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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Village brothels thriving on underage girls

Sexual exploitation of underage girls is on the rise with prostitution spreading to villages. And as KENAN MIRUKA AND NICK OLUOCH found out, perpetrators have an easy time as they just negotiate with parents and police
Children face the biggest risk in their lives as adults increasingly exploit them for financial gain. Officers from children welfare department and rights activists have raised the red flag over sexual exploitation of underage girls. A syndicate involving middle-aged women has seen cases of child prostitution, defilement, early marriages and sexual assault increase in alarming levels in Migori, Homa Bay and Kisii counties.
Investigations by The Underworld reveal that some well-connected individuals lure underage girls into residential houses that have been turned into village brothels where men pay adults to have sex with the children who are usually locked up in rooms.
The situation is worse around Kehancha, Isebania and Ogwedhi markets along the Kenya-Tanzania border.
Suspect escapes
Those arrested in police operations are swiftly released in unclear circumstances and children welfare officials and child rights activists now accuse police of laxity and complicity which has perpetuated the vice.
Last month, a middle aged woman was arrested at Awendo town in Migori County for operating a brothel at her home using underage girls.
A Standard Six pupil who had been missing from her home in Awendo for eight days was found in the brothel.
Administration Police officers from Uriri DC’s office accompanied by the girl’s parents rescued her from one of the rooms where she was locked up. A man believed to be a boda boda operator who was having sex with her managed to escape.
The girl was escorted to Awendo Sub-District Hospital where medical examinations indicated she had been defiled.
When the officers returned to the home, they found a man leaving another room and escaped together with a girl believed to be engaged in the vice.
The woman was later released in unclear circumstances. Uriri DC George Kiplangat says his officers handed over the suspect to Awendo Police Station and he could not tell if she was arraigned in court.
Poverty and high death rate due to the ravages of HIV/Aids in parts of Nyanza have left many children vulnerable to abuse.
Child prostitution remains the main form of child sexual exploitation witnessed in the area with some middle-aged women operating brothels where they charge a fee of Sh200 for men to have sex with the underage girls.
Nyatike, Uriri, Migori, Kuria and Rongo are the worst affected districts in this illicit trade. Underage girls are lured into the brothels by elderly women after promising them jobs as house helps in Nairobi and other towns.
"We record between 15 and 20 cases of child sexual exploitation in Migori and Nyatike districts every month. Cases of child prostitution are not pronounced as most are not reported. Very few cases end up in court due to failure by adults involved to cooperate," says Peter Ogindo, Migori District Children’s Officer.
Ogindo, however, laments that those arrested over child rights abuse strive to reach out of court settlements for fear of the severe punishment under the Sexual Offences Act.
defeating justice
"Many cases that reach court never take off after the accused persons take pleas. They compromise the affected children and their families to ensure the victims don’t appear in court to testify," explains Ogindo.
Early this year, Kenyans were shocked by media reports where a teacher defiled six primary school girls in Nyatike District.
"Some men believe children are not infected with HIV. Children as young as six years have been abused by adults. Some orphaned girls elope with elderly men in the hope of running away from poverty," adds Ogindo.
The officer says his office is understaffed yet it serves both the vast Migori and Nyatike districts making it hard to do thorough surveillance.
Caroline Okere, the chairperson of Gender Violence and Girl Child Network in Migori County says children aged between 15 and 17 years engage in prostitution in the area.
"Defilement, rape, teenage pregnancies and sexual assault are some of the manifestations of child sexual exploitation in this region. This is particularly common at Ogwedhi market along the border of Kuria, Migori and Transmara Districts as well as in Isebania border," she says.
Child neglect
Mrs Okere recalls a recent incident where an eight-year-old girl narrated to her how she was repeatedly defiled by a step-brother for a month before it was discovered.
"Some HIV positive men believe if they have sex with underage girls, the ‘curse’ will go and this has perpetuated the problem," she adds.
Kuria District Children’s Officer John Langat says child prostitution is rampant at Kehancha town and other nearby centres.
"Girls aged between 15 and 17 years walk in groups looking for men. Most of them have been neglected by their parents forcing them to look for money. The situation is compounded by the border because when a child crosses over to Tanzania, it is hard to know what they do," says Langat.
Langat says a number of girls have been arrested in swoops and taken to court but the situation has not changed.
In Gucha District in Kisii County, incidents of child prostitution are recorded during school games and during holidays.


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