Child sex trafficking dominates Kilifi governor aspirants debate

Gubernatorial candidates on the ODM ticket Gideon Mung’aro [right], PAA's George Kithi and Ford Kenya's Michael Tinga during the gubernatorial debate called by MCK and Coast region journalists at Pwani University in Kilifi. [Marion Kithi, Standard]

Child sex trafficking, poor education standards and lack of water dominated the debate Wednesday night between three candidates battling for the Kilifi governor seat.

Gideon Mung’aro of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), George Kithi of Pamoja African Alliance (PAA) and Michael Tinga of Ford-Kenya battled it out in the debate that brought out the social ills bedevilling Kilifi County.

However, Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa of United Democratic Alliance (UDA), Franco Esposito (Independent) and Alphonce Mbaru (Safina) did not attend the debate organised by the Media Council of Kenya and aired by Coast-based radio stations.

Speaking at the forum, the candidates decried increased cases of the juvenile sex trade, saying many girls who are supposed to be in school were loitering on the streets of Malindi and Kilifi or sitting in bars looking for clients.

“I acknowledge that the problem of child prostitution is rampant in Malindi due to poverty, ignorance, peer pressure and sometimes sheer greed,” said Mr Kithi.

He said if elected as governor, he will set aside funds to empower the young commercial sex workers with skills to find alternative employment or start small businesses.

ODM candidate Gideon Mung’aro said some parents in Malindi, Kilifi and Mariakani towns allow their daughters to engage in the illicit trade because of poverty.

“Parents have played a role in the whole scenario. Parents encourage daughters to go and beg from tourists on the beaches, and this exposes them to transactional sex,” he said.

A survey done by the International Justice Mission (IJM) in 2019, showed that child sex trafficking is prevalent at the Coast, with 20,000 girls and boys being victims of different forms of the illegal trade.

The IJM survey identified Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale as the hotspots of the juvenile sex trade in the country. On Wednesday, the three governor candidates promised to lead the war against the vice. The three candidates also presented their manifestos to Kilifi residents.

Mr Kithi, who is vying for the governor’s seat for the first time, said his manifesto has five pillars and the top on the list are education, water, and food security.

Mr Mung’aro, who is making a second bid for the top county seat, said he has prioritised health, land problems, and reviving the county’s economy.

Michael Tinga, who is vying for the first time, said his manifesto will focus on reviving the industries in Kilifi so that employment can be available to residents.

According to the organiser of the event, Ms Jumwa requested to skip the debate at the last minute without giving definite reasons.

“Jumwa said she would not attend but did not state the reasons,” said the organiser.

Franco Esposito, 81, a Kenyan of Italian origin failed to confirm his attendance at the debate. Mr Esposito has unsuccessfully contested the Magarini MP seat three times, the first time being during the by-election in which Governor Amason Kingi won.