Underage and legally under protected: The story of sexually exploited adolescents who sell sex in Kenya

0
148

Sexually exploited adolescents who sell sex are more likely to have higher risk partners and less likely to use available health services compared to adult sex workers. Due to their age, sexually exploited adolescents who sell sex are biologically more vulnerable as compared to adults who sell sex thus worsening their health risks.

This is according to a research by the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance. Despite their vulnerability, research targeting this population is limited due to the sensitivity of this issue; making it difficult to make specific legal and policy changes that are responsive to their circumstances.

The report titled: Underage and Legally Under Protected: A study on the impact of criminalisation of prostitution on violence prevention and response for sexually exploited adolescents who sell sex in Kenya.

The adolescents are not always recognised as victims. In most cases, the social and justice system treats them as adult offenders. The report found that implementers of the law were untrained on the notion of sexually exploited adolescents who sell sex without the direct influence or control of an adult or other third party. This in turn inhibits the timely and appropriate action on behalf of these victims

“We arrest minor sex workers mostly at night. We handle them the same way we handle adult sex workers and detain them in the same cells. It is upon the court to determine the fate of the minor. The suspects are often charged under the county bylaws even when arrests are undertaken by police officers. I am yet to see a sex worker charged under the provisions of the penal code. When they are presented to the police, the OCS usually has discretion determine whether an arrested suspect will be formally charged and presented before court. We do not undertake age assessments and we treat all who are arrested for selling sex in the same manner unless they disclose their age – this is usually rare. In some instances, the minors arrested for selling sex are subjected to manual labour such as cleaning or sweeping duties around the police station and let off with a stern warning,” a police officer is quoted as saying.

According to the study, one of the crucial gaps in the current HIV response is that sexually exploited adolescents who sell sex are not being effectively reached. The response has been limited due to lack of data regarding their circumstances and specific needs.

The research also revealed that health risks to adolescents are presented not only due to the nature of risk associated with sex work, but also due to the physical and sexual violence they are exposed to negotiating their way out of arrests. The respondents reported that law enforcement officers specifically targeted them for extortion of sex in exchange for release.

Besides the health services already discussed, some of the social services required by the adolescents interviewed are alternative care for those who are orphaned; health insurance, affordable housing for child-headed families and financial support to meet basic needs. Interventions to address alcohol and substance abuse are also critical.

The need for legal services is also identified as key to successful violence response and will be discussed further in the next section.

Few organisations are willing to engage with sexually exploited adolescents who sell sex for fear of being accused of promoting child prostitution. Ironically, the study did not provide any evidence on engagement of sexually exploited adolescents who sell sex by child-rights organisations Read the full research here: KESWA RESEARCH

 

 

 

LEAVE A REPLY