x Eve Woman Wellness Readers Lounge Leisure and Travel My Man Bridal Health Relationships Parenting About Us Digital News Videos Opinions Cartoons Education E-Paper Lifestyle & Entertainment Nairobian Entertainment Eve Woman Travelog TV Stations KTN Home KTN News BTV KTN Farmers TV Radio Stations Radio Maisha Spice FM Vybez Radio Enterprise BULK SMS E-Learning Digger Classified The Standard Group Corporate Contact Us Rate Card Vacancies DCX O.M Portal Corporate Email RMS
Login ×

From role models to sex workers: Why child labour is rising in Kenya

Readers Lounge - By Tom Odula and Associated Press | October 21st 2020 at 07:55:16 GMT +0300
Teenage girls who became sex workers when schools were closed due to coronavirus restrictions, in their rented house in Nairobi (Photo: AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

The teenage girls cannot remember how many men they have had to sleep with in the seven months since Covid-19 led to the closure of their schools, or how many of those men used protection.

Painfully, they recall times when they were sexually assaulted and then beaten up when they asked to be paid — as little as Sh100 ($1) — to help feed their families as jobs evaporated during the pandemic.

From their rented room in Nairobi, the girls say the risk of getting infected with the coronavirus or HIV does not weigh heavily on them in a time when survival is paramount.

“If you get Sh500 ($5) in these streets, that is gold,” says a 16-year-old, seated on the small bed she shares with the 17-year-old and 18-year-old she calls her “best friends forever.” They split the Sh2,000 ($20) rent in a building where every room is home to fellow sex workers.

According to Unicef, the UN children’s agency, recent gains in the fight against child labour are at risk because of the pandemic. The world could see the first rise in the number of working children since 2000. UN warns that millions of children may be forced into exploitative and hazardous jobs, and school closures exacerbate the problem.

Household bills

Mary Mugure, a former sex worker, launched ‘Night Nurse’ to rescue girls who followed her path. She says since schools closed, up to 1,000 schoolgirls have become sex workers in the three Nairobi neighbourhoods she monitors. Most are trying to help their parents with household bills. The youngest, Mugure says, is 11.

  2. 1. How to handle gift giving on a budget this holiday
  3. 2. Singaporean woman gives birth to baby with Covid-19 antibodies
  4. 3. Struggling Parisian shops get creative to survive in second lockdown
  5. 4. Researchers discover most common symptom of COVID-19 and it's not a dry cough

Each of the three girls sharing a room was raised with several siblings by a single mother. They saw their mothers’ sources of income vanish when the government clamped down to prevent the spread of the virus.

Two of their mothers had been washing clothes for people who lived near their low-income neighbourhood of Dandora. But as soon as the first local virus case was confirmed in Kenya, nobody wanted them in their homes, the girls say. The third mother was selling potatoes by the roadside, a business that collapsed due to curfews.

As eldest children, the girls say they took it upon themselves to help their mothers feed their families.

The girls had been spending their free time as part of a popular dance group, and they were paid for gigs. But when public gatherings were restricted, that income ended.

“Now I can get my mom Sh200 ($1.84) every day and that helps her to feed the others,” one of the girls says.

Elsewhere, single mother Florence Mumbua and her three children — ages 7, 10 and 12 — crack rocks at a quarry in the sweltering heat.

The work is backbreaking and hazardous, but the 34-year-old Mumbua says she was left without a choice after she lost her cleaning job at a private school when pandemic restrictions were imposed.

“I have to work with (the children) because they need to eat and yet I make little money,” she says. “When we work as a team, we can make enough for our lunch, breakfast and dinner.”

In Dandora, 15-year-old Dominic Munyoki and 17-year-old Mohamed Nassur rummage through Kenya’s largest landfill, scavenging for scrap metal to sell. Munyoki’s mother, Martha Waringa, a 35-year-old single parent who also scavenges, says her son’s wages will help pay his seven siblings’ school fees when classes resume.

