Nairobi, Kiambu record highest child sex predators online

When suspects of child trafficking were arrested and presented before the court. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

John (not his real name) had a mobile phone, which his mother had given him for his online studies. However, his mother found phone chats with sexual content, as well as missed video calls from a male adult who had been in contact with John. 

“I went through the chats which were explicit. In some chats the caller asked for nude photos, which my son shared,” she explains.

Disturbed by the incident, she was forced to call the man cautioning him from communicating with her son. She also confronted her son to find out if he was sexually active and who the man in the chats was.

Mombasa, where John comes from, is among the counties with the highest reports of Online Child Sexual Exploitation (OCSE). According to Childline Kenya, an initiative which rescues and assists children experiencing abuse, OCSE is mostly rampant in three counties in Kenya.

“Childline Kenya actively implemented a project to end child online sexual exploitation in Mombasa, Nairobi and Kisumu, which report high OCSE cases,” says Childline Kenya’s executive director, Martha Sunda.

In Kisumu, Sharon*, who had just completed Class 8, went to live with her friend in Muhoroni who is in her mid-twenties and a single mother of one. This friend would show Sharon pornographic videos and even opened a social media account for the minor.

She also coached her on the kind of sexually explicit photos – semi nudes and in provocative dresses – she could post so as to attract men, and with it get some earnings.

Sharon lived with her friend for several weeks, until she was rescued and enrolled into a counselling programme. The case is ongoing in court.

In another case, 13-year-old Anne* would communicate with the 20-year-old landlord’s son, who is a matatu tout, via social media platforms. 

The two would share sexually explicit photos of each other, and sex-text regularly. Thereafter, Anne would meet the tout in his house and engage in sexual relations. This went on for about a year before Anne’s father found out and reported the matter to the area chief and police for action.

In 2019, 11-year-old Bernice* and her two friends were introduced to prostitution by a team of ladies. The suspects groomed the minors by showing them pornographic videos.

They took sexually explicit photos of the children, and showed specific people, who would then engage in sexual intercourse with the children.

Reports indicate that every sexual encounter earns the child Sh100, with an unknown amount going to the adults. Bernice mentioned that at least five adults had paid to defile her. At the time of her rescuing, she had been away from home for a week and a search for her was underway upon request from her mother.

She was found at 2am selling her body in Manyatta, at a spot frequented by prostitutes.

These are among cases for which Safer Internet Day, whose 19th edition was commemorated on Tuesday, 8 February 2022, brings players ‘Together for a Better Internet’.

This year’s theme, ‘All fun and games? Exploring respect and relationships online’, called upon stakeholders to unite and make the internet a safer place for all, especially for children and young people.

Through their 24-hour toll free hotline number, 116, Childline Kenya responds to emergency cases affecting children.

For instance, John’s case was reported to a police station in January 2022 after his mother reached out to a friend for help.

She was further advised to take the child to the hospital for tests and treatment. At the hospital, she was referred to Childline Kenya for psychosocial support for her son.

Childline Kenya’s data shows that most OCSE reports received are made by adults who are in positions of authority like the area chiefs, police, children’s officers, medical personnel and teachers.

In other instances, the children make reports for themselves and on behalf of other children. Other members of the family and neighbours also raised alarm.

“Sometimes parents fail to report online abuse incidences for fear of possible stigma and tarnishing of the family name. Some may also feel the need to protect their child’s ego and privacy,” says Sunda.

She notes that in several instances, parents are compelled to report online child abuse after sensitisation and dialogue sessions where they get clarity on what constitutes online child abuse and what they can do as caregivers.

Sunda says parents concerned about how their children utilise gadgets like phones and computers raise their suspicions with Childline for assistance.