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Mtwapa, sin city of child prostitution

Reuben Mwambingu @reubenmwambingu

It is shortly after 7pm on a fine Friday and the dimly lit backstreet Kandara area in Mtwapa township, 16 kilometres east of Mombasa, is abuzz with an assortment of activities.

A young girl, probably aged 16 or below, walks out of one of the club holding hands with an elderly white man who could well be in his 70s.

The duo appear drunk, as they stagger their way into a guesthouse a few metres away. They walk in, pick their room keys at the reception and climb the stairs to their room. This writer tails them upstairs, posing like another hotel guest, and watches as they start fondling even before they enter their room.

The street is lined with other young girls, skimpily dressed, and making no secret of their intention.

Locals say this part of Mtwapa is known for young girls out to pair up with the numerous tourists, mostly elderly, who frequent the backstreets of the congested seaside town to drink in it’s seedy pubs and engage in the immoral business of the night.

On the wealthier side of the township, bordering the ocean and the scenic Mtwapa Creek, the clubs get posh but the sleazy business of the night goes a notch higher in moral decadence.

Beats of loud music emanating from two of the night clubs ooze an atmosphere of rave parties especially during weekends. In the two joints, there are mini, heated swimming pools right in the middle of the dance floor. Revellers are encouraged to take a dip and dance and drink in the water.

It is the sin location of Mtwapa, going by the things that happen in the dimly-lit pubs, made stuffy and hazy by cigarette smoke.

Most of the revellers are elderly tourists staying in local hotels or villas but out here for steamy fun, while most of the girls apparently look teenage.

Locals know that the young girls are local villagers in Kilifi county who frequent Mtwapa to engage in prostitution with foreign tourists.

There are no questions in many pubs asked even as an elderly tourist plunges into the dance pool with a girl who looks anywhere between 13 and 15 years old. At some point on a Friday night that we surveyed, lights go so dim one cannot see the face next to them, while activities in the dance pools take the proportions of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The 72-year-old British pensioner Keith Morris, who was convicted last week in a Leeds court for defiling under-age girls in Kilifi county was a well known client in one of the pool-dance clubs.

“We knew him well here, he used to come every Friday with very young girls in 2016 and last year. We always doubted they were adults but the rule here is see-no-evil-hear-no-evil because the club owners don’t want to lose business by scaring away tourists,” says one waitress who serves at a pool dance club.

“What happens in Mtwapa is child prostitution and the government knows this well, but it has never been tackled. It is very embarrassing, these tourists are exploiting school girls,” says the gate guard in another pub.

The business is spurred by secret child sex rings ran between locals and old foreigners, mostly Italian and German who are said to live in the Coast on prolonged tourist visas while others are residents.

Some parents in poor regions of Kilifi county are known to be guilty of colluding with cartels to hand over their young daughters into child prostitution to earn some of the proceeds from the pimps.

A report last year by Faith To Action Network listed Kilifi as the highest affected by school girl pregnancy and school drop-out rate of teenage girls. Most were attributed to child prostitution and pre-mature engagement in sex.

United Nations aid agency Trace Kenya CEO Paul Adhoch says Mtwapa town has the majority of backstreet lodges where many paedophiles hide and collude with unscrupulous locals to advance their evils in secret.

Adhoch says cases of foreigners exploiting children at the Coast are rampant, adding that the much publicised case of Morris was just but a tip of the iceberg. He says there are two other pending recent cases, one involving a German and another an Austrian.

“We are tracking the Austrian who often comes for holiday in Mombasa and stays at a hotel in Nyali but because the law doesn’t allow checking in with underage girls, he goes out hunting young girls in Mtwapa, Mishomoroni and Kisauni,” says Adhoch adding another German has already been banned by Interpol from visiting Kenya after he defiled dozens of girls in Mtwapa and South Coast.

Local child protection networks believe close to 45 per cent of children in Mtwapa and its neighbourhoods, both girls and boys, are exposed to child sex rings.

Evelyn Charo, a children rights defender and director of Furaha Phoenix children home in Mtwapa says the rate signifies a decline compared to 10 years ago.

“These cases used to occur even in daylight but because of strong campaigns against the evils by Mtwapa child protection and paralegal organisations, child prostitution appears to decline,” says Charo.

Poverty, she says, has been the core force to child prostitution where foreigners visiting Mtwapa and some who reside there entice young girls with loads of goodies to win their trust and deflower them in the process.

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