Challenges of decriminalising sex work

East Africa Standard By Beverline Ongaro June 5 2012

A Kenya National Commission on Human Rights report ‘Realising sexual and reproductive right; a reality or a myth’ had interesting findings and recommendations on sex workers that has unfortunately not generated debate it deserves; rather the focus especially, in the media has been on same-sex relations.

The report’s recommendations in relation to sex workers are a contradiction of some sort and will make eunuch the efforts to the safeguard of the dignity of sex workers. On one hand, the report recommends decriminalisation and regulation of voluntary sex work for men and women to make the practice safe for the sex workers and clients.

On the other hand, it calls for implementation of a counter-trafficking law to be implemented fully to eradicate instances of forced sex work.

The fact that these recommendations were made side by side demonstrates that there is no dialectical appreciation of how sex work and human trafficking for sexual exploitation are almost intrinsically linked. Human trafficking has become unfortunate social reality that is fuelled by sex work. This is on account it is not possible to fully regulate and ensure sex work is safe.

How feasible is it to differentiate forced and voluntary sex? Persons with licences to permit sex work within in their premises would just easily engage in human trafficking for sexual exploitation by stating that all women and men in their premises work there voluntary.

This leads to the question as to whether the booths should be installed with surveillance cameras including when sex workers are serving clients and hence raises the concern on right to privacy for both of them.

In other jurisdictions, notably Amsterdam with its ‘progressive’ laws have had to contend with these concerns especially after noting that sex work is purveyor to trafficking for sexual exploitation. Most of the workers had been trafficked and were abused even within booths with installed cameras.

And the demand side?

There were reported incidents of sex workers subjected to inhumane treatment. These forlorn states of affairs have been discussed by various stakeholders at international and regional levels. Notably culminating to a communiqué, “Global Efforts to Eradicate Violence and Discrimination against Women and Girls: A Discussion in Combating Sex Trafficking in Eastern Africa September 2009 in Nairobi” that was drawn by civil society organisations speared headed by Equality Nown.

The communiqué in line with singular observation and approach by human rights activists advocates for enactment and implementation of laws that criminalise the ‘customers’ to deal with the demand side of prostitution rather than simple blanket decriminalisation and regulation of prostitution. It would have been expected that Commission could have at least moved towards this direction.

Its quest for safe practice of sex workers will remain a Chimera for it failed to address how discrimination and inhumane treatment of sex workers is fuelled by the nomenclature-prostitution: the prevailing perception is that prostitutes evoke inhumane treatment towards them.

This invariably determines whether sex workers have access to reproductive health services from a society that perceives them as ignoble persons.

The report classified sex workers as sex minorities without analysing the plight of sex workers that would classify them as such. This makes the quest for freedom from discrimination and equality of sex worker to be pseudo- equality.

There is need to re-examine the plight of sex workers in prevailing local, regional and international settings, otherwise human rights abuses and violations will continue.

Standard 20th June: No one should be coerced into prostitution

There are some men and women who choose to work as sex workers. And there are those voices actively lobbying for Government to legalise it, ostensibly to “cut out the middlemen” to reduce slavery and child prostitution since all sex workers will be identifiable by the authorities. But that is not our focus today.

Those not forced into prostitution find themselves in the vice because they believe it is the only thing they have of value. They claim that they are the ones in control, or that it is a mere physical act.

That should not be confused with freedom of choice. It is a severe lack of self-esteem. Prostitution is heartbreaking and degrading, and is forced sexual slavery, for no right thinking individual wants to hawk their body.

In this regard, at the risk of being seen to be part of the enlightened lot that would like prostitution legalised, we shall defend the right of anyone to choose prostitution, but criminalise those forcing anyone into such bondage.

To avoid sub judice of a recent court case where a parent “leased out” her daughter to a paedophile, we can still cite daily reports of defilement of minors, and human trafficking for purposes of profit.

Our laws are clearly against these practices but as long as long as men are allowed to think they should access sexual services for the most competitive price they can negotiate, it will be hard to stamp out suppliers seeking to service this demand.

Debase their dignity

We must, however, draw the line where adults take advantage of children for self-gratification and in blatant disregard of their human rights, debase their dignity, leave them diseased, pregnant, out-of-school, bruised and psychologically traumatised.

