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Stringent laws to curb child prostitution

By | March 17th 2012

Here’s a sobering thought: There are more children being sexually abused in Kenya today than there are people displaced in the 2008 post-election violence still living in transit camps awaiting resettlement. But you would not know it from a comparison of the resources applied to solving both problems.

The role of sex work in driving tourism numbers is an acknowledged dirty secret, as is the fact that most of the child victims of sex tourists are children of sex workers. Yet due to the importance of the former to the economic bottom line, little attention is being paid to the latter.

Just a week or two ago, several groups claiming to represent sex workers were busy campaigning for their ‘industry’ to be legalised. They sought to present police harassment and lack of access as the major social challenges thrown up by their trade. While these are valid concerns, they are trumped by concern for the 30,000 or more children exposed to commercial sexual exploitation.

A tenth of these are in full-time prostitution, a business from which they must soon retire and will most likely introduce their children, creating a vicious cycle that will keep paedophiles coming back for more and sink parts of the country into a culture of sexual servitude.

This is a growing problem that may some day see Kenya face the problems reported in some Asian countries, where up to one third of all sex workers are children.

Some studies have found that as many as one third of all tourists consciously or unconsciously intend to have sex with locals when they travel.

Sex tourism is a fact of life in many countries. This makes policing its seedy underbelly, child sex tourism, ever more important. Countries across the world, from Asia to Latin America, have realised this and are working to introduce new laws or enforce existing ones to protect their children.

Kenya needs to do the same immediately. We are especially concerned at the fact that there is virtually no effort to prevent known paedophiles from travelling to tourism hotspots and abusing underage prostitutes.

Local sex offenders are rarely prosecuted, often not convicted and hardly ever tracked after release from prison. Do we make any effort to stop them reoffending while in sex hotspots where teens in bars are commonplace? Foreign sex convicts, on the other hand, are able to enter the country with ease.

Two examples are now imprisoned paedophiles Duncan Grant and Lester Weber, both were able to enter the country, molest underage girls and leave with pictures, despite either having a prior conviction or an outstanding international arrest warrant. How many others like them are allowed to slip through our ports of entry as we chase ever-higher figures of foreign tourists?

When offenders, whether previously convicted or not, are caught in the act, they are often released without charge. More offensively, actions that clearly indicate intent to molest a minor, such as plying her with alcohol or undressing her, though prohibited under the Sexual Offences Act, are never prosecuted.

Last year, for example, a 56-year-old German man was found stark naked with a semi-nude 13-year-old girl in a Mombasa cottage. Police decided to file no child sex charges because, as the provincial police boss explained, their raid caught the man before he had sexually penetrated the child.

There needs to be a concerted effort to track and prevent abuse by local sex offenders, which initiates many children into prostitution, and by foreigners, which makes it lucrative enough to draw more victims. Children of sex workers, in particular, need closer monitoring and protection to avoid instances where they are abused by their parent’s clientele.

Foreign nations should also improve their track record of punishing such offenders. Most countries make no effort to prevent convicted paedophiles from travelling.

The UK, which has the toughest rules, is more aggressive in keeping football hooligans at home than sex criminals. Something needs to change.

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