Desperate times leave Malindi sex workers at the mercy of cheap Kenyan 'kimbos', disease and pregnancy
“When I go to my hotspots, I only look for white men; they pay better compared to Africans. If I do not get a white man, I would rather go back home,” says 21-year-old Ruth, a sex worker in Malindi, Kilifi County.
We meet the petite woman at her grandmother’s house in Milano estate. This was the second time we had gone to her grandmother’s house to look for her. Earlier, we had tried to get her on phone several times but it was off.
“My phone was off because I had not paid the monthly fee. I got it on loan so if I don’t pay on time they switch it off,” she says as she gives us plastic chairs to sit outside the house.
Ruth, who dropped out of school in Standard Seven, says that she had to find ways of sustaining herself.
“I am a Standard Seven dropout. I couldn’t continue because they needed a birth certificate for registration and my aunts who were supposed to assist me were busy with their own lives,” she says
She lives with her grandmother and younger cousins. “We struggle to put food on the table. If I do not go out and look for money, we will sleep hungry.”
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About her business, she says since her clients are mostly white foreign men, she has learnt foreign languages on the internet.
“Sometimes, when I meet them and there’s a language barrier, we use the translation app on the phone,” she says
On a normal day, she makes around Sh1,000 to Sh3,000. Condom negotiation is important in her business.
“First, I always make sure they have paid me before we go. Then if I have run out of condoms, I buy then we get a room,” she says.
Apart from using condoms, Ruth says that she has been getting side effects from other forms of birth control. This year, she has used emergency pills more than three times, and is shocked when we inform her that the pills are to be used only twice a year.
“I am scared if I use contraceptives I will add weight, or become too “loose”, others say I will be too dry and lose my libido. I used the three months’ injection before and I bled too much,” she says
Ruth plans to open a boutique before the year ends. She is banking on a foreign client who is to visit Kenya soon.
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“We’ve been chatting. I send him nudes and he sends me money,” she says.
Asking her whether she is not afraid her pictures might go viral, she laughs and adds: “He’s old, very old. He lives alone so I don’t even think he might have the idea of leaking them.”
Ruth says that she is struggling to get clients because it is the low season and there are no foreigners.
“Right now, we only have Kenya kimbos, and we do not like them because their pay is very low. They can even offer Sh500, surely. So low seasons are a bit tough,” she says.
Another sex worker, 19-year-old Miriam, says that since she has bills to pay, during low seasons she accepts even Kenya kimbos.
“I have a child who lives with my mother. So if the season is low I can even look for local wazees so that I can send something home,” she says
Miriam says that, sometimes, they get clients who mistreat them.
“Sometimes, you get clients who are rough that when they are done, you do not even see the value of the money they give you,” she says.
She says that, sometimes, one agrees with one client then when they go to the room they find more than one man.
“They assault you, but we are sex workers so it is hard to report. But we have a few officers who are our friends and we can go to them for help,” she says.
Condom negotiation is also another challenge. There are clients who refuse to use protection.
Another sex worker, Amina, a mother of one, says that she has been using PREP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis), a treatment used to prevent HIV because there are clients who refuse to use condoms.
“I live on PREP, plus regular STI checkups. I need the money so I just accept it and some of them offer more money if we do not use protection,” she says
Amina started sex work immediately after clearing high school.
“I became a teen mother immediately after school. I did not even get my certificate because there was a school fees balance of Sh20,000. My father died and my mother raised us on a casual worker salary. It has been tough,” she says.
On whether they have found themselves in situations where they have to terminate a pregnancy, they both agree.
“We have to find places that are not safe, because we cannot boldly go to a hospital and terminate a pregnancy. There was a clinic here that was advocating safe abortion but they closed shop because the community fought them,” says Miriam.
It goes without saying that poverty has led to teen pregnancies and young women choosing sex work as a way of fending for themselves.
Douglas Katana, a former court clerk in Malindi, says that there are people who prefer to solve the cases out of court. “The process is long so most do not want to press charges and there are incidences where the police would ask for fuel money. Others do not show up during the hearing,” he says. Katana adds that ignorance and lack of transparency in the judicial system play a big role in the failure to press charges.
“Sensitisation would help so that people can be aware of the legal process. Also, poverty plays a part. While taking the P3 form they would be charged for it without knowing they are not supposed to be charged,” he says.
On tourism prostitution, Katana says parents encourage their children to look for foreigners.
“A mother would dress her daughter in suggestive clothes and take them to hotspots. The children are defiled,” he says.
Katana says that over the years, local girls have been used by foreigners, some are left with infections or children while others are given fake money. Very few have been successful. The chairperson of Nyumba Kumi initiative in Miyeye Hendrica Zawadi says that teen pregnancy is child abuse. Most of the girls are lured by people who buy them sanitary towels and money for their basic needs. “If the person who impregnated the girl is an adult, we report to the police and if it is a fellow child, we counsel them and try to get the child back to school after delivery,” she says.
Hendrica says that there are cases of teen mothers who are chased away from home, so they end up being sex workers to fend for themselves.
“If we had a safe house, we could prevent a lot of damage and protect our children,” she says.
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