Perhaps, legislation should be amended to hand out stiffer sentencing to offenders. Silence is akin to collusion and paints us as a morally deficient generation that could not stand up for the future citizens of this brave new world.


Sexual Violence Suffered by Commercial Sex Workers in Kenya

Posted by East African Standard 15th August 2012

Disgusting. That is what many people think about commercial sex workers. Historically, the men who have kept these women’s business thriving over time are not condemned.

Although it takes two to tango, for the sex workers’ haters, the man has no problem.

The man is like a shadow; always there but no one remembers him.

So when two sex workers, let’s call them Catherine and Agnes, were beaten up and abused by a man who solicited their services, the two women suffered silently.

They knew no one could listen to them, let alone believe their explanation.

No dignity
Catherine was in the commercial sex work for ten years. Despite the danger involved such as being infected with HIV/Aids and the ultimate stigmatisation associated with it, she hang on – for the money.

Catherine, who is now a peer educator of commercial sex workers in Kilifi County’s Mtwapa area, says the trade was anything but dignifying; the workers were always unsure of what the next man posing as a customer would turn out to be.

“The danger of contracting the HIV virus was ever real because I would sometimes get customers who never wanted to use condoms,” says Catherine.

She notes that in the trade, one would receive many clients some of whom she had never seen before yet many others well known to her.

Some of these men, she says, often turned violent. “He beats you up claiming that you have stolen money from him or just refuses to pay. And if you argue, the public sides with the man because of the suspicion with which commercial sex workers are viewed,” she states. With this kind of attitude, the man makes a twilight woman his property and uses her as he wishes because “he has paid”.

Nowhere to turn
She says there is nowhere commercial sex workers can voice their concerns because even the police are never too keen to hear their stories.

Agnes, also a former commercial sex worker, says prostitution is a murky business. But her greatest worry was how her children – who saw her as the perfect mother – could think of her if they found out what she did for a living.

The single mother of three’s next priority worry was contracting HIV/Aids. But the need for money to take care of herself and the children always made her go back to the activity.

Agnes recounts how on three different occasions she was raped by clients, respectable people in the society but whose HIV status she did not know. The violence meted on her is a typical example of what sex workers experience in the hands of men.

“In one instance, I was raped in a guest house in Ganjoni, Mombasa, by a man who then left me inside the room without any money even though he had a car. I had to have sex with the watchman there so I could get the fare back to Mtwapa,” confesses Agnes, her eyes suddenly filled with tears.

Then she has had near-death experiences. For example, one day a client raped her in his car and demanded to have anal sex. She refused and started screaming, forcing him to speed away.

Fearing for her life, Agnes jumped out of the moving car and sustained injuries. She spent the night in the bush until the following day when she got help.

In all these instances, she says, she would go for post-exposure prophylaxis just to rid her of any sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Involving men
At long last when these two women could not take any more from their ‘respectable’ clients, they quit through the help of a programme run by Solidarity with Women in Distress (Solwodi) Coast.

Solwodi targets areas with high sex work activities like Mtwapa, Ukunda and Mombasa town and works with the sex workers as well as male partners who get intimate with these women.

According to the chief executive, Maureen Karisa, this enables them to get to those at higher risk of contracting HIV.

Karisa says men who engage commercial sex workers have been left out in the fight against HIV/Aids as focus is more on the women. To reach the men, the organisation has many services such as moonlight VCTs and provision of condoms in areas frequented by this group.

Some of these areas are brothels, mnazi dens and strip clubs.

Says Karisa: “Members hold group therapy sessions where they talk with each other in a language they understand. In the process, they also discuss other ideas such as how to access microfinance services.”

Such sessions helped Catherine and Agnes choose new paths to walk. Catherine now sells green groceries in Mtwapa while Agnes runs a local pub in the same locality.

Agnes can now pay her children’s school fees without a worry and is proud to tell them what she does for a living, she says. Both women say they now have steady partners as opposed to before when they would go for any man as long as there was money.

Baghazal Anisa, the Coast Provincial assistant director of medical services, says many people look down upon sex workers yet those who demand the services are normal people in the society.

Says Anisa: “Gender-based violence recovery centres are open to offer help to every Kenyan regardless of who they are.”

