Women in camps for internally displaced persons in Kenya turn to prostitution

More than a year and a half after they fled their homes in the post-election violence, many women living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kenya are taking to prostitution to eke out a living.

Camp residents and non-governmental organisations working with IDPs report an increase in cases involving desperate women selling their bodies to feed their children.

“This is not news here,” Margaret Njoki, 58, of New Canaan IDP camp near Nakuru told the Sunday Nation. New Canaan is one of the two camps the Sunday Nation visited this month; the other one is Shalom camp in Nyandarua.

The two camps are home to more than 20,000 people.

“When women find themselves all at once in a place where they can’t take care of their children, they get desperate,” said Tabitha Njoroge, the executive director of Women in Law and Development in Africa, Kenya chapter.

Dr Regina Karega, chairperson of the National Commission on Gender and Development, said the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission should pay attention to women hurt by the violence.

The Waki Commission found thousands of women, men and children were raped during the violence.

Dr Karega said the gender commission would soon release the results of a study of the security, or lack of it, in IDP camps and its impact on women.

“Many men whose wives were raped have abandoned them,” Ms Njoroge said. Some women have decided to leave their husbands who are unable to provide for their families, and live with men who can.

“Women are saying that if I have no food, and a man is offering that I sleep with him he’ll give me food, I’ll take the risk and feed my children,” said Dr Karega.

She said providing food and ensuring security is the government’s responsibility. Ending impunity, Ms Njoroge said, is important to ensure women do not suffer again in 2012.

“We are very afraid of 2012. What we’re looking forward to in 2012 is something worse [than 2007],” she said.

Elizabeth Akinyi, the CEO of Solidarity with Women in Distress, a Mombasa-based organisation that provides support services for such women, says; “If they work in the sex industry, the health risks like HIV infections are there.

They can also be battered.” Ms Akinyi added that children who see their mothers in the sex trade are more likely to engage in prostitution themselves. This, in turn, will expose children to human trafficking and will keep them from attending school, she said.

Bedan Njuguna, a resident of New Canaan camp, said girls are being lured mostly by truck drivers into prostitution.

“They are bought food, and they also get money to feed their starving family members at the camp,” he said. Some become pregnant, and when they give birth, he said, they leave their new-born babies with their mothers while they set off for towns like Nairobi or Nakuru.

“Here prostitution is more paying, and the girls can afford to send money to their parents to bring up the baby,” he adds.

At Shalom IDP camp, Hannah Njeri, a volunteer teacher, said hunger is pushing girls to exchange sex for food.

“We have very young girls who are sleeping with men of their fathers’ age in return for a day’s meal,” she said.

The sex trade has affected relationships between men and wives.

A number of men – who cannot be named out of respect for their privacy – confessed that their wives had abandoned them due to lack of food in the camp.

A 41-year-old man said his wife left him three months ago with the children.

“I don’t know where she is, but if she can feed our three children I don’t mind their absence. When they were here I had nothing to give them,” he said.

Ms Akinyi said counselling services and assistance for starting income-generating activities should be made available to women in the camps.



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