Sometimes I wonder why we indulge in the mystical belief that there is life after death. Our transgressions here on earth supposedly decide whether we get to go to heaven or as it were, shake hands with the devil before assuming our position in the fire and brimstone of hell.
The truth is, we don’t need to look forward to spending our eternity in hell, we already live in it.
About 3 years ago, a UNICEF funded report that still haunts me today landed on my desk with a post it note suggesting what I can do to highlight what was in the report within my sphere of work. The general subject of the report was not alien by any means, I guess it was the scale of it and the impact that continues to disturb me. The report was about the scale of child abuse and child prostitution in Kenya in general, and around the coastal region in particular.
Fast forward to last night and I’m watching my favourite news channel and out of the blue, they feature a comprehensive investigative report about the prevalence of child prostitution and child abuse in Mombasa. What was different is that the children involved and highlighted in the report were given names and faces, and they actually came alive to tell their story. Not that they weren’t alive, but hearing the story from them is gut wrenching.
Leyla, a 14 year old girl being interviewed in the video, made tears roll from my eyes. She is clearly a bright, intelligent and articulate girl, and accepts that poverty has dealt her a raw deal and she’s ended up selling her body to survive.
There’s one point she says that she reflects and asks God how the hell she ended up where she is and tearfully laments “I’m just a child”.
There’s also the story of a 6 year old girl now in an orphanage and able to better relate to her carers following her ordeal of abuse since the age of 3. It wasn’t only the physical marks of her abuse like the whipping on her back or the vaginal and anal trauma she’s sustained at her tender age of 6 – I submit to you that this girl doesn’t have to wait to live in hell.
It’s her life now.
The sentiments of one mother whose 13 year old girl attends church on Sunday morning and from the afternoon is prostituting herself on the beaches of Mombasa to ensure that her family don’t starve to death captures an even more devastating side to this nightmare.
Until the issue of poverty is addressed, it’s hard to see how the “foreign” money from the mzungu – most of who travel for child sex is going to be turned away by those desperate to put food on the table.
It’s estimated that over 20,000 children, most under the age of 15 are involved in child prostitution, but I think it’s fair to say that this is only the tip of a very ugly iceberg. An iceberg that our society, particularly in Kenya, doesn’t want to deal with. For all the publicity the news report yesterday will bring, I’m more concerned with those who suffer in silence and for whatever reason, are not able to speak out.
I have previously worked on issues of social injustice in various forms, and the one that makes it hardest for me to comprehend, is the untold story of our children who are abused daily and don’t have a voice.
I once told a group of colleagues I worked with on a project “show me 5 girls living in a context of social depravation, and I’ll show you a story of physical, emotional and sexual abuse that is likely to be taken by the victim to her grave”.