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Children Increasingly Used in Kenyan Sex Trade - 2001-12-11

Kenyans are growing increasingly alarmed about the number of their young people who are involved in the sex trade. The sexual exploitation of children was the subject of a meeting in Nairobi, held a week before the world congress on the exploitation of children in Japan.

Every night, soon after dark, scores of prostitutes appear on the streets of downtown Nairobi. Wearing the shortest of mini-skirts, they stand by the roadside trying to attract the attention of passing motorists.

Many are little more than children - school dropouts, teenage mothers or AIDS orphans - who have no other way of making a living. The most desperate are the street kids, who often sell their bodies for as little as 15 cents.

Joyce Umbima is executive director of the Kenya Alliance for Advancement of Children. She is traveling to Japan next week to represent Kenya at the Second World Congress Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children.

Ms. Umbima said worsening poverty in Kenya has driven greater numbers of children into prostitution and pornography. "Since 1995, our economy has been deteriorating," she explained. "There have been more social ills and social problems. The level of poverty among children is higher than it was before. The drop-out rate from schools is increased. At one time we had 99 percent enrollment, now we are back to 68. And this is a worrying situation."

Ms Umbima said child prostitutes have become increasingly popular because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. That is because customers believe they have less of a chance of contracting AIDS from them. "With HIV being on the increase," she said, "these brothels are more accepting children [to serve] their customers than they are accepting adults. It is believed that the children are not yet HIV positive. The adults chances are 50-50 they could be, especially if they are commercial sex workers. So really it is getting away from the problem and expanding it to the younger generation."

Ms Umbima said the problem in Kenya is one of enforcement. She wants the government to shut down those brothels and lodges that allow child prostitution.