03 December, 2007

The Dark Side Of Kenya's Tourist Industry

Two days ago, thousands of events were held around the World marking the World Aids Day, but as with most campaigns, it is what happens after that matter. Campaigns are good in building awareness and in reminding people. But, then, how many do really take such campaigns seriously? How many, do act on them in a positive way? I write this, in relation to sex, AIDS and the tourist industry in Kenya.

As Geographia states: Kenya is still the primary focus of all adventure travel in Africa. It is one of the finest--and undoubtedly the most famous--safari destination in the world. Having lived in Kenya for most of my life, I still find Kenya's beauty and attractions, as captivating and fascinating as I have always. Tourism is one of Kenya's main foreign exchange earners (second after agriculture), and hundreds of thousands of people depend on it - directly or indirectly. But, there is the other kind of dependency on tourists in Kenya, that I find very disturbing and painful. Kenya, like Thailand, is now increasingly attracting another kind of 'tourists'; tourists who visit Kenya primarily for sex. And increasingly - they prefer sex with teenagers and minors. Some excerpts:
A report on Kenyan sex tourism has revealed that up to 30 per cent of teenagers in some Kenyan coastal areas are involved in casual sex for cash. UNICEF

"Child sex workers are often compelled to deliver sexual services to Kenyans - beach boys, bar staff, waiters, and others - in order to access tourists. During the low tourist season, the local market for child sex workers keeps the system going," The BBC quoting from a UN report

Sixteen-year-old Judy (not her real name) sits in a nightclub sipping beer with two other girls in this coastal resort town popular with foreign tourists thanks to its numerous beach hotels and villas.

She is one of a rising number of under-age girls who have taken to commercial sex due to poverty or the allure of easy money from tourists. "I had no choice, I had dropped out of school, I had no job and my parents have four other children to take care of," said Judy. Her 58-year-old European boyfriend has bought her a car, pays her rent and gives her money to support her family. IRIN

"Hard figures are difficult to come by, but local people on the (Kenyan) coast estimate that as many as one in five single women visiting from rich countries are in search of sex."

"As many as 15,000 girls in four coastal districts -- about a third of all 12-18 year-olds girls there -- are involved in casual sex for cash, a joint study by Kenya's government and U.N. children's charity UNICEF reported late last year."

"Emerging alongside this black market trade -- and obvious in the bars and on the sand once the sun goes down -- are thousands of elderly white women hoping for romantic, and legal, encounters with much younger Kenyan men." Reuters

The health risks, for the 'tourists' involved, many of whom 'shunned condoms -- finding them too "businesslike" for their exotic fantasies' is stark; as for the young Kenyans trapped in to this kind of life, the risks they face, is too much, however much they earn from the 'tourists'. The root cause for all these young Kenyans being involved in such a very risky 'business' and kind of life, is: poverty. And the only way, Kenya's thriving sex trade, involving children - can be stopped, is to create other means for these young people to earn a living, or to be kept busy in other constructive ways.

The Kenyan government has been doing all it can, to keep Kenya's magic and attractions, the same as they have been ever since tourists and people started being attracted to Kenya's awesome beauty and wonders, hundreds of years ago. Kenya will certainly remain the queen of safari, and will remain by far the most popular safari destination in the world. Its national parks are as exceptional as their reputations. And Kenya's people have always been some of the friendliest and most welcoming one can find any where in the World.

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