A Tourist Sexually abuses over 50 under 10 Ugandan Girls

More on this story here and here and here and here and here

A Turkish tourist a Mr. Emin Barro aged 53 sexually  abused more than 50 girls aged below 10 years. The tourist, who also took their photographs, recorded them on video and uploaded the ghastly images on the internet. Barro was sentenced on Monday 26th by a Ugandan court to two years jail sentence or o pay a fine of Ugandan Shillings 6 million. He was taken to Luzira Maximum prison to serve his sentence. Later he paid his fine and was released. After ourcry from the media  and the civil society that the sentence given was not commensurate to the nature of the crime he was re-arrested and he is yet to face fresh charges. Barro is said to have paid all his victims between Ushs. 2000 to 5000.  In a study done by ANNPCAN, it was found that there are many sex tourists along the Jinja beaches and also many sex abusers take advantage of the economic vulnerability of their victims.

The Role of Performing arts in Countering human trafficking

Article by Bernard Muhia the Director of Fern Poems

The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Mr. Antonio Maria Costa says that art is one of the most powerful advocacy tools to raise awareness and move people to take action. Whereas lectures and books are good in their respect, they are no match for the power of music, drama or poetry in disseminating crucial messages on human trafficking. The fact that art is often entertaining at its very core means that there is an extended attention span associated with it and an improved capacity to remember the message contained therein.

This brings me to my second point. Performance arts are most effective when the audience participates in the dissemination of the message. This is the reason why there are practicals in schools so that the students can learn by doing. This drastically increases their chances of deeply understanding and remembering what they have learnt. Therefore, art can be used as a means of providing a cultural and social voice where engagement by participants promotes their role as active and creative citizens.

Sanalimu Art Ensemble using percussion and narration to pass out counter trafficking message

Therefore, art can be used as a means of providing a cultural and social voice where engagement by participants promotes their role as active and creative citizens. This aspect of audience participation is a method we as Fern Poetry have used in our advocacy campaigns against human trafficking. Using poetry as our medium, we have been able to reach High School students who are in the most vulnerable age bracket for human trafficking. We have achieved this by reciting/reading poems for the students. The poems not only break down this issue into an understandable concept but they also use heavy imagery and empathy to appeal to the minds and hearts of the students thereby ensuring that the message truly gets home.

The Fern Poems educating students against human trafficking using poems

In an effort to ensure their participation in the process, we then ask the students to also write their own poems and essays on the topic of human trafficking as they understand it. I have some of these submissions with me and I hope to indulge you in sampling what the students have to say during the course of this symposium. As the students write their poems and essays, they sharpen their knowledge on the subject which further engraves the message in their minds and impresses upon them the need to also engage in creating further awareness on human trafficking to their peers and other networks.

Onyango from Kitale AIDS programme using humour to educate the public against human trafficking

In order to make the performance arts more effective in creating public awareness, always ensure that:

  1. The performance arts campaign has a broad support system. Ideally, the more people working on the awareness campaign, the greater the likelihood that it will be successful. In our case, involving the students by asking them to create their own poems about human trafficking means that there is an actual two-way exchange and that the students themselves also become agents of awareness creation.
  2. Secondly, ensure that there is room for all forms of art. Do not limit the performance to one form of art, say poetry, because you will have locked out other writers and singers as well as painters and sculptors. Even though the awareness campaign may have started with one form of art, make sure that it is open to all other forms of art.
  3. Thirdly, always make sure that there is a concise and consistent message throughout the campaign. Cross-check your facts and where possible, give the audience reference materials that they can use as they co-create artwork meant to promote awareness on human trafficking. The last thing we need is misinformation.

Among the various forms of art that organizations can use in their counter human trafficking programs include music concerts, exhibitions of photos, paintings, drawings and carvings, plays and dramas, poetry recitals and readings as well as holding competitions on these art forms.

In addition to all these, performance arts can also be used as a healing tool to rehabilitate survivors of human trafficking and especially child victims. Art helps them to express things that they may not be able to articulate or are too embarrassed or afraid to talk about. Art can thus be a therapeutic medium in the recovery of survivors.


