Recently, the United Kingdom took the decent step of protecting our children from sexual abuse by forcing all its citizens working with children in Kenya to be cleared by the police.
Due to the alarming increase in the number of UK citizens convicted for abusing children in foreign countries, including the recent case of a charity worker who sexually abused street children in the town of Gilgil, the UK has introduced an International Child Protection Certificate that vets UK citizens working in orphanages, schools and charitable organisations in 73 countries around the world.
The question that arises is: What is the Kenyan government doing to protect children from foreign sexual predators? Apparently, not very much.
Paedophiles and other undesirable elements can enter our borders with impunity. All they need is a tourist visa, which is easily obtainable. They can also evade arrest by bribing the police, which is alarmingly common in Kenya.
I have raised these issues in this column before. I am doing it again because I live in a place where old men having sex with minors or very young women is not only culturally accepted, but has become some sort of an epidemic among foreign tourists.
There is no day that passes when I do not see young girls and an alarming number of boys escorting elderly men or women around Malindi. These girls and boys are not the adopted children of these aging tourists; they are their sex toys. Some of the girls and boys appear to be in their early teens.
Why does the county government not put up signs saying “Sex with Children is a Criminal Offence and Will be Punished” all over Malindi town?
Reports by Unicef and others have highlighted the widespread sexual exploitation of children in Malindi and other coastal towns, which has increased awareness among hoteliers, and made it more difficult for guests to bring child prostitutes into their hotel rooms.
But the paedophiles have found new ways to engage in their depravity. Children in coastal towns like Malindi are being lured to beaches, and sometimes boats are hired for what is referred to as “deep sea sex” with children.
When I raise these issues with the residents of Malindi, they shrug their shoulders and tell me that there is nothing that they can do because the parents of these children encourage them to sell their bodies to tourists and that in a place as desperately poor as Kilifi County, child prostitution is often the only lifeline a family has. Some argue that among the local Giriama, child marriage is very common, so sex with minors is considered quite acceptable.
These arguments have always disturbed me, not only because they are ethically and morally flawed, but because they are presented as a solution to the very real problems of high poverty and unemployment levels in the coast region.
Child prostitution is not an acceptable or sustainable form of employment. It is based on the exploitation of poor and vulnerable children. Children who drop out of school to engage in this activity are psychologically and physically damaged for life.
Having been denied an education, chances are that these children will continue engaging in prostitution as young adults, or die from sexually transmitted diseases before reaching adulthood. How did paedophilia, which is stigmatised the world over, become so normal here? Why are the perpetrators not arrested or hounded out of the country? If Malindi were Milan, would they behave differently?
What kind of society have we created where child prostitution is considered an acceptable livelihood option? Child prostitution is a form of child exploitation and abuse and should be seen as such.
It is encouraging to know that coastal county governors are uniting to improve the economic prospects of the coastal region and are looking to expand the economy beyond tourism. This will give people more employment opportunities, improve their living standards and, hopefully, lead to a reduction in child prostitution.
In the mean time, Kilifi County should consider putting up signs saying “It is Illegal to Have Sex with Minors” in English, Italian and Kiswahili all over Malindi town and its environs.