Mtwapa has over the years been dubbed Kenya’s sin capital. Lying just 15km outside Mombasa City this is the place people go to party and have fun. Mtwapa is alive at night; young women bickering, children begging, men cat-calling at women, and music blaring from clubs announcing the dawning of party morning.
There are ‘organizations’ of sex workers and anyone wishing to earn money must join one or risk being attacked later. These groups keep to themselves and have territories. The women looking for men who will pay for sex are scantily dressed – almost to the point of nudity. Some of these women are unemployed mothers, university students or people from bara (upcountry) who have come to Mombasa to look for work, found none and ended up here.
Tabby (not her real name) came from Kiambu two years back. It has been a long walk looking for proper work to do, an endeavor in which she had despaired until her cousin showed her how to earn a quick buck. Tabby likes to refer to herself as an escort.
“Sometimes it is really difficult to get a client and beggars can’t be choosers.”
At such times, she says, she will settle for whatever is available. Her friend, Salma, on the other hand,caters exclusively to foreign clients, white tourists holidaying in the area.
“They have the money. I want nothing but the money.”
Old white men with paunchy stomachs, sallow skins and countless wrinkles are the most popular clients here for these sex workers. The girls are either recruited by “agencies” or are forced into the trade by circumstances. They have formed a kind of network so strong that there are dedicated places where a tourist can easily find a minor for sex. This happens in very secluded places known only to the involved parties.
Large mansions and houses masquerading as guest houses and spas are hideouts for these sex businesses. Recruited women and men work here and are paid on commissions. A reliable source recently confirmed that even those women who are seen as ‘clean’ due to their buibuis are paid more.
UN statistics show that about 15, 000 girls below the age of 18 are engaged in sexual activities with majority of their clients being European men. Young men and ‘beach boys’ are also paid to appear in gay films which are later shipped to overseas pornography vendors.
One can almost readily blame the authorities for not doing much to prevent such practices from taking place. Poverty, however, has its fair share of the blame for this. Families need to put food on the table, pay fees and clothe their children. Reports by the media have revealed a shocking truth that the law enforcement officers in Mtwapa have decided to overlook.
Child sex tourism has been on the rise. The tourists ‘hire’ the children and take them out to sea in rented boats, where it is safe to carry on their business. With bodaboda (motorbikes for hire) use on the rise, transportation of these people and the children is not a challenge. Astonishingly, some parents are the ones giving their children out in order to get some money.
“As poor as most of the residents here are, we have those situations where parents force their children into having sex with tourists so their families can sustained. It is a sad state of affairs that needs to be urgently addressed, before a whole generation is lost.”
Cautions Ngowa Ziro, a teacher in Kilifi.