With regard to media relations, performance arts are a unique proposition to present to the media. Advocacy is typically about seminars and community workshops and these are effective in their own right, but that’s how everybody does their advocacy. So as an organization, you need a unique angle that sets you apart from other advocacy campaigns. Performance arts can provide that ‘wow effect’ that the media looks for. Performance arts are not only entertaining but they are also educative. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.

Speaking from my experience as a journalist, art is always a softer alternative to hard-hitting news. My poem on human trafficking was featured on CNN International because of that very aspect. After covering all the major conferences and seminars on human trafficking, CNN wanted to highlight other unique strategies that stakeholders in counter human trafficking were using to make a difference. Poetry was my unique thing and it got me noticed. It was a fresh and new approach to the advocacy campaign. Art has a way of humanizing or emotionalizing a problem. Art is about exploring not just the facts about the problem but also the feelings and emotions of that problem as felt by those who face it. Art doesn’t just give you the statistics but it also gives you the emotionality of the victims. And finally, art doesn’t just appeal to your mind and intellect, it also moves your heart and soul.

When pitching your performance arts campaign to the media, always ensure that you use what I call the ‘laser approach’. Identify a specific programme, presenter and/or journalist that will identify with the subject you aim to create awareness on. For example, in my case with CNN, I specifically targeted a programme called ‘The Freedom Project’. The freedom project is a year-long series that CNN launched to address the issue of human trafficking. That’s what I mean by being specific.

Secondly, always find ways to insert your message in any context when talking to the media. Here’s an example, my colleague was invited to NTV for an interview about a poetry event we were organizing that wasn’t in any way related to the human trafficking project. The presenter asked him if we had thought about taking poetry to schools and he took that opportunity to explain our human trafficking project in detail. It may not have been the reason why he went there but he used the opportunity to highlight our project.

Thirdly, when sending information to the media about your project, make sure that it is short and to the point. Just a few lines to a paragraph are enough to get the journalist interested in your story. Then the next thing the journalist will do is follow-up. So if you have a website or blog put the link there or your phone contacts so that they are able to get in touch with you.

Also, don’t just try to be covered in the news, think also of being featured in the non-news programs. These non-news programs include talk shows, art programs, health programs, human rights programs and even business programs. These programs provide you with media exposure and it is usually targeted exposure because the people watching or listening to that program have an interest in the subject matter. Likewise, the journalists or presenters of these programs are also looking for organizations like yours and so it’s a win-win situation.

Rafiki Mwafrika, in their drama entitled Mambo. Drama is a powerful enactment of reality.

Lastly, don’t shy away from calling-in live or sending text messages to a radio show or T.V. program. The host or presenter might sample your text message as part of the audience response and read it on air or they might receive your call and thus you get an opportunity to speak about your organization and your performance arts program. By so doing, you have just earned your organization and your arts campaign some impromptu media exposure.

In conclusion, the role of performing arts cannot be understated. It is organizations that are especially in the advocacy business that need to appreciate that there is always room for the arts in any awareness campaign. Art brings people together in a relaxed environment where they are able to more easily absorb the message when it is delivered in a light-hearted manner.

The youth are also very appreciative of the arts, and the fact that they are the most vulnerable population to human trafficking, means that art is then the most appropriate medium to use when creating awareness among them.

Long live the arts!

Poster: Counter Human Trafficking Syposium for FBOs and Grassroots in EA

Contact or 0736 935 387,  and 0720 812 638 or 0720 444 545

Programme: Counter Human Trafficking Symposium for the Faith Based and Grassroots Organizations in East Africa

Counter Human Trafficking Symposium for the Faith Based and Grassroots Organizations in East Africa

Tuesday 22nd to Thursday 24th Nov.2011

Scientific Committee

1. Richard Ochanda

2. Elias Mokua

3. Paul Kisolo

4. Kuria Njenga

5. Mary IRCK



 8.00-8.30 hrs: Registration Hall A

 8.30 to 10.30 hrs: First Session Welcome and Introduction Moderator Paul Kisolo, Executive Consultant KARDS

 Practical Experiences I

1. Combating Human trafficking along the Kenya Coastline – Paul Adhoch – Trace Kenya, Mombasa

2. Commercial sex workers in Mombasa and exposure to human trafficking- Ruth Lewa, Solwodi, Mombasa

3. Human Trafficking in the Great Lakes Region: Focus on Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo Region. John Ndayishimiye. Koinonia Community. Nairobi

