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We need bold messages to keep peadophiles at bay

By | November 13th 2010

By Njoki Ndung'u

On Monday afternoon, I arrived at Kotola Airport in Accra Ghana to attend regional conference on women's health where I spent the better of ten minutes explaining to the Immigration officer that I was an English speaking Kenyan and not a French speaking Senegalese. He looked at my passport suspiciously, insisting my height and skin tone place me as originating west and not east of the continent, but I managed to assure him that Kenya too has tall brown female citizens.

As I passed the booth, I was immediately struck by a huge wall sized ‘in your face’ poster intentionally designed and positioned so that each and every passenger embarking a plane and entering into Ghana, can see it. It reads: "WELCOME! AKWAABA!! Ghana warmly welcomes all visitors of good will. Ghana does not welcome paedophiles and other sexual deviants. Indeed Ghana imposes extremely harsh penalties on such sexually aberrant behaviour. If you are in Ghana for such activity, then for everybody’s good, including your own, we suggest you go elsewhere."

My immediate thought was, now that is a bold, direct, honest and unapologetic deterrent message for sex offenders. As an insatiable curious person, I approached the security desk and made further enquiry about the wall poster. It turns out that there is a professional group called the Tour Operators Union of Ghana (TOUGHA) that sent out an alert about single tourists and other backpacker-mass-tourists who slip into Ghana and prey on truant and delinquent children idling on beaches or on the streets and who innocently befriend these touchy-feely tourists.

In some cases, parents of these children condone and encourage this behaviour and some hotels and lodges pimp for child sex tourism as a promotion tool for their businesses. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Action was finally taken when Alexander Kilpatrick, a Briton, was jailed indefinitely for making trips to Africa to ply children with meals, treats and alcohol before sexually abusing them while recording the act on videotape. Kilpatrick would then label each videotape with the child’s name and return to England, where he enjoyed watching these films.

TOUGHA now tracks suspicious behaving tourists, and those caught are dealt with severely. The stern warning at the airport is not one made in jest. Ghana is not alone in this war against paedophilia. It is a known fact that child sex tourism is a criminal, yet, multi-billion-dollar industry that involves as many as two million children globally.

Many criminals travel to other countries to engage in sex with children, particularly in countries where laxity in law enforcement and prosecution on the issue is influenced by factors such as poverty and corruption. Unicef reports that several countries are actually preferred destinations for sex tourists. These are Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand and, most regretfully, Kenya. This terrible statistic means that whereas Kenya is known for being in the top ten countries in the world for athletics, rugby, tea production, flowers export and even constitutional reform, it also shares the top ten ranking in paedophilia and global child sex tourism and is rated highest on the African continent. This depressing thought stayed with me upon my return to Kenya on Thursday.

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Now alert to the importance of appropriate warnings I checked adverts at the JKIA port of entry. Alas, sex tourists will feel welcome with "Smile, you are now in Kenya" sign.

— The writer is an advoacate of the High Court of Kenya

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