Stacy Riziki, 18, a Form Three student in a girls-only school in Mombasa, takes time to open up but when she does, she speaks in a soft voice, recalling the four months of a life she wishes she could blot from her memory.
Even though Riziki is now back in school, for four months last year, she was forced to become a sex worker to support her family.
“I dropped out of school in 2016 when I was in Form Two because my dad was ill and could not afford to pay my fees. Unfortunately, in September last year, he breathed his last. Our lives changed for the worse. Life had never been that difficult. I decided to work as a sex worker to help my mother provide for my two siblings,” said Riziki.
Riziki had to sell her body for as little as Sh150.
“During those four months, I made between Sh150 and Sh500 per client.”
Asked how her mother reacted on learning that she was a sex worker, Riziki said, “My mother knew about it but said nothing.”
Her fortunes would change for the better after Trace-Kenya, a national counter-human trafficking organisation based in Mtwapa, started sponsoring her education.
Fridah Msae, who dropped out of school in Form Two, secretly became a sex worker after her mother’s marriage collapsed.
“My mum and step-father broke up in 2014. Life became difficult. I would lie to my mum that I was going to see my friends but I was working in the streets as a sex worker. I would sleep with three or four men in a night and earn between Sh1,000 and Sh2,000 per client and more if l did not insist on a condom,” said Msae. She soon found out she was pregnant.
“I was looking forward to getting married. However, when the man realised that I was pregnant, he became violent, forcing me to go back home.”
Msae has since reformed. She has trained as a baker and is able to provide for her child.
Riziki and Msae’s stories are just two of the estimated 15,000 children at the coast who are exploited or lured into sex work. A 2006 United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report The Extent and Effect of Sex Tourism and Sexual Exploitation of Children on the Kenyan Coast shows that children in Watamu, Malindi, Mtwapa, Ukunda and Diani were most at risk. The report showed that up to 30 per cent of all 12 to 18-year-old girls living in these coastal areas were engaged in sex work or were victims of sexual exploitation.
Low tourism season
Unregulated cottages and villas are the hubs of sexual exploitation for both of men and women. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 girls living in Diani, Kilifi, Malindi and Mombasa are involved in casual sex work translating to 30 per cent of all 12 to 18-year-old girls living in these coastal areas.
The trade is rampant during the low tourist season. The local market for child sex workers keeps the system going. Sexual exploitation of children, therefore, thrives because of the complicity of a broad section of the local community.
While some children are driven into transactional sex because of poverty, the high-level of acceptance of child sex work in coastal communities makes it relatively easy for children to drift into casual sex in exchange for no more than extra pocket money.
Paul Adhoch from Trace Kenya estimates that at least 4,000 children are in near-permanent sex work, meaning “they are in class by day and engage in transactional sex at night.”
Trace Kenya programme officer, Naomi Makau said many of the children have pimps who get them clients, keeping most of the money earned as commission.
“The boda boda riders act as the girls’ pimps,” she said.