4. Organization landscape and social innovation amongst the FBOs and CSO’s tackling the problem of Human Trafficking in East Africa- Richard Muko Ochanda, KARDS, Nairobi

 11.00 to 13.00 hrs: Practical Experiences  II  Hall A: Moderator  Richard Muko Ochanda

 4. Experiences of those affected by the problem of human trafficking- Joseph Kamau-Former Coordinator, Peace and Justice Commission, Tangaza, Nairobi

5. How the human trafficking problem contributes towards the street children phenomena-Joyce Mango- Hope for the Children, Dar es Salaam

6. Problems encountered by domestic workers and their susceptibility to human trafficking. Albert Masawe, REST, Dar es Salaam

 11.00 to 13.00 hrs: Practical Experiences  III Class C4: Moderator Carolyne Wairimu

 7. Vulnerability of women in Nairobi’s poor areas and exposure to Human Trafficking- Martha Mwende- Kivuli Youth Group, Nairobi

8. Environmental concern in relation to countering human trafficking –  Godfrey Rayo Kilei-REG, Nairobi

9. Refugees and vulnerability to human trafficking- Dr. Andre Niyonsaba –UNILAC, Nairobi


 11.00 am to 13.00 hrs: Practical Experiences  IV Hall A: Moderator Kuria Njenga

11. Resource mobilization opportunities and challenges for the counter Human trafficking organizations in East Africa- Paul Kisolo- KARDS, Nairobi

12. Social  networking amongst the counter human trafficking organizations in East Africa and data management-Richard Muko Ochanda, KARDS, Nairobi

13. Attracting media attention to enhance counter trafficking work amongst the FBOs and the grassroots. Esther Kabugi, Koinonia Community, Nairobi

 14.00 to 16.00 hrs: Psychological and Emotional Care for the Traumatized Hall A: Moderator, Ruth Lewa

14. Enhancement of trauma healing through support structures; focus on trafficked victims and badly exploited persons.  William Omondi –Chief counselor  Koinonia Community, Nairobi

15. Trauma counseling and debriefing for the seriously emotionally disturbed; focus on human trafficking victims- Marcellina Obudo -Rescou Counseling Center, Nairobi

16.  Human Psyche in Human Trafficking: A self Consulted Decision: Nuru Ya Nyota, Nairobi

16.00 to 17.00 hrs: Performance by FERN POETRY


 8.30 to 10.30  Moral Reflection: Hall A: Moderator Paul Adhoch

16. Theological reflection on the problem of human trafficking- Dr. Elias Mokua-Jesuit Hakimani Center, Nairobi

17. Selfishness, pursuit for economic success vs. morality, Richard Muko Ochanda, KARDS, Nairobi.

11.00 to 13.00 hrs: Community Participation I Hall A: Moderator Joyce Mango

18. Student role in mitigating human trafficking; focus on tertiary institution-Kuria Njenga- IMCS, Nairobi 

19. The role of community media groups in tackling human trafficking, Faith Mwende, KOMNET, Nairobi

20. How FBOs can act to counter human trafficking- Pastor Allan Asava,  Purpose for Living Church, Nairobi

11.00 to 13.00 hrs: Community Participation II Class Hall C: Albert Masawe

21. Soliciting the collaboration of peace and justice commissions in combating the Human Trafficking problem from the national to the grassroots-Joseph Kamau-Former coordinator Peace and Justice, Tangaza College,Nairobi

22. The role of performing arts in mitigating human trafficking-Bernard Muhia – Fern Poems, Nairobi

11.00 to 13.00 hrs: Education and Empowerment Class C4: Godfrey Kilei

23. Primary adult education as a strategy to mitigate against Human Trafficking-Kivuli Language Centre

24. The role of technical education in reducing the vulnerability to Human Trafficking – Eric Kirea- Diakonia Institute, Nairobi

25. Education as a mitigating tool against human trafficking- Felix Shivachi-  Topmark, Nairobi

14.00 to 16.00 hrs: Legal and Judicial Assistance Wednesday Hall B: Moderator, Tom Owenga

26. The legal aspect and human trafficking-Radek Malinowisky, HAART, Nairobi

27. The Kenya Anti Trafficking Law and Ensuing Implementation Challenges – Richard Muko, KARDS, Nairobi

28. The Tanzania Anti Trafficking Law and Ensuing Implementation Challenges – Albert Masawe, REST, Dar es Salaam

29. The Legal Chalenge vs Child Labour and the Need for Survival: Experience of AFCIC in Thika Municipality.  Phillip Wairire, AFCIC and KLAW, Thika.

