A walk along the Kenya coastal beaches of Mombasa and Malindi reveals the growing number of young girls and boys who flock the beaches in search of prospective white tourists for sex, as they hope the tides sweep them away from biting poverty. While tourism is the financial vigor for the Kenyan economy, it is also the root cause of child prostitution here. In spite the fact that tourism earns Kenya about USD887.1 million annually tourism also counts for the growing child sexual abuses according to case study conducted by Coast Women in Development.
Tourists as old as between 70 years and 80 years sexually abuse youths as young as their grandchildren. Of equal concern is the boy child sexual exploitation by sex tourists.
Poverty and unemployment of youths, society acceptance of the vice as a means of earning a living may be just a few of the push factors compelling youths as young as between 8 years and 25 years to crowd beaches. Majority of them lack basic education and life skills to survive or opt out of the high tide that has claimed several lives through HIV and AIDS.
It is possible to overcome all odds and pressures as was the case for Jackline Kangeshi a former commercial sex worker living in Malindi. Jackline managed to quit the practice thanks to financial support from Kenya Evangelical Lutheran church project financed by Lutheran World Relief, which enabled her start an income generating activity under the livelihood support.
Poverty opened door to early marriage
“Life was difficult and made me get married at an early age”- lamented Jackline oblivious of what was lying ahead in her marriage. She hoped the marriage would assist her support her needy siblings unfortunately [husband] violence made her leave. “He used to beat me…he even brought home diseases like syphilis and gonorrhea. I was bitter” she said. Her aid came from a Good Samaritan who provided her transport and urged her to leave. It was at that point that Jackline decided to return with her child to her parent’s home despite several pleas from the husband not to leave.
The separation was short-lived since her in-laws visited and convinced her mother to return to the husband while promising better treatment. “The thought of raising my one year daughter without a father made me return” narrated Jackline.
The re-union led her conceive a second child despite little change in her marriage life. She repeatedly contracted sexual transmitted infections situations that made her lose faith in her husband. After several attempts to perseverance, she finally decided to divorce the father to her two children and vow never to return.
Better life for children
With two-mouths to feed, and her unemployment status. Jackline was forced back to Malindi beaches too aware of the dangers of contracting HIV and AIDS and leaving her children as orphans; but that did not prevent her from the move. Keen in preventing further sexual transmission, she embraced use of condoms.
“I used to carry 5 to 10 sachets of condom from Malindi District hospital to protect myself”-said Jackline. Income from sex was little.
Less pay and frequent harassment at the beach made Jackline ascend to Malindi town for white men who paid her up to 200 shillings a day. She accumulated the income and managed to pay rent and buy food for her siblings and her two children. “Africans would ask for sex for 100 shillings. Thugs would at time snatch my [day’s] pay” she lamented.
Educating her children initially was not an easy task but after the government introduced free primary education in Kenya she became confident and hopeful. This meant better life and future for her children in class 6 and 7. She wants to give [her] children the best education she missed to shape their future.
Turning point for Jackline
Advice from her mother’s friend to join Lutheran CSW support group became the turning point in Jackline’s life. She received training on safe sex, counseling and was empowered to prevent HIV and AIDS infection. With no religious background, it was difficult to follow the ‘new culture’ in the church. She struggled to stay out of the sex trade but occasionally drifted back to the beaches even after church trainings. “[I]feared joining the group, [since i] didn’t know how to dress decently”. She said.
“It was difficult to stop selling my body for money”-worried Jackline.
Through the Lutheran church seminars and trainings on business entrepreneur, she acquired skills that would change her life for better. The church loaned her 5,000 shillings (less than USD 50) which became the starting capital for her tailoring, grocery and second-hand clothes business. Low business would at times revive her thoughts of returning to the beach but determination to change thrived over those thoughts. “I didn’t want to return to prostitution”.
For nine months business was bad, but she managed to repay the loan and asked for top-up of 15,000 shillings. She acquired a small piece of land and constructed three rooms. “I used to buy iron sheets and blocks each time I got profits” She said.
She took 3 years to complete the construction and has since started the foundation for rental houses within the same piece of land. Her compound is awash with several activities. A Faith Ambassadors for Christ Ministry church operates from her compound. “People come here to pray…this [church is] the only thing I can give back to God” she said.
Indeed the rejected stone became the corner stone as is the case for Jackline who suffered rejection and stigma. She feeds the community around her from small scale farming harvest of 4 to 4.5 bags of maize. Her neighbors view her as a source of hope and inspiration. They say she is blessed. “Her farm yields maximum and she helps orphans in our community” –one of Jackline’s neighbor said.
For Jackline “God’s mercy enabled [her] this far” and through the Lutheran’s faith in action restored happiness and hope not only for her but for the community she continues to serve.