Faith-based grassroots project addresses serious, hidden crisis of sexual exploitation of children in Kenya
By Arthur Goldberg and Andrew Symes.
Kenya is rapidly becoming one of the major destinations for commercial sexual activity, particularly as it relates to children. According to some recent statistics, Kenya ranks #7 world-wide as a popular destination for sex tourism.
ECPAT UK, an organisation which campaigns against child trafficking, recently published a paper entitled “Child Sex Tourism in Kenya” in which they state: “UNICEF estimates that some 30,000 Kenyan children are being exploited in the sex industry and that this figure is likely to be an underestimation due to the lack of monitoring and the social stigma inhibiting children from reporting abuses.”
The report goes on to describe some of the reasons for the endemic nature of the crime:
“It is well recognised that local men and those from neighbouring countries sexually exploit Kenyan children, but sex tourists, both men and women, are also active in the country. Activists believe the rise in the sex tourism industry is the result of the weak application of the law and the corruption of some officials, which allows offenders to commit abuses against children with impunity.”
The World Bank recognizes additional reasons for the serious sexual exploitation of children in Kenya. In a recent report, they write,
“In Kenya, a mismatch exists between the aspirations of young people and the opportunities available to them. The majority of young Kenyans have high hopes and ambitions. … many young people are unable to translate their aspirations into a productive and fulfilling future. High expectations, disappointing employment and life prospects, and marginalization among young people can fuel frustration and desperation. In response, some of these youths turn to criminal behavior, violence, substance abuse, and commercial sex work.”
The reseachers found that sexual abuse and exploitation are common among 10 to 24 year old youngsters in Kenya, and that more than 20% of Kenya’s youth have been sexually abused. Needless to say, the physical, social, and psychological development of such children is damaged.
Many other materials are available to document the issue, which clearly goes back many years. For example, this research cites over 40 other articles reporting on the commercial exploitation of children in Kenya.
In response to the crisis, “The National Plan of Action” developed by the Kenyan National Council for Children’s Services recognizes the need to develop legislation to protect children from sexual exploitation. It points out (p.27) that there exists a Sexual Offences Act (2006), which “provides strong legal protection for victims of sexual violence (rape, defilement, child trafficking, child prostitution, child pornography, and other related issues)”, but admit that “major steps need to be taken in terms of implementation, increasing coordination and resource allocation to enable actors to provide witness protection… and improve investigative and prosecutorial capacity. Also needed is improved provision of psycho-social support for survivors of sexual offences in Kenya.”
It is generally recognised that there is very little capacity in official health care provision for treatment, counselling and rehabilitation of young people who have been rescued from a lifestyle of commercial sex, or who are trying to leave it voluntarily.
Poverty, failures of law enforcement, and improved ease of travel for tourists to places like Kenya have all contributed to a rise in the shocking crime of child sexual exploitation. But there is another factor that should not be forgotten: the ‘sexual revolution’ which has taken hold in the West, and is being exported around the world. This includes the normalisation of pornography, and the radical ‘sexual rights’ agenda which seeks to remove any kind of restriction on personal sexual expression.
So the toleration of prostitution, the easy availability of abortion, the promotion of same sex relationships, and sex education programmes focusing on ‘safety’ rather than ethical boundaries centered around family, cultural and religious norms, has been insensitively pushed on developing nations by wealthy ones (including the UK, and the USA under its previous administration). They increasingly use financial aid as a weapon to compel smaller, less powerful nations to comply, either directly or through the agency of the U.N. See for example here and here. This is seen by many in Africa as a new, offensive form of “cultural imperialism” which is having a devastating effect upon Kenyan culture and family life.
To overcome the atrocity of child exploitation, practical, viable, tangible, and sustainable interventions are needed. Faith-based projects with strong values predicated on the dignity of all human beings and with concern for the protection of the most vulnerable from exploitation have succeeded in developing effective programmes. They are more likely to succeed where overall funding is limited, and governmental and local community motivation is low due to apathy, and public taboos about discussing issues of sex. The World Bank report cited earlier points out a 1993 study by Kiragu and Zabin which found that religiosity (defined as feeling connected to a particular religion) is a critical protective factor against early sexual initiation among young people. See also Puffer, Watt, et. al “The protective role of religious coping in adolescents’ responses to poverty and sexual decision-making in rural Kenya”.
In much the same way, faith based projects are essential components to help young people return to the best aspects of traditional and family-oriented values (whether in Kenya or elsewhere) and thereby escape from the pervasive indoctrination and sexual exploitation so prevalent today. The Centre for Compassion, Rehabilitation and Development in Athi River, near Nairobi, is an encouraging example of such a project, run by experienced youth counsellor Peter Mulinge and supervised by Rev Dr Martin Olando and Bishop Joseph Mutungi as part of the youth ministry programme of the Anglican Diocese of Machakos.
The Centre focuses particularly on boys and young men who have drifted into a promiscuous homosexual lifestyle, from there to prostitution, and often to a demeaning and dangerous life on the streets. Mulinge, having himself successfully overcome sexual abuse and moved away from a lifestyle of same sex relationships, administers the programme to help those who want to escape this way of life and leave behind the serious health issues, low self-esteem and mental health problems that often go with it. As part of the programme, they receive spiritual and psychological counselling, job training, access to medical care, and economic sustenance.
Meanwhile there is a recognition that this grassroots ministry needs support locally as well as from individuals and organisations from overseas. Part of the work of the Centre is to explain the ministry to local churches and community groups, and to inspire compassion and practical action. Already Bishops of other Dioceses in Kenya and further afield, after hearing about the programme’s success, have expressed interest in replicating its achievements by starting others like it.
The Centre is an outstanding example how a faith based grass roots effort can effectively address serious hidden crises that are often ignored. More information can be found here. Support for the ministry from overseas donors is channelled through the Diocese of Machakos’ accounts, and is coordinated by Anglican Mainstream in the UK, and by Funding Morality, a project of the Jewish Institute for Global Awareness in the USA and elsewhere throughout the world.Donations to the Centre for Compassion, Rehabilitation and Development, Athi River can be made in £Sterling here, and in $USD here.
Arthur Goldberg is co-director of the Jewish Institute for Global Awareness, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt USA based organization that seeks to globally provide humanity with greater awareness of the existence of root ethical values, principles that are dependent upon Biblical teachings.
Andrew Symes is Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream, an independent information-sharing and networking charity based in Oxford, UK, which seeks to help Anglicans to understand critical contemporary issues from a biblical perspective. He is also a member of the GAFCON UK Task Group.