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Kenyan Advocacy Group Launches Campaign Against Child Sex Tourism

In Kenya, a child advocacy group has launched a one-week campaign to collect one million signatures calling for an end to child sexual exploitation in the tourism industry. Kenya's tourism minister has given hotels one month to sign a code of conduct on the issue or face having their licenses revoked. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

On the streets of Kenya's capital this week, members of the Mijikenda Girl Child Education group and other organizations working with them speak to passers-by, informing them of the problem of child prostitution and sexual exploitation.

The passers-by are urged to sign a petition calling for the practice to be eradicated. The goal of the campaign is to gather one million signatures in Nairobi and towns along the coast by the end of the week.

Eunice Omwando is a member of the Mijikenda Girl Child Education group. She explains that the campaign in part is meant to coincide with the World Cross-Country Championships, to be held this weekend in the coastal town of Mombasa.

Omwando says children engaging in prostitution and exploitation face a bleak future.

"These children should be taken to school or they should be somewhere good, [in] a good environment, not just on the streets," said Eunice Omwando. "They should be in a better place. They have got various talents and there are many things that they can do other than just being prostitutes at that tender age."

The Kenyan government and the United Nations children's agency late last week re-launched a study they conducted titled "The Extent and Effect of Sex Tourism and Sexual Exploitation of Children on the Kenyan Coast."

The study says that 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 along the coast.

Clients often meet the children in bars, pubs, and nightclubs in or near major hotels along the coast. In February 2005, the hotel industry came up with a code of conduct and training that would, among other things, help staff to recognize and report suspected cases of child prostitution.

According to the U.N. study, a full 41 percent 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.

Soon after the 2005 launch of the code of conduct, 57 of the 137 hotel members of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers had signed the code.

Kenya's minister of tourism, Morris Dzorro, said last week that hotels have one month to sign the code of conduct or face having their licenses revoked.

The chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board, Jake Grieves-Cook, says getting the remaining hotels to sign up should not be a problem.

"The code of conduct was initially introduced and set up with the support and assistance of the hoteliers," said Jake Grieves-Cook. "Many of them have signed up. So I don't think there's been a suggestion that pressure needs to be put on hoteliers to sign up. The reputable hoteliers have been promoting the code of conduct since its inception."

The Mijikenda Girl Child Education group, meanwhile, is continuing its signature campaign.

Member Omwando says the group hopes to use the signatures to, among other things, pass a bill in parliament outlawing the practice.