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Lack of jobs push youths into commercial sex

By Moses Michira | June 22nd 2013 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

A soft feminine voice comes on the line immediately the phone call is picked up on the other side: “This is Leila.”

The bedroom voice and exotic name are but tools of the trade in her given profession. She gives us quick directions and a run-down of the ‘personal services’ she and the other girls offer.

“I’ll meet you at the gate downstairs,” she says. “Call me when you get here.”

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Her fluent English and charm in the brief telephone conversation are proof her skills go beyond the bedroom. But that is what she seeks to sell when she adds: “I’m certain you will be a repeat client (after your first visit).”

Leila, a diploma graduate from the Technical University of Kenya, is a call girl working under a false name at a massage parlour in Nairobi’s Kilimani area.

She plies her trade alongside a dozen other young girls, some with better education qualifications than hers.

Her search for a formal job lasted eight months after attaining her diploma in Information Technology back in 2011. Having no one to support her through a lengthy job search, she ended up at this ‘personal services’ point that is no more than a drug and prostitution den.

The parlour is on the second floor of a high-end apartment block where young girls, below 26 years, earn a livelihood offering their bodies to rich men.

The massage services are an obvious façade; most of the girls expect to talk customers into sexual services, which pay more per hour. Here, clients get to choose anything from a basic massage, at Sh1,000 per session, sexual acts in the premises or ‘takeaways’ at between Sh5,000 and Sh10,000.


The skimpily dressed girls do not live here: They report to work in mid afternoon and typically stay on until around midnight on days when business is slow. Working hours are longer on weekends and holidays when things get busy.

Since she was recruited to this job in 2011, life has become more bearable, Leila says. She no longer needs to ask her aunt, whom she previously lived with in Lang’ata, for any financial support.

“At least I’m earning my own cash,” said Leila after we sat down to talk at a restaurant within the neighbourhood. There is no pride in the work, though. “I feel like a letdown to my parents who live in our rural home in Taita.”

For her, Friday and Saturday evenings are the most lucrative. On a good day, she takes home Sh8,000 from entertaining her male clients with massages and other personal services. This, she says, is enough to pay her rent and upkeep.

Her boss, who is more experienced as a high-end call girl, is also a college graduate, Leila adds.

But this is not the life she expected when she first came to Nairobi in 2007 before enrolling for her course the following year. She aspired to become an IT support expert. Her hopes started fading soon after completing school.

She put in countless job applications even before formally graduating from the then Kenya Polytechnic, but never received response from potential employers.

“I just gave up on finding a job and decided it was time to make a bold step,” said an emotional Leila, while puffing away a cigarette.

“It is the same life everyday but it’s the only option I have.” Leila’s life is played out by thousands of other youth, both male and female, who have been pushed to becoming commercial sex workers.

She is among an estimated 10 million people under the age of 35 who have been frustrated on the job-hunt.

Officially, there were only 2.3 million people in Kenya who were unemployed last year.

But the number is an understatement considering millions others who have lost hope of ever finding formal employment, and like Leila, have turned to demeaning jobs.

But even with the rising frustrations in the Kenyan labour market, college graduates are more exposed owing to a slowdown in the creation of jobs in the formal sector which would typically employ degree- and diploma-holders like Leila.

The informal sector was responsible for about nine of every new jobs created last year, according to the 2013 Economic Survey, which reported that only 68,000 new jobs were created compared to 74,200 in 2011.


Sex Technical University of Kenya Kenya Polytechnic
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