By Julius Kithuure in Nairobi
The awareness campaign will focus on the Mombasa area coastline and target tourists who pay to sexually abuse children and produce pornographic videos involving minors to sell on the internet.
"Child-sex tourism and trafficking is a national cancer, not a Mombasa problem alone. We have children as young as 12 years in prostitution. This is a national blemish," said David Kimanthi, a team leader at Human Capital Experts Limited, a hospitality recruitment and training consulting firm in Mombasa.
To avoid detection, tourists paying for sex with minors have started taking their victims to less visible sites, including private villas, small lodgings and homes, and even on-board boats out on the high seas.
"The government should pass a law that would allow special tourism officials to enter and inspect private homes, villas and massage parlours incognito," Kimanthi told Sabahi.
International paedophiles use an intricate scheme to lure children into the sex trade with the help of local pimps and social media, he said. The pimps recruit the girls by disguising themselves as international aid workers and instructing them to open a Facebook page to facilitate communication with a "donor".
The tourist then sends a "friend request" and slowly begins to communicate with the child, morphing the relationship into a courtship with the promise of financial stability, Kimanthi said.
"We will start a sensitisation programme in August so that vulnerable children know the dangers involved," he said.
His company's awareness campaign will educate parents about why their children should not drop out of school and put themselves at risk. "It all comes down to economic incentives. [Some] parents force their children in prostitution with foreigners because they know this is where quick money is," Kimanthi said.
Other venues that are magnets for child sex tourism include Nairobi's mushrooming massage parlours, which are known for employing under-age girls for sex.
"I wonder why the owners insist in the classified newspaper adverts that the preferred candidates must be 'young and cute,'" said Fred Simiyu, managing director of Kenyatta International Conference Centre. "These places are definitely avenues where children are exploited for sex in return for financial rewards."
Prostitution snares tens of thousands of childrenKenya has fared badly over the years in efforts to combat the trafficking and exploitation of children.
In a report released last month, the U.S. State Department kept Kenya on its Tier 2 Watch List "for the second consecutive year as it did not demonstrate evidence of increased efforts to combat human trafficking".
"The government's efforts remained uncoordinated and lacked strict oversight, creating an environment conducive to trafficking," the report said.
It also said vehicles transporting qat to Somalia return to Kenya with young Somali girls "who often end up in brothels in Nairobi's Eastleigh and Mombasa".
By 2009, more than 50,000 children had become prostitutes, according to End Child Prostitution in Kenya (ECPIK).
"The numbers must be very high now. The poverty in Mombasa and the rest of the country serves as the right incubator for thriving child sex tourism," said ECPIK National Co-ordinator Rose Atieno Odhiambo. "Children from poor family backgrounds are easy targets, with the promise for better life."
Child-sex tourists come to Kenya because they believe that paedophilia is legally and culturally accepted there, but the country has stringent laws against that, said Ahmed Hussein, the children's services director formerly under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development.
"[Kenyan men] also engage in sexual activities with children, yet these are people who are affluent, highly respected professionals from trusted and prominent backgrounds. Some child-sex tourists are paedophiles who preferentially seek out children for sexual relationships, but many are what I call 'situational abusers' who only engage in sexual acts with children when the opportunity presents itself," Ahmed said.
David Gachuru, the general manager of the luxury Sarova Stanley hotel in Nairobi, said child sex tourism is rampant in Malindi, Mombasa, Naivasha and Nakuru.
In 2007, the Sarova Stanley chain was among more than 90 major hotel chains that signed a code of conduct agreement forbidding tourists with unrelated children from staying in their rooms. "This was our one way of helping crush this disease called child-sex tourism," he said.
"It hurts me so much to know that there are many children out there who are forced into the sex slavery by their parents and guardians," Gachuru said, adding that this "brings shame to our tourism."
Gachuru said he would use his position to try and persuade members of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers and business entities in Nairobi to collect funds for starting a campaign to educate parents about the dangers of the child-sex trade.
Government should step in to help combat child sex tourismThe government should use the national intelligence service to help the tourism sector and immigration department profile known paedophiles seeking visas for entering Kenya, said Arthur Okwemba, executive director of African Woman and Child Feature Service.
Sex tourism in Kenya is fuelled by poverty and an economy heavily dependent on tourism, which causes politicians to be less likely to jeopardise those revenue streams, said Child Aid Organisation Kenya Executive Director Tom Omwenga.
"Such countries would not like to endanger the goose that lays the golden eggs. They have tourist-friendly policies and laws, and law enforcement officials would rather turn a blind eye on child sex tourism than antagonise the tourist," he said.
He said the government should ensure proper investigations are conducted in cases involving the sexual exploitation of children so that perpetrators can be effectively prosecuted in court. In addition, he said, laws should better protect children's interests and prohibit parents from entering into out-of-court financial settlements.
"I challenge other NGOs dealing with children issues to pull resources together and address the effects of child sex tourism, which causes irreversible damage and even death to a child," Omwenga said. "Almost all victims of child-sex tourism experience rejection by their families and communities in addition to fear, shame and despair."