16.00 to 17.00 hrs: East or West Home is best. Sanalimu Art Ensemble


8.30 to 10.30 hrs: Monitoring and Evaluation Hall A Thursday: Mary IRCK

29. Counter Human Trafficking Interventions Impact assessment using the RE-AIM framework, Tom Omwenga, Child Aid Organization, Nairobi

30. Counter Human Trafficking Interventions Impact assessment using the Rainbow Score Card, Paul Kisolo, KARDS, Nairobi

31. Knowledge management for improvement of human trafficking practices-Sammy Mwangi-Consolation East Africa, Nairobi

 11.00 to 13.00 hrs: Social Cultural and Political Influences Hall A Dr. Andre Niyonsaba

32. Social-cultural aspect of human trafficking- Caroline Wairimu – HAART, Nairobi

33. Masculinity as a social construct promoting human trafficking- Charles Koech-Men for Equality, Nairobi

34. ICT and Problems Related to Human Trafficking. Harrison Kyalo, Koinonia Community, Nairobi

35. The Kenyan National Anthem as a tool against exploitation and human trafficking – George Ndikwe, KOMNET, Nairobi

14.00 to 16.00 hrs: Close up session and summary:

36. Moderator, Paul Kisolo Paul Adhoch-Trace Kenya,  Ruth Lewa-Solwodi and Richard Ochanda-KARDS

16.00 to 17.00: Vigilante Judges Drama by Rafiki Mwafrika

For any further information kindly call +254 736 935 387 or 0720 444545 or 0720 812 638

50 underage girls ‘sold weekly’ as sex workers in Kenya

By Athman Amran

At least 50 girls, aged between ten and 15, are sold every week to tour operators and tourist hotels at Sh60,000 each as sex workers and to star in pornographic movies, a report claims.

The report released on Tuesday by the International Peace Institute (IPI) says that the girls are trafficked or smuggled to Nairobi from North Eastern Province and Somalia.

The estimation of the number of girls smuggled per week comes from a non-governmental organisation Womankind Kenya, which is based in Garissa.

“Vehicles that transport miraa from Kenya to Somalia return loaded with young girls and women, who end up in brothels in Nairobi or who are shipped to Mombasa and destinations outside Kenya,” the report says.

The report titled Termites at Work: Transitional Organised Crime and State Erosion in Kenya was compiled by IPI executive director Mr Peter Gastrow.

The report says the girls are taken to massage parlours or beauty shops, where contacts from tour operators and hotels come to select the ones they wish to take as sex workers.

“Tour operators and hotel workers also operate as traffickers and brokers,” the report alleges.

The report says the trafficked children are then taken to scheduled villas in Mombasa where sex tourism thrives.

“The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has estimated that about 10,000 people are trafficked into Coast Province each year,” the report says.

Mombasa is a destination for people trafficked from as far as Uganda, Somalia, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

In Kenya, those who control the networks involved in trafficking of humans or smuggling migrants use supermarkets, foreign exchange bureaus and electronic shops as cover for the human trafficking business, the report says.

The report claims that most traffickers are Somalis and those who head and control the network are known as makhalis.

Code of silence

In Nairobi and Garissa, the report claims that some traffickers operate as travel agents for airlines.

“They pay taxes for their legitimate businesses to ensure that they do not attract queries from Government authorities,” the report says.

The report claims that a code of silence exists among the makhalis and their agents and contacts.

“Only other agents, brokers, corrupt senior police officers, and their lawyers know what they do behind their veneer of law abiding upright citizen,” the report claims.

There are at least five to ten makhalis in northern Kenya and in Eastleigh in Nairobi.

They each control a loosely structured network, which they run independently from each other.

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