Poverty lures teenagers into sex tourism
Barely a teenager, homeless, pregnant and a school dropout 13 year old Esther’s (not her real name) life came crumbling down.
She did not have anyone or anywhere to turn to during this tough period in her life. Her step mother, with whom she had been living with since she was a child threw her out the moment she realised that Esther was pregnant.
Confused and abandoned, Esther decided to take refuge at her aunt’s place in Kisauni within Mombasa County, quite a distance from her home.
“I was devastated and confuse. I walked a long distance just to reach my aunt’s place. I borrowed money from people along the way since I had nothing with me when I left home,” says Esther.
Three years later after giving birth to her son, her situation has moved from bad to worse, just as if getting pregnant at a tender age was not enough.
In her seductive clothing and cheap makeup, today Esther hangs desirously along the Kenyatta Beach in Mombasa, waiting for a potential foreign client.
Like many other girls, Esther was forced into prostitution after things got complicated at her aunt’s place.
“My aunt, apart from having five children, is widowed and financially handicapped. My cousins do this job and since I have a mouth to feed, I was dragged into the business of sex tourism to earn a living for myself and my son,” she narrates.
The problem with sex tourism
Sex tourism, though not looked at in the scope of prostitution is seen as a social exchange rather than explicit sex trade for money.
It is frowned upon by local communities and authorities, but is technically not illegal simply because it is nearly impossible for the police to apprehend any culprits.
Predominantly, foreigners from the West have been known to visit poor countries like Thailand, Columbia and Kenya with the main purpose of having sex with local women and girls for years.
Although boys are also in this business, women are considered as the most vulnerable and easy targets for the tourists.
Sex tourism may also be defined as a form of tourism for which the main motivation or part of the objective is to consummate or engage in commercial sexual relationships between the local and international tourist at the material benefit of the locals.
Most tourists are drawn to the act because of the anonymity that comes with the act while in a foreign land.
It has almost become a mainstream business as travellers consider it a checkable option under reason for travel upon arrival in another country.
Poverty, greed and need to make easy money are just but a few key factors that have continued to flourish this business with the girl child.
Many of the girls who have fallen prey to this business find it difficult to quit simply because of the prestige obtained from having a foreigner, the money that flows and the luxurious lifestyle that follows.
Others argue that they are in the business for financial gain in order to support family and siblings.
A lame justification the tourists have and continue to capitalize on is that they are helping the girls and their families to escape economic hardships.
Sex tourism can be variously voluntary or exploitative depending on how one approaches it
It is believed that most of the girls involved in this business are supported by their parents, siblings and relatives. In some cases even married women engage in sex tourism during peak seasons.
Esther says since she started this work, she has been able to provide for her son, rent her own house and live a comfortable life.
She asserts that though it is not the best job whatsoever, she cannot classify it in the same category as prostitution or commercial sex work.
“This one is better since you get to have a client for even more than six months depending on his stay in the country, and the good thing is that they shower you with money and expensive gifts like cars, houses and other amenities,” says Esther.
Duration of staying with a partner varies and depends on several factors such how he treats a lady, the extent or availability of cash and his stay in the country, as some even have multiple partners for their own gain.
In spite of all the rebukes cast, some rich European men are not after sex instead they hire sex workers just to have fun, chat and enjoy the good company of a beautiful woman at a fee.
Most of the girls do not go into this kind of life willingly as most of them are sold into sex trade, forced sex through child trafficking and/or paedophilia related child abuse.
Myths associated with this vice are that children do not have AIDS, or having sex with a virgin girl including infants reverses one’s HIV status.
Red light districts
Contrary to their commercial sex workers counterparts in red light districts “female sex tourist workers” have more freedom and security as they are not confined to brothels or pimps and are not physically abused by their clients.
Experts say it is a form of tourism driven sex trade especially rife in many destinations involving sexual relationships between unequal socio-economic status, gender and age that come with taking much poorer younger girls as lovers.
Although there are myriad factors supporting the expansion of the sex trade related tourism, the internet is a key factor that continues to provide convenient marketing channels for sex industries.
Child sex tourism makes profit from exploitation of a girl child whom although seems physically mature, are mentally immature especially in developing countries.
The sex phenomenon is unlikely to decline as long as tourists have money to spend and local girl child have something to sell for sustaining their livelihood.