Moral Low Ground

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Sex Tourism: Italians Paying Children to Have Sex with Dogs in Malindi, Kenya

(Photo: Laura Ponchia)

(Photo: Laura Ponchia)

The picture-postcard Kenyan beach resort of Malindi is hiding a terrible secret. Girls and boys, some of them not yet teenagers, are being sexually exploited by tourists, many of them older Italian men who pay them to have sex, sometimes with dogs.

BBC reports the Indian Ocean town of Malindi, which lies 72 miles (116 km) north of Mombasa, has experienced a surge in sex tourism in recent years. Along with crystal-clear turquoise waters and pristine white sand beaches lined with swaying coconut palms, tourists can find local children, some as young as 12, for sale.

Most of the sex tourists are older Italian men, the locals say.

“The tourists say their blood is old and they need young girls with fresh blood to warm them,” one beach boy who admitted to connecting local children with clients told the BBC. “If a tourist is with a girl for a short time, the price is €50 ($68), but if a girl and an animal, the price is $500.”

Some of the sex tourists prefer to watch or record girls engaging in sex acts with dogs; most have sex with the girls themselves. Such crimes are not unheard of in Kenya; last May, 11 Kenyan prostitutes and a Swedish tourist were arrested in Nyali, Mombasa for producing bestiality pornography involving a dog.

Since girls can earn much more in the sex trade than by working scarce, poor-paying jobs in the traditional economy, the lure is irresistible for some.

“I am 14 years old, my friend taught me how to do this business, because my father is dead and my mother has a lot of children,” one girl told BBC. “I go to the beach with my friends and the customers will come and choose the one they like. The customers are between the ages of 50 and 80 and a lot of them come from Italy.”

Since area hotels stopped allowing girls to visit tourists’ rooms, the local sex tourism trade has been driven underground. One spot favored by those looking to buy sex with children is a cave that is only accessible when the tide is low and where seaweed is used for mattresses.

Other sex tourists rent their own villas so they can bring children there and exploit them in private. Local police say this makes it very difficult to target offenders.

“Even if we get reports of sex abuse going on in the villas, we cannot access them like hotels which are open to scrutiny,” Malandi district children’s officer Eric Mugaisi told reporters last August. “An officer can only visit the place either by invitation or with a court order. This is a big drawback in dealing with the vice.”

But many accuse local police of complicity in the crimes against children. Kenya, like many developing nations, is rife with corruption. Plus, most Kenyans do not report child sex abuse. And some do not even consider child prostitution to be abuse, including the victims themselves. When asked by BBC if she thought what the tourists were doing to her is right or wrong, one 16-year-old girl who sells herself to tourists had no difficulty answering.

“It’s right because they give us money,” she said. “It shouldn’t be stopped.”

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