Child sex tourism continues to thrive in the Coast region, with at least 6,000 children lured into the trade last year.
The number was much lower than the 20,000 reported in 2019, with rights groups attributing the dip to Covid-19 containment protocols, which curtailed travel.
Havens for child sex tourism include closely guarded and secluded villas, salons, massage parlours, discos, Airbnb rentals, hotels and lodgings especially in Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi counties.
Groups involved in the fight against sexual exploitation of children say the problem has returned after the lifting of some Covid-19 rules that has raised the prospects of a booming tourism season.
The International Justice Mission (IJM) says child sex tourism is taking a more sophisticated dimension.
“We identified that children were participating in sex trafficking, which varied from children on the streets soliciting money, child prostitution, parents engaging their children in sexual activities for money,” IJM official Aggrey Juma said.
“We now also have sponsor dynamics where they are receiving money from adults in exchange for sex.”
He spoke in Mombasa during the annual regional conference on child sex trafficking.
He added that child sex tourism is prevalent in the Coast region than in other parts of the country because it has low literacy levels, a high number of tourists and high poverty levels, according to research by the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEM).
“This matter cannot be left to one organisation and our goal here (is) to strengthen the government of Kenya’s capacity to effectively investigate and prosecute child sex trafficking and increase the community’s ability to report these cases,” he said.
Mr Juma noted that perpetrators of child abuse now leverage technology and social media, as well as private homes and establishments such as private villas and Airbnb rentals.
Director of Public Prosecutions Coast Regional Coordinator Hassan Haji called for proper investigations whenever such cases are reported.
“We are here to tackle this issue but one thing we need to do is (fill) the gaps in investigations that make cases weak. Your case is only as good as the file that is brought to the prosecutor’s desk,” he said.
“We expect very professional investigations to be filed and once we get them, we promise to do our part as prosecutors.”
Mombasa Chief Magistrate Martha Mutuku affirmed the Judiciary’s commitment to defending the rights of children and the rule of law.
“For the longest time, before the enactment of the Sexual Offences Act and the Children Act, the place of the child was forgotten,” she said.
“Their issues and views were almost treated in an equal measure with those of the adults. Over time, we now have laws protecting the roles of the child in our society.”
She said that children’s courts get considerable budgetary allocations.
The Tononoka court in Mombasa was cited as a good example, with the building housing it set away from the main court, reducing the children’s contact with the public.
“We are also committed to training magistrates at the Judicial Training Academy on the issue of juvenile justice. This is something we are ready to talk about, to listen and defend juvenile justice,” Ms Mutuku added.
In 2019, Kenya became the first African country to connect to the International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database, in a bid to boost the fight against online child sexual abuse.
The number of children lured to the coastal urban centres of Mombasa, Ukunda and Malindi through online platforms is increasing, said the Kenya Alliance for Advancement of Children (KAACR).
Between October 2018 and July 2019, when KAACR presented its report, 67 children out of 120 reported being invited via social media,
particularly Facebook, to travel unaccompanied to the Coast region.