Kenya: Drought pushes teenage girls into sex work to feed their families (The Guardian)

November 20, 2017
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In the vast and arid Turkana county of northwestern Kenya, where drought has hit hard, girls as young as 12 are being forced into sex work to feed their families. Adolescent girls are sent to towns and cities to sell their bodies for about 50 Kenyan shillings (less than 50 cents US).

In June 2017, the International Rescue Committee, or IRC, visited the areas where sex workers solicit in the town of Lodwar. In one night, case workers found 320 girls between 12 and 17 years old whom they believed were involved in transactional sex. Invited to a drop-in centre, 88 of the girls confirmed that they had been driven to prostitution as a direct result of the drought and the lack of food.

Mercy Lwambe is the women’s empowerment coordinator for IRC Kenya. She says all 88 girls interviewed were originally from poor rural areas, the nearest of which was 50 kilometres away. The youngest girl was 12.

Ms. Lwambe recalls, “They said, ‘Our families have lost all their livestock and don’t have any money,’ so they’re sending them away or they’re being married off.”

Across Kenya, drought has led to hunger, malnutrition, increased food prices, and conflict around water points.

Many men and boys take their livestock to neighbouring Uganda, leaving women—and in some cases young girls—alone to care for younger siblings and older relatives.

Ms. Lwambe says women and girls involved in commercial sex work are vulnerable to abuse, violence, and sexually transmitted infections. She adds, “It’s overwhelming, particularly with the children, the desperation they go through.” She says men often beat the young girls or steal their money.

Mary is 24 years old, and became involved in the sex trade to feed her family.

She says: “That is something that my family depends on. The children are always disturbed because they are feeling hungry. It [sex work] is not something good, but the need to care for these children is what forces me, because I don’t have anywhere else to run to.”

The IRC has also seen an increase in gender-based violence since December 2016. Children left alone at night are attacked while the men are away with the livestock and their mothers are working.

From January to June 2017, the IRC received reports of 67 rapes of children aged nine to 16, an average of 11 per month. Before the drought, they saw one or two cases a month.

This story was adapted from an article titled “Drought in Kenya drives girls as young as 12 to have sex for money” >\published by The Guardian at the following address: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jul/05/drought-kenya-drives-girls-as-young-as-12-to-have-sex-for-money-international-rescue-committee-report, with additional files from an article titled “Kenya: Les mirages de Turkana à l’épreuve de la sécheresse” published by Le Parisien at the following address: http://www.leparisien.fr/flash-actualite-monde/kenya-les-mirages-du-turkana-a-l-epreuve-de-la-secheresse-05-04-2017-6825999.php

Photo: A 24-year-old sex worker in Lodwar: she says that her daughter, three siblings and mother all depend on the money she earns. Credit: Kellie Ryan/IRC