Integrated Regional Information Networks - February 7, 2012
NYATIKE, 7 February 2012 (PlusNews) - Inside a smoky makeshift
kiosk, Julie*, 16, can hardly cope with the demand from her
clients for a cup of tea and a snack - the men are parched from
their work as gold miners in the western Kenyan district of
The money Julie makes from the kiosk is not sufficient, so she
supplements it by having sex with the miners in exchange for
money; it also buys their loyalty.
"These are my clients and I have to please them, so I allow them
to do whatever they want so that they can come back tomorrow. If
I don't do that, they will go to my competitor," she told
IRIN/PlusNews. "The miners have money and they pay well for sex."
Nyatike District is in Nyanza province, which has an HIV
prevalence of 14.8 percent, double the national average. The
Kenya National Bureau of Statistics ranks Nyatike as one of the
10 poorest districts in the country, despite the gold boom.
At any given time, there are more than 1,000 miners in Nyatike's
gold mines; as many as 100 girls also spend their days there.
Back to school
One local NGO, Hope for Africa, has started a programme to try to
persuade young girls like Julie back into school.
"These young girls need to get back to school and make their
future. We have decided to have counselling sessions where we ask
those who are ready to get back to school to do so, and we
provide them with commodities that they might need while there,"
said Miriam Oginga, executive director of the organization.
The NGO aims to provide the girls with school supplies - including
sanitary towels, soap and other personal effects - as well as
food and even pocket money, to eliminate the reason many of them
resorted to sex work. Since the programme started a year ago,
some 300 girls have returned to school.
Caroline Atieno, 13, is one, having dropped out to sell food and
sex in the mines. "Now I am in school and I have the small things
that I couldn't afford because my parents were poor. At the mines
I could get money but I am happier here in school because I will
get better money when I finish."
Authorities are also working to prevent parents from encouraging
their daughters to hang around the mines.
"Parents here bless sexual relationships between their underage
daughters and the miners because these miners have some money to
spend both on the girl and on the parents," said Emily Waga, a
senior children's officer in the area. "In an area where poverty
is common, girls become the best way out of it for many families
- at least that is what they believe."
Health workers say sexual relationships between the miners and
young girls, coupled with low levels of condom use, put the girls
at an elevated risk of contracting HIV.
"Many girls who come here to the facility, whether married or
not, are HIV-positive because they are engaged in sexual
relationships where they have no power and the miners, like
fishermen, are very mobile and carefree," said Ruth Adero, a
maternal and child health nurse at Nyatike District Hospital.
According to Adero, girls younger than 18 account for 48 percent
of all expectant mothers visiting the Nyatike District Hospital.
Hope for Africa's Oginga noted that in order for the programme to
be sustainable, the miners also needed to change their attitude
towards sex with underage girls.
"We don't just target the girls, but also the miners because it
is they who lure these young girls with money. We reach out to
them and use both hard-ball and soft-ball tactics - we tell them
men of pride do not prey on young girls but at the same time, we
tell them about the law on sexual relationships with minors," she
Julius Owino, a miner, is part of a recently formed committee of
miners against sex with school-age girls; it urges young girls to
report miners who pester them for sex, but notes that many girls
are too afraid of being victimized to go to the authorities.
"Some of us are now buying [into] the idea that we have been
wrong all along buying sex from people young enough to be our
daughters; taking them to school is a good idea because it means
they are far away from us," he said. "We are reaching out to our
fellow miners to help end the trade but I can't lie that it is
easy. It has been a way of life here and changing it will take
*Not her real name