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Debate on prostitutes in Mombasa stirs storm

By Patrick Beja | August 27th 2016
City prostitutes in Mombasa PHOTO: COURTESY

A resolution adopted by the Mombasa County Assembly on Tuesday to expel prostitutes from Mombasa streets has split the Assembly and residents, with opponents saying it is impossible to implement.

This is the second time in a decade that authorities in Mombasa are trying to control or remove sex workers from the streets.

Some years ago, Councillor Said Mathias of Majengo launched a campaign to kick prostitutes out of the city centre and along major roads and suburbs like Saba Saba, but the effort sparked an uproar amid reports that several innocent people were netted in swoops and scandalised in the process.

Whenever “suspects” were arraigned in court, and charged with prostitution or other crimes, they were set free for lack of evidence.

Mathias lost the next election although his efforts were very popular with religious and conservative elites. The Tuesday motion, moved by Tononoka MCA Saad Faraj has sparked anxiety among sex workers, clients and secularists who fear that religious fundamentalists are once again gaining power and influence in the city, known for its steamy night life.

But religious leaders have commended the County Assembly and urged County Executive to implement the motion and put in place stringent measures which include closure of brothels and  enforcement a rule that requires couples to produce marriage certificates before getting rooms in guest houses.

Mr Faraj has urged the county government, through the Department of Youth, Gender and Sports, and the Inspectorate to remove sex workers from the streets of Mombasa and to offer them counseling.

His motion seeks to ensure that the County Department of Youth provides sex workers with technicalskills and assist them in securing gainful employment.

Yesterday, Faraj said he came up with the motion because prostitution has become widespread in the coastal city.

He said that if the motion is passed, the County Executive will identify prostitutes, counsel them and where possible train them on skills and give them start-up capital to engage in legitimate businesses that will keep them off the streets.

A recent survey by Unicef indicates that 30 per cent of children between 12 and 18 years are engaging in sex work. It is estimated that there are about 11,000 prostitutes in Mombasa. “Prostitution is rising at alarming levels in Mombasa. It is a taboo in the African culture and it is not in line with Islam or Christianity,” Faraj said. “We have taken a bold step to have prostitutes removed from the streets.”

Port Reitz MCA Fadhil Makarani and his Kipevu counterpart Ibrahim Kondo have backed him.

But nominated MCA Mary Akinyi and Stephen Wangudi of Chaani said the motion is impossible to implement.

“Prostitution is not in Mombasa or in Kenya alone. The county government has also not budgeted to train prostitutes and offer them gainful employment or alternative means of eking out a living,” Ms Akinyi said.

Mr Wangudi noted that the motion allows the county inspectorate to harass bystanders in various matatu stages, particularly at night. “The first test should be how to identify a prostitute; it is likely that there will be human rights violations,” Wangudi said.

Chairman of the County Assembly Health Committee and Miritini MCA Kibwana Baya, who had earlier opposed the motion reserved his comment yesterday. “I still oppose the motion but I will reserve my comments for now. I have personal reasons for that,” Mr Baya said.

Muslim for Human Rights director Khalef Khalifa said the motion could only be implemented with control. “Prostitution can be controlled in residential areas.

It is a bad thing but there should be no blanket condemnation because they may end up violating the rights of innocent residents,” he said.

But Coast chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims Sheikh Sharif Khitamy welcomed the motion and suggested that brothels be closed down and guest houses and hotels introduce a rule where couples produce marriage certificates before being getting accommodation.

He also said that foreigners who engage in sex with teenage girls should be arrested and charged.

County Director of Communication Richard Chacha said the motion is yet to be brought to the attention of Governor Hassan Joho and thus, it was premature for him to comment on the matter.



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