News / Africa

In Slums of Nairobi, Sex for Sanitation

Girls receive a year's worth of sanitary napkins from Freedom for Girls, Mathare slums in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 9, 2012. (Jill Craig/VOA)
Girls receive a year's worth of sanitary napkins from Freedom for Girls, Mathare slums in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 9, 2012. (Jill Craig/VOA)
Jill Craig

Roughly half of all girls in slums of Kenya have sex with older men in exchange for sanitary napkins. In response to these estimates, healthcare advocates are distributing napkins to girls as part of a nationwide campaign.

Health educator Lydiah Njoroge, a field officer for the Freedom for Girls Program, an initiative of HEART (Health Education Africa Resource Team), distributes towels to girls in Mathare, a collection of Nairobi ghettos where poverty is so severe that girls are unable to purchase even the most affordable brands.

"The least [expensive] in the market is 40 shillings ... a packet that has eight pieces in it," says Njoroge. "So, because this girl cannot afford 40 shillings -- their mother, their parents are poor, they have other things to provide food and shelter - sanitary towels are not a priority. So the girl just goes [and] has sex with an older man, most of the time not the same man -- they would have one this month, another one next month, so they are very, very at risk of having HIV."

In other words, for 40 shillings - about 50 cents - girls and young women repeatedly put their lives at risk.

Lack of education

According to Njoroge and fellow teachers in Mathare, about 50 percent of girls between 10 and 19 have had sex with older men to pay for a range of basic items. But sanitary napkins are a uniquely critical resource: Not only are they vital to a young woman's health, but, without them, schoolgirls are forced to stay home during menstrual cycles, missing up to five days of class each month.

"It depends on the immediate need," says Janet Nzioka, deputy head teacher of Mathare's St. James School, explaining that girls use any remaining funds for food and clothing. "You can get food maybe at home, but, you know, sanitary towels, some of that you have to buy, so they prefer buying."

Lack of sex education at home, she adds, is another significant part of the problem.

"Let me say that people are becoming wicked," Nzioka says. "When these men approach these girls, they give in. Why? Because the parents sometimes are far from them, they have no time to talk about sex education with them. So when any man approaches them and they are ready to offer money in exchange for sex, they just say yes."

Twelve-year-old Ivone, a student from the Mathare Community Development Education Center, is all too familiar with these exchanges.

"When I’m just walking on the way, they call you," she says. "But my friends, sometimes they go. Sometimes they don’t go. But me, I said no to sex, but some are poor and they want that, they tell those men to give them money, then they do sex."

A 14-year-old friend, she says, has had sex with men her father’s age for money to buy napkins.

"They did sex, then the men were not having money, they were just lying," says Ivone. "Then, after doing sex, they left her there."

Njoroge says resources in the slums are so scarce that it's often difficult for girls to find any kind of substitute materials.

"These other materials are not also available," she says. "They have three, four, five siblings after them. So you tear a blanket today - tomorrow, in a year, you don’t have any blanket to cover yourself with."

But without sanitary napkins in particular, she says, long-term life goals are compromised, which is why the distribution campaign helps to keep girls like Ivone in school longer.

"Last year, [after] the national examinations, the Grade Eight exams, I was excited to hear that girls in most schools that I had been to during the distribution had topped [passed], and are being called to good secondary schools," says Njoroge. "That girl, you know, she told me she has a dream of being a nurse, a teacher, and in the next 10 years she will be that."

All because something as basic as a sanitary napkin, a year's supply of which, according to Freedom for Girls, costs roughly $5 per girl.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid