OPINION

MATUNDA MWASHIGHADI: Sex trade thriving under Air BnB accommodation

Some Air BnBs appear to be conduits for a thriving sex trade especially involving minors.

In Summary

• While sex tourism along the Kenyan Coast is not new largely because of the abundance of naive victims, the unregulated Air BnB business appears to be fertile ground for sex trade to thrive. 

• Many avoid registering under the hotels category where they would be required to sign a code of conduct on protection of children from sexual exploitation.

A woman laying in bed.
A woman laying in bed.
Image: Courtesy: bustle.com

Whereas Air BnB (Bed and Breakfast) accommodation has become popular in the hospitality industry, it appears to be a conduit for thriving sex trade especially involving minors. 

Given the private nature of their location and management and that several are not licensed, cases of sex trade and human trafficking are gaining ground within the facilities. With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, hotels and restaurants bore the brunt of the resultant economic meltdown occasioned by restriction of movement and social distancing. Several of them halted operations while those that remained afloat encountered various challenges including high operational costs. Both local and international tourists found the BnB accommodation very appealing.

While sex tourism along the Kenyan Coast is not new largely because of the abundance of naive victims, mostly minors strolling public and private beaches or waiting at night clubs or parading themselves on streets and strip clubs for tourists, the unregulated Air BnB business appears to be fertile ground for sex trade to thrive. 

While the facilities aggressively market their services online, many avoid registering under the hotels category where they would be required to sign a code of conduct which requires industry players - cooks, front office attendants, cleaners, tour operators, travel guides and watchmen - to commit to take a mandatory course on protection of children in the travel and tourism industry from sexual exploitation.

Statistics on practices that expose children to sexual violence in Kenya are discouraging and a cause for concern. There is urgent need to regulate business activities which provide avenues for the violation of human rights especially of vulnerable groups like minors even if they are profitable innovative ventures.

Relevant institutions must work together to ensure we protect our children from human vultures. While gender equality is a right that can be pursued through various existing affirmative action frameworks, sexual harassment is a criminal offence that must be treated as such. No human resource or administrative codes and manuals should reduce this criminal act to a procedural issue that can be handled through civil approaches.

The Constitution of Kenya, 2010, espouses the rights of women as being equal in law to men, and guarantees women equal opportunities in the political, social and economic spheres. For instance, Article 27 of the Constitution obligates government to develop and pass policies and laws, including affirmative action programs, to address past discrimination against women. Further, Article 81 requires the government to develop policies and laws that ensure not more than two-thirds of elective or appointive posts go to office holders of the same gender.

The National Council for Population and Development and the National Aids Control Council have in various publications indicated that 23 per cent of girls and young women aged 20-24 years are married by age 18, while 41 per cent are married by the age of 20 years. One in every five girls between 15-19 years have began bearing children while approximately 13,000 girls drop out of school each year due to early pregnancy. Girls below the age of 19 account for 17 per cent of all women who seek care for abortion related complications. Seven per cent of girls and three per cent of boys aged 15-19 years have ever experienced sexual violence, while 13 per cent girls and boys aged 20-24 have ever experienced sexual violence.

Debate on the protection of women rights in the workplace must continue especially in the media to remove the stigma surrounding sexual harassment. This is because the biggest challenge towards the eradication of the vice lies in failure of victims to report incidents of sexual violence to relevant authorities and the fear to talk about their experiences.

Sammy Muray from the Voice for Women and Girls’ Rights notes that authorities must do what it takes to protect children against sex predators. The project is implementing activities which include, but are not limited to identifying knowledge gaps within the media industry to develop appropriate correctional interventions. This process is done from time to time through several mechanisms including research, outreach, stakeholder engagement and review of media content.

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