Similarly, Nassur’s mother, 45-year-old Ann Mungai, doesn’t see anything wrong with her son helping with the family’s daily needs.

“When he started working, I realized it is helpful as he does not sit idle at home or play video games that are not beneficial to him,” she says. “But when he goes to work, he earns money that helps us. He also buys clothes and shoes for himself.”

Phillista Onyango, who leads the Kenya-based African Network for the Protection and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, says with schools closed, parents in low-income neighbourhoods prefer to have children work instead of staying home, where they can slide into drug abuse and crime.

Onyango says enforcement of child labour laws has been lax. The employment act defines a child as someone under 18. It allows employment of children 13 to 16 for part-time and “light work duties.” Those who are 16 to 18 can work in industry and construction, but not at night.

According to a US Department of Labour report last year, Kenya has made “moderate advancement” in eliminating the worst forms of child labour, such as sexual exploitation, but there is still work to be done.

Kenya had 85 labour inspectors, probably too few to police a workforce of more than 19 million workers, the report says.

Kenya has started easing restrictions on movement and public gatherings due to the country’s relatively low number of confirmed Covid-19 cases, and plans a phased reopening of schools this month. But Onyango says many children who started working when schools closed will not return.

Highest rates

Sub-Saharan Africa already had the world’s highest rates of children out of school. Nearly a fifth of children between 6 and 11 — and more than a third of youth between 12 and 14 — do not attend school, says Unicef.

The 16-year-old sex worker and her two friends say they hope they won’t be doing this for the rest of their lives, but they think their chances of returning to class are remote.

“Where we come from, we were some sort of role models,” the 16-year-old says. “Our neighbourhood, if you get to 16 without getting pregnant and still in school, then you have made it. Having avoided pregnancies, we were this close to graduating from high school and making history.”

[Additional reporting by Desmond Tiro and Khaled Kazziha]

Top Stories

Men only: Why many millennial marriages will fail...unless
My Man - By Tony Mochama

Queen of rap Nicki Minaj marks 10 years since debut studio album and solo career
Achieving Woman - By Audrey Masitsa

Six reasons why women fake orgasms
Between The Sheets - By Esther Muchene

Six intimacy killers you should know
Between The Sheets - By Esther Muchene

4 ways to break a soul tie
Relationships - By Jennifer Karina

Dry-humping can get you pregnant...even with your clothes on
Health - By Daily Mail

7 Benefits of using eggs for facial treatment
Skin Care - By Naomi Mruttu

4 ways to break a soul tie
Relationships - By Jennifer Karina

The last words of Kyrzayda Rodriguez, famous fashion blogger who succumbed to cancer
Trendsetters - By Lolita Bunde

10 Ways you can use toothpaste to achieve a perfect skin
Readers Lounge - By Davis Muli

Latest Stories

Confessions: I’m worried about my widowed mother’s spree of love affairs
Readers Lounge - By Hilda Boke Mahare

Confessions: My mum was Sh212.9 billion cocaine kingpin grandmother with gold-plated sub-machine gun
Readers Lounge - By Mirror

BBI report: More gains for women on elective posts
Readers Lounge - By Wilfred Ayaga

BBI report: Radical changes to student admissions, teacher hiring
Readers Lounge - By Augustine Oduor

Murder charge that could kill Aisha Jumwa’s political aspirations
Readers Lounge - By Joackim Bwana

Back to school: Hitches as school tests start
Readers Lounge - By The Standard Team

More parents opting to put school girls on pills as teen pregnancies increase
Readers Lounge - By Philip Muasya

Confessions: I resent my two-year-old and come up with excuses not to spend time with her
Readers Lounge - By Mirror

The era of men carrying food to the office is here
Readers Lounge - By Kirsten Kanja

Stay Ahead!

Access premium content only available
to our subscribers.

Support independent journalism
Log in
Support independent journalism
Create an account    Forgot Password
Create An Account
Support independent journalism
I have an account Log in
Reset Password
Support independent journalism
Log in