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The vicious circle of sexual exploitation

The sexual abuse of children in Kenya and other African countries has astronomical consequences on children's physical, psychological, and social development, and ends up in such tragedies as early pregnancy and the transmission of HIV/AIDS, says a new report.
Zachary Ochieng

A July 2002 report by the African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) and the United Nations Children's Fund - East and Southern Africa Regional Office (UNICEF-ESARO) details the horrific sexual abuse that children in Kenya and all over Africa are forced to endure at the hands of parents, teachers, employers, and sex trade customers.

The report, "A situational analysis of sexual exploitation of children in the Eastern and Southern Africa Region," notes that although commercial sexual exploitation of children cannot be easily quantified due to a lack of adequate data and surveillance mechanisms, there is an overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence that the sexual exploitation of children is an extensive global problem.

It is against this background that the first World Congress on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children was held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1996 to put the problem on the international political agenda. The conference, which led to the adoption of an international action plan against the commercial sexual exploitation of children, received the endorsement of UN agencies, NGOs, and many governments.

The Declaration and Agenda for Action of the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (1996) provided the following definition of the practice: "The commercial sexual exploitation of children is a fundamental violation of children's rights. It comprises sexual abuse by the adult and remuneration in cash or kind to the child or a third person or persons. The child is treated as a sexual and commercial object. The commercial sexual exploitation of children constitutes a form of coercion and violence against children and amounts to forced labour and temporary slavery."

As a follow up to the first World congress, a second congress is to be convened in Yokohama, Japan in December 2002. This second congress will review the progress that the international community has made towards eliminating the problem of commercial sexual exploitation of children.

This latest July 2002 report seeks to review, ahead of the Yokohama congress, the progress made in the East and Southern Africa Region in curbing the problem. The report's objectives are to assess all forms of sexual exploitation, to focus on the links between non-commercial and commercial sexual exploitation, and to examine all issues related to the sexual exploitation of children and HIV/AIDS.

The report is based on both primary and secondary data. The secondary data were collected through an extensive review of current literature based on studies, surveys, reports, and assessments of the problem since 1996. Some information was also obtained through interviews with key informants - NGO officials, government officers and other stakeholders.

According to the report, children are sexually abused and exploited in the home, community, school, workplace, and brothels. It notes that there is a widespread commitment, in principle, to child welfare and protection as exemplified by the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and public pronouncements of a commitment to the Stockholm Agenda for Action.

However, with reference to recovery, rehabilitation and integration, there are inadequate services available to children who have been sexually exploited and abused. The report further cites lack of human and financial resources as an impediment to tackling the problem of sexual exploitation of children.

Lack of trained personnel to work in the area of commercial sexual exploitation of children has been identified as having an effect on integration and rehabilitation services. "This has hampered counselling and support services to victims," says the report. The report states that the commercial sexual exploitation of children is both an old and a new practice: old in the sense that it includes traditional practices; and new in the sense that globalisation and advances in technology are posing a different set of challenges.

"The global sex sector is growing, with an accelerated demand for younger children due to inadequate government intervention and lax law enforcement particularly in terms of protective measures for children," adds the report.

In Kenya, the report cites poverty, tribal clashes, lack of education, disintegration of family and social values, large-scale migration, and lack of protection to children at risk as being the major causes of commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Sexual exploitation of children results in serious and often life-threatening consequences of physical, psychological and social development, including threats of early pregnancy, maternal mortality, physical disabilities, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDS. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is both a cause and a consequence of sexual exploitation of children in Kenya, says the report.

According to the report, child sexual exploitation in Kenya exists in the form of child prostitution, incest, early child marriages, rape, sodomy, indecent assault, and defilement. The report notes that there are a number of children joining prostitution as a means of survival. Children - especially those from slum areas - are exposed to sex at an early age. "An overwhelming majority of children in Kenya are abused in the streets. They are either orphaned, destitute or from families facing conflicts", says the report.

A unique feature of child prostitution in Kenya is that people take in destitute children but instead of caring for them, they hire the children out as prostitutes from time to time. Some children are also kept in brothels alongside adult prostitutes.

Another form of child sexual exploitation that the report notes is homosexual sex tourism, particularly for the boy child. This practice is associated with the coastal towns of Mombasa, Malindi, and Lamu. Tourist agents - both local and foreign - are reported to direct and guide tourists to special child prostitutes. Production of child pornography is also found to be widespread in the coastal towns.

Child marriages have also been noted as a form of sexual exploitation. They are common among the pastoral communities in districts including Kajiado, Transmara, Moyale, Wajir, and Mandera. According to the report, some parents are known to marry off their young girls to older men in order to pay the school fees of their male siblings.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic has also contributed to early marriages, as many adult males seek out young girls for sex and marriage in the belief that they are free from HIV. The report sadly notes that the growing number of sexually exploited children has also contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS in that age group.

The report concludes that in order to overcome obstacles to the implementation of the Stockholm Agenda for Action, greater co-ordination is required amongst non-governmental organisations and government agencies. A holistic approach is needed in the fight against all forms of sexual abuse with full participation of communities and children, taking into account cultural settings and contexts. The report also recommends that urgent measures need to be taken in the field of law enforcement, education and recovery, rehabilitation, and integration of victims.

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