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                            Sex, sand, money and children.

                                A story by Daniel Wesangula.
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By day, Diani, the gem of Kenya’s South Coast looks passive; the bright sun presents the ultimate coastal fantasy that life takes as much time as it wants.

That somehow, time does not matter. But underneath this calmness, the happy go lucky attitude of holiday makers composed of both local and foreign tourists is an alternate reality. 

A reality in which under age sex trade of both boys and girls is thriving unabated, under the noses of child welfare officers, policemen and even human rights organisations some of whom, investigations have shown, encourage the vice.

Three years ago, a 12-year-old Mejumaa Randu quit school. A neighbor, who was then 24 had convinced her that life promised much more than the boredom of school work and exams.

“One day, I just didn’t go back home,” she says. She moved in with Amina Masoud, who lived in White House Estate a maze of permanent and semi-permanent structures sitting on what looks like either a way leave or a road reserve just off Diani Road.

Amina’s house stands at one end of White House. Opposite it is a lavish villa fenced with a coral themed wall. The poverty in large sections of the estate is a testament of the rich-poor divide in this tourism hub.

Some of the best holiday destinations Kenya has to offer sit just a road away from a grinding poverty. An escape from this poverty is what Mejumaa was promised.

“All I needed to do was do as I was told. Go where I was told to go,” she says. Two weeks after moving in with Amina, she was taken to the first of many clients.

Half a decade later, Mejumaa has never really outrun the poverty she sought to escape. She still leaves on the wrong side of Diani Road. She still goes back home to White House. The only difference is that now, she pays her own rent.
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Mwanaisha at her home in Mwangulu, Lunga Lunga Constituency, Kwale County. Mose was recruited by her former teacher into prostitution. She hoped that it would lift her out of poverty, years later, her economic situation has hardly changed.
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All about the nightlife.
If you were to walk into any of the popular night spots in Diani at around 2AM, a few things might happen to you. One of them could be that you find a friendly, well trained waiter who will serve you for the remaining night.

If you happen to be a man, the waiter, or waitress could offer to be of more help. They might give suggestions on a better clubbing experience. But for Sh500, they might introduce you to a female or male companion that you can spend the night with.

If you still harbor some inhibitions, the friendly waiter would up their fees to Sh1000 and introduce you to a ‘younger’ companion, this translates to a girl younger than 16 years. In June 2017, Mwanaisha Juma Ali left her father’s house with nothing but a bag full of clothes and a mind full of stories she had heard from her peers about the possibilities that Diani offered.

“It seemed like a place where everything was possible,” she says. Mwanaisha has a playful smile that tends to hide the things she has been through and the faces she has seen.

You could look at her for hours and not figure out whether she was sad or happy. Her eyes do not have enough windows to tell of the worlds she has visited or the places she has been to.

So on that day, she made the 2 hour long journey in the back of a Probox that had just returned from making an illegal charcoal run, a lucrative business for public service vehicles plying the Ukunda-Lunga Lunga route.

Pride and Prejudice.
“I wasn’t running away from anything,” she says. “I hoped I was running towards something.” At that time, she had already spent 5 years out of school. Like her older sisters, her father didn’t want her to proceed past Standard 4.

“He believes educating a girl is a waste of resources,” Mwanaisha says. None of her other five sisters has proceeded past Class 4. She left home in Maledi Town at around 5pm on that June day. Her journey took her out of the virgin lands of her village where everyone knows everyone then to Mwangulu, then Shimoni, then Msambweni and finally to Ukunda.

A casual encounter with a man who was her primary school teacher was the trigger for this journey. “He told me to get off at Naivas and that he’ll be there to receive me,” Mwanaisha says. When she got off, the teacher was there and promptly paid the Probox driver.

Mejumaa had never been out of her village. Ukunda, and Diani looked like a different world to her. “It was too noisy,” she remembers.

“There were too many people.” The two walked into a nearby restaurant a few metres from the Ukunda Police Station and sat down to have a meal. She ate a plate of chips and a cold Fanta. The teacher had some roast beef, ugali and a beer before they left. Afterwards they got into a tuk tuk and went to the man’s house.

Used and abused.
At around 1AM, the teacher woke her up. “He told me a former student of his whom I knew had called him and wanted to meet me,” she says. “He told me to dress in a dera to look mature.”

