Kenya’s coastal town of Malindi may look like a tropical paradise, but it is host to a hidden child sex trade. Children as young as 12 years old say they are being lured into prostitution and pornography by tourists willing to pay handsomely for sex in secret locations.
Charlotte Attwood of BBC Africa went to Malindi to investigate and reported the following.
Just beneath a wall on one of the busy tourist beaches in Malindi, children loiter in the hope of attracting a customer. I met two girls and a boy – all under the age of 18 – and all who admit to selling their bodies to foreigners for sex.
In a good month, they can get a client every day, one of the girls said.
Most of the tourists in Malindi come from Italy, and their clients are mostly Italian men between the age of 50 and 80, she said.
With a dull look in her eye, 16-year-old Maria explained how she goes about her daily business.
“I ask my friends who work as beach boys to find me a male tourist. When I get a client, we strike a deal, say for $60 (£35, US$58),” she says.
While I was sitting with the children, I saw an elderly man approach the two girls with money in his hands. Once he spotted me, he signaled to the girls that he would be back later.
The authorities in Malindi have been trying to tackle the problem, and hotels now bar young local girls from visiting tourist rooms.
But Naomi Kazungu, the local government child protection officer, said that this has created another problem, as the trade has been driven underground.
The children are no longer going to hotels, but to private villas, Kazungu said.
Peter is one of the beach boys in Malindi who admits to facilitating this business.
He took me 300 metres (1,000ft) up the beach, around a rocky escarpment to a cave. It is a favorite spot for sex tourists, he told me, especially those who go for children.
The trade is illegal in Kenya and this is a perfect hideout.
As the tide comes in, the caves become cut off from the rest of the beach. There is a lot of dead seaweed on the floor that is used as a mattress, Peter says.
The tourists prefer girls aged 15 to 17, he adds.
Some of these men, Peter says, like to involve dogs and pay the girls up to $500 to film this.
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