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Sexual abuse continues unabated

Even with the enactment of the Children s Act in March 2002, sexual exploitation of children continues unabated with disastrous consequences, owing to a number of underlying factors.
Esther Mwangi

A four-year - girl is lying speechless and helpless in a hospital bed after she was brutally violated by an 18-year-old man. In an unprecedented shortest trial in recent memory, Kiambu principal magistrate Margaret Warigia sentenced Paul Ngigi whom she described as a barbarian worse than a beast - to life imprisonment, after he pleaded guilty to the charge.

Sexual exploitation of children continues unabated in a number of societies. Because of their immaturity, vulnerability and inability to fight back, children have been targeted for various forms of abuse and neglect. Both boys and girls in their infancy have fallen prey to child abusers.

A quick review of reported cases of child abuse at the Nairobi Children's Home and Kabete Approved School by the Coalition On Violence Against Women (COVAW) showed that most reported cases involved child neglect, child labour, assault by employers and physical and sexual abuse by parents.

In general, children suffered more from sexual abuse and assault, which accounted for 72.8 per cent. 69 cases of sexual exploitation had been reported by 5th Dec 2003 at the Children s Legal Action Network (CLAN). Out of these 5 cases involved boys.

Children are exploited sexually for commercial purposes, although this exploitation is non-commercial in cases of domestic violence and incest. Child sexual exploitation in Kenya exists in many forms but the main form is child prostitution.

Child prostitution is an emerging phenomenon in Kenya. There are an increasing number of young children entering prostitution as a means of survival. Many of the children in Kenya are exposed to sex at an early age, especially children from the slums. Agnes Wairimu a 16-year-old girl from Kibera slums revealed that after her parents died, her friend introduced her to commercial sex work along Nairobi s Koinange Street. Agnes said that she has been into the business for 3 years.

Sexual exploitation of children is especially rampant in the streets, where an overwhelming majority fall victims. Most of these children are either orphaned, destitute or from families facing conflicts or too poor to offer children the necessities of life. Nancy Nyambura, 18 took to commercial sex work after her boss exploited her when she was working as a house help. "After he raped me, I lost self credibility and detested the whole of me."

A unique feature of child prostitution, which has been noted in Kenya is the communal living of child prostitutes who cannot afford to live alone. Such communal premises are used for sexual purposes; otherwise the perpetrators usually take the children to other secluded places such as boarding and lodging houses.

A number of adults also keep destitute children in their own houses, under the guise of taking care of them, but instead act as pimps and hire them out as prostitutes from time to time. Some children are also kept in brothels alongside adult prostitutes. This is common in Nairobi and the coastal towns of Mombasa and Malindi.

To conceal their identities, brothels in Mombasa are mainly located in residential areas and deal mainly in male children. In Nairobi, brothels are covertly registered as 'Bar and Restaurant', and deal mainly with female children.

Child pornography is another form of exploitation. It is the sexual explicit reproduction of a child's image done for commercial purpose. Perpetrators accomplish their purpose by forcing or fooling children (often with the use of drugs) to pose for pornographic photographs or to take away a child's dignity and self-respect.

They reduce the value of the child's body to nothing, teaching the child that the body is for sale and has no other value. This form of sexual prostitution has been found to be widespread in the coastal towns of Kenya. Unfortunately, these cases are rarely reported.

Another common form of sexual exploitation involves child marriages. In Kenya child marriages are common especially among the pastoral communities, in the Rift Valley districts of Kajiado and Transmara and the North-Eastern districts of Moyale, Wajir and Mandera. In some communities children are married off when they are as young as six years old.

According to UNICEF 2000 reports, HIV/AIDS epidemic has also contributed to early marriages. Many adult males seek out young girls for sex or marriage in the mistaken belief that they are free from HIV, that they are easy to please and control and on the basis that they lack the means to cause trouble in case the relationship does not work out.

Children are especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation owing to widespread poverty. It is worth noting that large numbers of the population in the region are chronically disadvantaged economically and have little access to alternative sources of livelihoods. It is with due demand for survival children find themselves trapped into sex trade.

Poverty stricken families send their children to towns to look for employment but since they are illiterate, they are unable to secure well paid employment, which in turn leads to incidences of sexual abuse and exploitation.

HIV/AIDS is both a cause and a consequence of sexual exploitation of children. An interview with four girls in Kibera slums showed that they opted for prostitution so that they could bring up their siblings after their parents died of AIDS.

The spread of the disease and its deadly consequences has also led to the dangerous myth that sex with a virgin or young girl will either cure or prevent AIDS, which in turn has stimulated an increase in child prostitution.

The growing number of sexually exploited children has in turn contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS among the most vulnerable population. Indulgence in drugs has great influence on people and most of those who use them end up sexually abusing children.

While sexual exploitation of children continues unabated, its consequences on the affected children cannot be gainsaid. Besides suffering physical injuries, the psychological trauma visited on the children lingers for a long time. Such children may develop juvenile delinquency and truancy resulting in poor performance in school and eventual drop-out to seek solace in the streets.

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