Helping to stop sex trafficking and child prostitution
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The issue of sex trafficking and child prostitution is a subject about which the world has had lots of conversation but unfortunately not enough effective action to affirmatively overcome it. These subjects, including commercial homosexual sexual activity, are considered especially taboo in traditional African environments. Therefore, people in Africa often avoid either discussing the issue or actually doing something to control it. It is often easier to assume the problem does not exist than to aggressively seek to eliminate it.
Even though Kenya has laws on the books prohibiting all forms of sex trafficking with substantial prison sentences and criminalizes sodomy, very few offenders are actually brought to justice. Kenya is now considered one of the worldwide hubs for child sex tourism. 30% of children ages 12-18 are engaged in sex work (15,000 to 20,000 children), largely caused by abject poverty in Kenya. The problem is so bad that a Kenyan police official commented that many of the boys lured into the trade by rich male tourists now require adult pampers because they can no longer hold their own stool.
Unfortunately because of the societal taboos and harsh penal laws, many of those working in the sex trade are unable to seek support from their families; they often find themselves with few options to support themselves except returning to commercial sex.
This is where The Life Choices program comes in. It is a vigorous response to poverty and the destruction of the traditional Kenya culture. It was begun by Peter Mulinge, a youth social worker and educator who was himself was sexually abused as a young boy. Understanding the situation first hand, Peter initiated a program to both rescue youth trapped in the lifestyle and also to prevent recruitment into the business in the first place. Peter’s work also includes visiting churches and civic organizations to raise awareness of the issue of youthful sexual exploitation by challenging the social taboo of discussing its existence.
Life Choices was founded more than five years ago, initially as an independent project of Peter, then with some sponsorship by the Anglican Church of Kenya, and now with the sponsorship of a local youth ministry, Youth for Life, an NGO led by Raphael Njagi Gakinya. Since its beginning, the program has been operating on a “shoestring.” Nevertheless, it has successfully helped a number of teenagers reclaim their dignity and to begin leading healthier lives, both sexually and economically.
Based in the Nairobi area, Life Choices offers holistic programs, including: counseling, healthcare, job training, food, clothing accommodation and whatever else the youth need to keep them from returning to commercial sex. Youth for Life facilitates the development of a young individual’s capacity in such a way that the youth are able to make systemic changes in their lives and thereby enhance the quality of their lives. Four thematic areas are involved in Youth for Life’s work: health, education, environmental, and economic empowerment.
Thus, The Life Choices program fits neatly into Youth for Life’s mission. Together they offer practical solutions for bringing these boys back to healthy, productive lives. The demand for the program far exceeds available resources and contributions are urgently requested.
Generally the Life Choices program works with very poor kids who if they are not provided with the basic necessities of life would have no other option than selling themselves to raise funds for upkeep. One of the Life Choices job programs was particularly successful: Last summer, four boys were trained and introduced both to farming and some micro-enterprise businesses. After six months, with the skills they acquired, they are no longer engaged in transactional sex and are self-supporting. In addition to learning how to farm, some of these boys are running micro-enterprise activities including M-Pesa (a mobile phone based money transfer, financing, and microfinancing service) and a motorbike business.
By restoring the lives of the affected youth, these young people have gained a new meaning and purpose to their lives. Life Choices provides them with life skills, financial management skills, and helps them initiate income generating projects enabling them to learn how to lead moral lives and to be productive citizens.
Thanks are due to Anglican Mainstream and Lisa Nolland from the United Kingdom (www.anglicanmainstream.org) for bringing this situation to our attention and for the consistent support they have provided Life Choices throughout the years.