Video:Child sex tourism thriving in Kenya’s port city of Mombasa
Terrorists have done a lot of harm to the tourism industry in Kenya, but one group of travellers has not been put off – sex tourists.
Paul Adhoch heads the United Nations aid agency Trace Kenya, which battles the trafficking of children.
He believes sex tourists in Kenya are creating a crisis.
“They are not relaxing at some beach or enjoying the wildlife,” Mr Adhoch told 7.30.
“They are, specifically, deep in the communities, in poverty stricken areas looking for sex – nothing else.”
The port city of Mombasa has been a centre of trade for hundreds of years and is now a hotspot for underage prostitution.
Trace Kenya estimates there could be as many as 40,000 child sex workers in the city, and the trade extends up and down the coast to the seaside resort towns of Malindi and Diani
Teenager says she was forced to have group sex with tourists
Mr Adhoch believes there is a community of paedophiles informing one another.
“I think there is a network and they believe that you can get sex with children,” he said.
“And I also believe that quite a number of these travellers – the wazungu (white men) come here for sex, for sex tourism.”
The centre of this trade is Mtwapa, a small community just outside the city centre of Mombasa.
It looks like many other poverty stricken towns dotted across east Africa.
There are bars with plastic chairs and dirt floors, and corrugated iron shacks selling choma, meat roasted over a charcoal fire.
It is well known that this is the place to go to find a prostitute.
There are tourists here, plenty of them, but they are overwhelmingly men. Almost all of them older men, in their 50s and 60s and usually walking alone or with their companion, a Kenyan local.
These people are looking for sex with children, underage prostitutes and the desperately poor willing to sell themselves so they have enough food.
At an information session for prostitutes, both legal and underage, we meet “Pheobe”.
She is 17 years old and has been a sex worker for two years.
“I was a school dropper, and there was no work to do,” she told 7.30.
“My friends invited me to join them – I thought it was cool.”
She told us how she came from a poor family, and tried to explain her actions.
She said she wants to make money so she can buy expensive clothes and jewellery that will make her more of a catch for a rich white man on holidays.
But her experience of wazungu (white men) has not been good.
She told us of one occasion where she was forced to have group sex with tourists.
“My friends and I were there with them, and after that they refused to pay us,” she said.
“They said that we were naughty and that sort of thing.
“They did not want virgins – they only wanted anal sex.”
White men preying on girls perpetuate Pretty Woman myth
Mr Adhoch said within the industry there is a myth perpetuated about white people, that they will come and rescue you from poverty, a real life Pretty Woman scenario.
He said the men who come to Mombasa to prey on young girls keep that hope alive, but only as long as they are here.
“I am appalled, I am unhappy about it. That’s why we are doing something about it, too,” he said.
“We are making communities aware that relationships with wazungu or with any other person, as such, does not necessarily pull you out of poverty.”
In 2014 The World Bank recalculated the size of the economy in Kenya and gave it middle-income status.
It has the continent’s fourth biggest economy behind Nigeria, South Africa and Angola.
But the truth is, there is a pretty small middle class in this developing country.
Poverty is still a huge problem and it is one of the main drivers of underage prostitution.
Some children turn to it out of desperation.
Mother from township recounts ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ experience
One woman 7.30 spoke to in a poor township said her teenage daughters sneak out at night.
She does not know where they go, but they come home with money.
She has her suspicions but it was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation.
They are so poor she accepts the money gratefully.
Other children get pimped out by their parents, or another relative, or a criminal syndicate and have no choice in the matter.
The Kenyan Government recently increased the penalty for people found guilty of defilement, the name given to the law that prohibits sex with underage children.
Penalties have also been made more severe for trafficking children, but this has done little to curb the problem.
Like a lot of social and economic problems in Africa, education seems to be the only way of reducing the problem.
But as Phoebe said, she dropped out of school to start her life as a sex worker because she thought it was cool.
Until those attitudes are changed, the crisis of underage prostitution will keep recycling itself.