They ended up at a popular nightclub along Diani Road. The other former student walked out and walked them into the bar and sat them on a table that had one other man. “They brought me a soft drink,” she says.

“The next thing I remember was waking up alone in a bed in a room with used condoms on the floor.”

The teacher, she says, came to the room at around midday and took her back to his house. And handed her a crisp Sh1,000 note. A conversation with her former teacher that begun at a relative’s wedding had ended with her in a stranger’s bed.

“He told me this is how money was earned,” Mwanaisha says, her eyes betraying no emotion. Before she slept on the second night, she remembered one thing that stood out of her journey from home.

A white Landcruiser with civilian plates ahead of them was driving too slowly. What was even more curious was the unwillingness of their driver to overtake the two- door beige vehicle in front of them.

When he finally overtook, the driver of the Landcruiser now behind them flashed his lights twice. The Probox stopped and the driver got out. Eager to see what was going on, Mwanaisha and three other passengers tried to look past the sacks of charcoal in the boot to the Land Cruiser.

The Landcrusier’s driver then switched on his headlamps to full lights. The passengers couldn’t see what was going on. But when the driver came back, he told the passengers that the occupants of the other car were CID officers whom he gave Sh1000 to proceed with their journey.

Unknown to her as she fell asleep at the time, the same vehicle would feature in her life a year later. This time, it took much more that a Sh1,000 note for the occupants to look away.
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The Numbers Don't Lie.

At least 12,000 underage girls in the country are involved in commercial sex work, data from various state and non-state agencies shows.

More than half of these ply their trade in Kenya’s impeccable sandy beaches of Diani, in South Coast.

A combination of factors, including an unwillingness to acknowledge the problem as well as cultural practices have made the vice thrive with new entrants getting into the trade every year.

A UNICEF study, The Extent and Effect of Sex Tourism and Sexual Exploitation of Children on the Kenyan Coast shows that up to 30 per cent of all the 12 to 18-year-olds living in the coastal areas of Malindi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Diani are involved in casual sex work.

As such, it is estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 girls living in these areas are being sexually exploited in tourism at irregular intervals or seasonally. A further 2,000 to 3,000 girls and boys are sexually exploited year-round by sex tourists, in these same areas.

Other estimates suggest that as many as 30,000 girls between the ages of 12 and 14 are lured into hotels and private villas to be sexually exploited.

“Other actors include individuals well known to and trusted by children, including police officers, teachers, lecturers, religious leaders, doctors, watchmen, and relatives,” says Magdalene Wanza, Country Manager for Terres des Hommes Netherlands, a non-governmental organisation working to end child exploitation.

She says that a 2015 study by her organisation found that according to parents and caregivers, the factors that drive children into prostitution are poverty, peer pressure and lack of parental guidance or negligence by parents and caregivers.

This same study also found that 40.8% of the surveyed children in Kwale were involved in sexual exploitation.

“Similarly, victims report that they mainly engage in the trade to supplement the family income, while they are also driven by the will to be self-reliant and claim to be forced by the conditions at home,” she says.

The Nationalities.
The UNICEF study indicated that Kenyan tourists form 39 per cent of the client base of exploited children. The nationalities of the foreign sex tourists are quite varied, ranging from regional and Western tourists to tourists from the Far East, with the top three nationalities listed in the study as being Italian (18 per cent), German (14 per cent) and Swiss (12 per cent).

Tourists from Uganda and Tanzania have also been found to be involved in child sex tourism in Kenya. Culture has been a major hindrance in fighting the vice.

“Child marriage still occurs, mainly among local ethnic groups such as the Digos, Giriamas and Durumas found along the Kenyan coastline,” Pwani University lecturer and Dean of the School of Sociology Professor Halimu Shauri says. “These girls are married when they are babies and since separation rates are also high, they are divorced when they are still babies. They then end up on the streets to eke out a living.”

Another leading cause of child prostitution is the lack of education among girls.

“Female education is not encouraged and most girls get married at a very tender age, becoming young mothers. With little or no education, it is very difficult for the young mothers to get their lives back on track, often, ending up in prostitution,” Joyce Wanjiku, chairperson for the National Council for Children’s Services says.

Out of The Shadows, another study by the Economist Intelligence Unit conducted across 60 nations to establish how countries respond to sexual violence against children found that there was relatively low engagement by the travel and tourism sector in Kenya to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.

