A study released Tuesday by the U.N. children's agency and the Kenyan government says Kenyans top the list of tourists who sexually exploit and abuse children 18 years of age and under at Kenya's coast. Meanwhile, three-quarters of the coastal communities surveyed say that sex tourism of children is normal or beneficial to the communities. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Roughly 41percent of adults who pay children as young as 12-years-old for sex at Kenya's coast are Kenyans.
Most of the remaining 59 percent of sex tourism clients are Italians, Germans, and Swiss.
At the launch of the study, titled "The Extent and Effect of Sex Tourism and Sexual Exploitation of Children on the Kenyan Coast," Kenyan vice president Moody Awori expressed his outrage at what he calls a moral decay and degeneration.
"This is totally foreign to the African tradition," he said. "Families respected their children. Nobody could imagine that a child, particularly a girl, under the age of 18 would know much or anything about sexual activities. When we say that 41 percent of the abusers are Kenyans, then we really should condemn ourselves. When it came out that some parents at the coast were proud that the children had a foreign "friend," a friend that was putting food on the table, that shocked me."
The study, conducted by UNICEF and the Kenyan government, incorporates the results of diaries that the children themselves kept of their sexual activities and clients, along with surveillance of so-called "hot spots" such as bars and beaches, and interviews with communities in the coastal districts of Malindi, Kilifi, Mombasa, and Kwale.
Up to about 15,000 girls between the ages of 12 to 18 are estimated to be involved in sex tourism in the study areas.
As many as 45 percent of children engaged in sex work with tourists are from eastern, central, and western provinces. Of the child sex workers from resort areas, 40 percent had lost one or both of their parents.
The study's author, Sarah Jones, says one of the most disturbing findings, besides the prominence of Kenyan clients, is that more than 75 percent of those surveyed, including parents, students, government staff, and community leaders, either accepted the practice of child sex tourism as being normal or even approved of it.
Jones says pockets of extreme poverty and food insecurity in the areas often push the children to take great risks of contracting HIV/AIDS, especially when clients do not use condoms.
"There was a child who had a number of tourist clients, and she died," said Ms. Jones. "Her peers were ready to take over her clients absolutely in the knowledge that their risk was immense. Adult sex workers won't take the same level of risk. They [children] will play Russian Roulette with their clients, and they are paid more to play Russian Roulette."
Jones says that children who engage in regular sex are paid about $28, but the payment shoots up to between $72 to $14 for anal and other high-risk sex.
If they were to engage in more traditional labor, the children would earn between one and two dollars a day.
Sexual offenses against children technically are covered under Kenya's Children Act, approved in 2001, but childcare workers say that the law is seldom enforced.