Drugs, poverty, and tourism are driving child prostitution in Kenya. DW's Andrew Wasike spoke to the children and adults caught up in the industry.
Mbuthia estate is located in one of Nairobi's largest slums, Mathare. During the day, the area looks normal but when night falls in, girls as young as 12 years can be seen walking the streets.
"I started by smoking marijuana," says Natasha. That's is not her real name and she is just 14. "That's when I started knowing about these things. The day I started drinking alcohol was the day that I started prostitution." Her clients are men who live in Nairobi and the surrounding areas.
Natasha's parents died of HIV/AIDS when she was very young. She was HIV negative at the time, but was infected through the sex work. Her aunt acts as her guardian and is trying to get her off drugs. She even sent her niece to a rehabilitation center.
"I have tried rehabilitating her but she always goes back to prostitution," says her aunt. "I think that is because she is a drug addict. Also her peers, her only friends, are prostitutes."
"This is my life and I have accepted it the way it is," says Natasha. "I dropped out of school so there is nothing else. I am not looking for any help – that is what my guardian doesn't understand."
A problem in tourist hubs
Many of the girls are introduced to prostitution by their peers or relatives. "A lot of times the victims don't have any protection from their immediate family," says Tal Raviv from the Kenyan chapter of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). "Either the parents died or maybe the parents are the ones pushing them out to find some kind of livelihood."
In Nairobi, the girls sleep with men for as little as 100 Kenyan shillings ($0,98, €0,86).
Child prostitution has been blamed for an increasing school dropout rate, poverty and illiteracy as children skip class in pursuit of money. Although there are no recent figures on the number of children involved in sex work in Kenya, a report released by the IOM in May 2018 said an estimated 15,000 children aged 12 to 18 live in the tourist hubs along the country's coast.
That prostitution involving girls and boys is not only a result of poverty, but an organized business becomes apparent at the coast, where so-called "aunties" run child prostitution rings. One of them, Agnes – a former sex worker herself – explained how the business of child prostitution works. "Most of them come to me when they are around 12 ,13, or 14 years of age. If they earn around 5,000 Kenyan shillings, I take around 1,000 shillings," she told DW. "When they come to me, I never turn them away. I stay with them."
Sex workers who are part of this ring have to be under 19 years of age. Their clients are mostly men from Europe or the Americas.
"I normally start my day at 5 pm. I start by taking a shower, dressing up, finding something to eat,” one of the child prostitutes said. Orphaned at an early age, she was introduced to prostitution by her cousin at the age of 14, she told DW.
Now 16 and HIV positive, she works for an "aunty.” "By 7 pm, I go out. Sometimes you can spend the entire night outside but you don't make a single coin."
According to IOM report, many victims of child prostitution are also victims of human trafficking who are brought to the coast from other parts of the country. The tourism industry keeps the business going and some of the older sex workers double up as bar or hotel personnel.