in transactional sexual relationships from a young age. One primary school girl aged 13 told us “if my father is not willing to support me why should I not go looking for support from other men?”

Girls also grow up surrounded by very negative attitudes.

As one head teacher from a local secondary school told us “boys are told they can do anything but girls are told from day one that their only role in life is as a wife and mother”. As girls in the area being given limited opportunities and little encouragement to continue with their education the ones who have found and married a white man are often seen as something to aspire to; “sex tourism here is a big attraction for girls. They see it as the easy way, my way [referring to education] is the hard way.” The transition from transactional sexual relationships into full-time sex work is often seen as an easy step and one far too many girls along the coast are making.

Unfortunately with prostitution come many problems. We met with one great grandmother living nearby a school Build Africa supports. Each of her four daughters had been involved in the sex trade and had contracted HIV and died from AIDS. Her grand-daughter had also recently passed away from the disease having also been engaged in sex tourism. She had been left to support her five great-grandchildren at 80 years of age and when we first met them was keeping the only girl out of school to assist her with the baby. Build Africa worked with our partners at the coast and spoke to the local community who raised the issue and the girl is now being supported to attend school.

Education is the only way out of this vicious cycle for girls in the area.

Build Africa is raising money to start a project working across Kwale County to improve the situation for girls and address these issues. In addition to working closely with girls to ensure that they have an understanding of the power within themselves to do and be more, we are targeting parents and community members to support girls to remain in school; teachers to ensure they are equipped with the skills to teach them and boys to ensure that they understand the value of girls. 

Please help us to support the girls of Kwale County. Donate now.