ALL THAT GLITTERS

Migori gold rush: 12-year-olds on family planning, HIV prevention

January-April dry season parks a gold rush blamed for drop outs, teen pregnancy and i HIV

In Summary

• According to the National Aids Control Council, HIV prevalence in Migori is nearly 2.5 times higher than the national prevalence at 14.3 per cent.

• Poverty forces most girls and widows into sex work to feed their families.

A woman sifts through mad to filter out Gold at one of the mines in migori/File

 

GOLD MINING:

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

And it's desperate in Migori as the gold rush begins in the January to April dry season.

Some miners may strike it rich, but many other minor girls will be stricken by pregnancy and HIV. Many girls are absent from school to make money and many drop out if they're pregnant. Few return.

As a result, young sex workers, mostly between 12 and 19 years, are placed on Pre- Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) and family plannings they risk getting infected with STIs and getting pregnant.

“They are underage, but coming to the problem face to face makes us take drastic measures to help them,” Pamela Alugo, director of Migori Development and Community Empowerment Project, tells the Star.

The risk of pregnancy and HIV is high, many girls drop out of school to earn money for their families, get pregnant and never returns.

Migori education stakeholders fear the onset of the gold rush in the gold belt region — including Narok— not only disrupt education but also ruin girls' lives.

“What we have is a broken-down society where children are robbed of their childhood and ushered violently into motherhood and adulthood, the glitter of gold never shines in the gold belt for them, Alugo said.

She works in the Masara and Mikeyi gold mines area in Migori county said and said their biggest problem is teen pregnancy.

Alugo was speaking after a counselling session for 10 girls, aged 13 to 17, seated on woven papyrus mats. The Star was invited. 

It is very painful and shameful to know your underage granddaughter has to seek men to sleep with her to feed you. But what can I do?
Grandmother Albert Okinyi smother

The entire group is under-age sex workers. Three are mothers with two-months-old babies, while one is six months' pregnant. They have no idea who fathered their children.

The youngest is 13-year-old Janet (not her real name), formerly a Class 7 pupil who has a month-old infant.

“During the holiday I managed to save Sh1,000 which I will use as part of my fees,” 14-year-old Monica (not her real name) and a Form 1 student at a mixed day school, said.

The girls come from broken families with most choose family planning as they continue to sell their bodies.

Sixty-two-year-old Alberta Okinyi (not her real name) said she knows her granddaughter Susan (name changed) is a sex worker in the gold belt but she is not able to break away because of poverty.

“We were mostly hungry, she started bringing in food and stayed out longer and longer into the night, sometimes coming in the morning," she told the Star.

"The gossip from neighbours got louder, but we shut it off because there is nothing we can do,” Akinyi says, throwing her arms up in a gesture of hopelessness.

She wears tattered clothes, worn-out sandals and covers her head with a leso so neighbours will not identify her if her photo is used.

“I wish she finishes school, she has no future in what she is doing. It is very painful and shameful to know your underage granddaughter has to seek men to sleep with her to feed you. But what can I do?" she asks, weeping.

Social worker Alugo said within a year they have worked with 230 vulnerable girls aged between 10 and 21. She said 85 of them are sex workers. Another 60 are young widows forced into the sex trade after the death of their husband miners.

According to Kenya HIV County Profile 2016 by the National Aids Control Council, Migori's HIV prevalence is nearly 2.5 times higher than the national prevalence at 14.3 per cent.

By the end of 2015, the number of people living with HIV in the county was 83,603, contributing 5.5 per cent to the national figure. It's the fifth most-affected county. Among the total known to be infected,  22 per cent are between 15 and 24 years.

The survey says that for new infections, "adolescents aged 10 to 19 years and young people aged 15 to 24 years contributed to 28 per cent and 52 per cent, respectively, of all new HIV infections in the county.

According to the report, only 44 per cent of female sex workers in Migori who have “the highest risk of contracting and transmitting HIV,” were tested for HIV between April and June 2016.

Rongo children's officer David Magogo says the biggest problem of tackling the case of teenage sex workers is an insular society which has refused to tackle the problem, poverty, poor parenting and lack of personnel to enforce the law. Some schools have as many as 20 pupils dropping out in a term.

“We often organise surprise raids in alcohol joints when alerted by the public. During the past holiday, we arrested more than 50 minors in the county and revoked the licenses of bar owners, "Magogo said.

Kanyasa MCA Jackiepol Ongoro, the assembly chairman of health committee. says they have tried to pass laws to curtail the teen prostitution, not only in gold mining areas but also across the county.

(Edited by V. Graham)