Although the data makes for grim reading, some believe the fight against sexual exploitation of children can be won.

“If all actors are on board we believe that eventually we will be successful,” Wanza says. “We owe it to the children.”
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Mejumaa stands at just over 5 feet. She is petite with a slight shrill in her voice. Her laughter is still childlike and at 16, she still has some level of innocence in the ways of the world. She still believes in the infinite possibilities that life holds.

The magic of humanity and critically, that life will remain as is for as long as she wants it to. “There is nothing else I’d rather be doing,” she says…before breaking out into a throaty laugh and adding:

“There’s nothing else I know.” It’s Saturday and already, there is some excitement in town. She has just returned to her house in White House with a pack of mogoka and chewing gum.

She sits quietly in front of a mirror in her house and transforms herself from a dress wearing girl to a woman of the night. But even under the layers of face powder and the redness of lipstick, the child in her cannot be hidden.
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Mejumaa starts off by powdering her face and her neck. Its Saturday. She says she has a good feeling about the night.
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Then a dab on her nose and her cheek bones.
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Some bright colour on her eyelids to match her mood.
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And a dash of red lip gloss too.
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After an hour of preparation she meets up with her fried Amina, and the two go to Bidi Badu beach for supper. Today, Amina has some home cooked pilau she shares with her underage protégé who has deep fried potatoes and tamarind sauce.

They order two sodas and go on with their meal. Conversations between the two are varied. Amina talks of a landlord who has reverted to get his rent through sexual escapades with her.

And how now, due to the accumulating rent arrears, has turned her into a wife.

“He walks in to my house whenever he feels like it. He doesn’t even care that I have children,” Amina says. Mejumaa on her part, talks of a strange white man he had the other night. “He just sat there looking at me,” she says. “At some point I thought he was dead and almost ran away.

But I remembered he hadn’t paid me,” she says, before the two of them burst out in laughter, pieces of the fried rice falling off their cupped hands and onto the beach.

After the meal, they head to another bar popular with a white clientele for the night. None of the four bouncers ask for any form of identification from them. Mejumaa is joined by another girl, who looks even younger than her at their table. I ask about her age. The reply I get is curt.

“We are still talking to her about her periods,” Amina says.

Within two hours, Mejumaa and her friend leave with two men who look old enough to be their fathers. After an hour and a half, Mejumaa returns.

She has got another call from her boda boda guy. “He says someone wants a ng’ari ng’ari,” she says. “Let me see what he wants.”

Ng’ari ng’ari is a local term that loosely translates to ‘angel like innocence.’ In the streets, this means an ‘underage sexual object.’

We see Mejumaa two days later. Her friend Amina, teases her about her new shoes and fresh hairstyle.
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In December of 2017 Mwanaisha thought she had struck gold. “I was introduced to a white man who had come for holiday,” she says. For two weeks leading to Christmas, the two had, what Mwanaisha says, was the time of their lives.

“There’s nothing we didn’t do,” she says. “Every morning he’d give me Sh4,000 shillings. I think he liked me.”

On Christmas Eve the white Land Cruiser that had trailed Mwanaisha’s Probox when she left home pulled up into the parking lot of an apartment block that the man, a German, was renting for the holidays.

Two men walked up to their door, knocked and identified themselves as policemen. “They asked for our identification. I didn’t have any,” Mwanaisha says. “But they knew I was underage.”

She was 14 at the time. Mwanaisha and the German were arrested and taken to Ukunda Police Station, then to Likoni on Christmas morning.

On Boxing Day they were moved across the mainland to Bamburi Police Station. On the 27th of December 2017 after numerous threats of being charged with rape, defilement and possession of bhang the man and the policemen came to an understanding.

“He told me he gave them Sh1.4milllion and was on the next plane out of Diani,” Mwanaisha says. They had been together for eight days, three of them in unofficial police custody.

There were no records in the Occurrence Books of the police stations they were put. She does not remember any instances where they were booked.

Her memory of the event revolves around being shuttled from one station to another. Mwanaisha moved out of her teacher’s house in September 2017 after she realized he was stealing from her.

“Men were paying him up to Sh5000 for me. He only used to give me Sh1000,” Mwanaisha says.

The promise of wealth that had fuelled her journey to Diani has remained just that.

A promise she still chases after but always looks to be a step ahead.
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