Monday, November 26, 2007

Poverty , Sex and the Tourist

From a Reuters report and from The Nation .

Bethan, 56, lives in southern England on the same street as best friend Allie, 64. They are on their first holiday to Kenya, a country they say is "just full of big young boys who like us older girls". Hard figures are difficult to come by, but local people on the coast estimate that as many as one in five single women visiting from rich countries are in search of sex.

As many as 15,000 girls in four coastal districts -- about a third of all 12-18 year-olds girls there -- are involved in casual sex for cash, a joint study by Kenya's government and U.N. children's charity UNICEF reported late last year. Up to 3,000 more girls and boys are in full-time sex work. It is estimated that in the coastal town of Mtwapa alone, between 10,000 and 20,000 children are trafficked for the purpose of sex tourism.
A recent Unicef report shows that while Italian, German and Swiss men form the bulk of the foreign tourists who sexually exploit children at the coast, a large proportion - 39 per cent - of the perpetrators are local Kenyan men.Many of the children being exploited are not from the coast region but are imported from rural areas from around the country. Many of the girls (and some boys) are the source of income to impoverished parents living in deprived rural areas. Others make a lot of money for middlemen and traffickers who supply children and women to tourists looking for sex while on holiday.
Locals tolerate this type of sexual exploitation because, "nothing gets a family out of poverty faster than a daughter who has a white boyfriend." In many cases, girls are encouraged by none other than their parents and relatives to look for older white men who will not only pay the girl for her services, but her family as well.

But now emerging alongside this black market trade -- and obvious in the bars and on the sand once the sun goes down -- are thousands of elderly white women hoping for romantic, and legal, encounters with much younger Kenyan men.

"Old white guys have always come for the younger girls and boys, preying on their poverty ... But these old women followed ... they never push the legal age limits, they seem happy just doing what is sneered at in their countries." - said one manager at a shorefront bar on Mombasa's Bamburi beach.

Experts say some thrive on the social status and financial power that comes from taking much poorer, younger lovers.
"This is what is sold to tourists by tourism companies -- a kind of return to a colonial past, where white women are served, serviced, and pampered by black minions," said Nottinghan University's Davidson.

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