International tourism and sex tourism


"Sex tourism requires Third World women to be economically desperate enough to enter into prostitution; once they do so, it becomes difficult to leave. The other side of the equation requires men from affluent societies to imagine that African women are more available and submissive than women in their own countries. Finally, the industry depends on alliance between local governments in search of foreign currency and local foreign business willing to invest in sexualized travel" (Enloe, 2000:36).

Otherwise known as sex prostitution, sex tourism is tourism for which the main motivation of the trip is to consummate or engage in commercial sexual relations (Graburn 1983; Hall 1991; Ryan and Hall 2001). The number of men and women travelling to Third World countries seeking sex tourism has increased tremendously (Herold et al. 2001). In the past, notorious sex destinations have been mainly the South East Asian countries, today it has spread to other regions of the world including Kenya, Tunisia, South Africa, Brazil and The Gambia (Ryan and Hall 2001, Enloe2002; Chissim 1996).

This paper discusses gender and the political economy of sex tourism on the Kenyan Coast, its health and socio- economic impacts.

International Tourism and Sex Tourism in Kenya

Tourists visit Kenya because of several reasons including its beautiful landscape, wildlife safari, the humid climatic conditions along the Kenyan Coast and the beautiful Coastal beaches. International tourist arrivals in Kenya have been increasing tremendously from 69 million in 1960 to 160 million in 1970, 458 million in 1990, and 625 million in 1998 (WTO, 1999). This increase has led to massive increase in sex tourism, a condition evidenced by inclusion of Kenya among the world's leading sex tourism destinations (Vatican 2003; Boston Globe 1995; East African Standard 1995 and Chessim 1996).

Although not officially stated, a good percentage of foreign tourists who visit Kenya often indulge in sex tourism during their trip (Chissam 1996; Sindiga 1999). These tourists mainly come from Germany, the UK, Switzerland, Italy and France. Others are from North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and European countries such as Spain and Sweden. Many of these countries have been generating sex tourists to some of the world's renowned sex tourism destinations such as Thailand (Ryan and Hall 2001). Hence we can conclude that they are likely to engage in the same activity while in Kenya.

Kenya is a developing country with agriculture contributing 24.0% of GDP. Overall, Kenya's economic performance has been declining since early 1990's. The country's per capita is about US$ 260 and more than 70% of Kenyan population currently lives below the poverty line; the worst hit are women (CBS 2001).

The Economics of Tourism and Sex Industry

The main economic activity in Kenya at independence in 1963 was Agriculture whereby the country relied on cash crop exports. After independence, the government tried to diversify the economy by implementing an "open door" economic policy to attract foreign investment. However, the limitations of agricultural and manufacturing sectors coupled with the appreciation of employment potential forced Kenyan government to turn to tourism as a central industry.

Since 1987, tourism industry has been the leading foreign exchange earner, (CBS 2001) surpassing the traditional export crops of coffee and tea (Gakuhu1992; Weaver 1998 and CBS 2001). The industry employs about 1.5 million Kenyans, approximately 8% of wage earning labor force (Weaver, 1998 and CBS 1999). In addition, Tourism is linked to many domestic industries and it is a potentially useful tool for generating development in neglected areas. The industry also contributes substantially to government revenues through taxes and import duties. Tourism is therefore officially promoted in Kenya as the main foreign exchange earner, source of employment and general development. Its significance on the Kenyan economy has a lot of bearing on tourism policies including those related to sex tourism.

Sex Tourism Market on the Kenyan Coast

Sex tourism is believed to be increasing at a high rate in Kenya. This is mainly because of the reality that there is a sex tourism market for female and male tourists. Female tourists, mainly from European countries come to Kenya to meet with local beach boys because they imagine that black men (or men of color) are stronger and more active in bed than men in their home countries. On the other hand, male tourists come to Kenya to meet with black women; mainly young girls who are believed to be 'hot' in bed.

Child prostitution is also emerging in Kenya involving young boys and girls. This is commonly along the Kenyan coast where many children choose not to go to school but instead go to beaches in search for white men and women from European countries who exploit them sexually.

The Kenyan Coast located along the Indian Ocean caters for about 66% of Kenyan tourism activities. Sex tourism is a major activity in Kenyan Coast (Sindiga 1999, Migot-Adhola et al 1982; Bechmann 1985). The Kenya coast as a tourism destination has existed since 1920 attracting mainly the white settlers and colonial government officials who sought holiday excitements.

Major tourist attractions at the Kenyan coast include the wildlife, white sandy beaches, sun, sea, sex, scene features, diverse cultures, hospitable people, historical sites, national museums, national parks and reserves near the coast and tourism facilities of international standard such as hotels and airport.

The presence and availability of Britons, Germans, Italians, Americans and others in Mombasa and other coastal towns in search of rest, fun and recreation has been the main factor attracting Kenyan girls and children to get involved in sex tourism (Sindiga 1999 and Chissim 1996).

Different Forms of Sex Tourism

Sex tourism sometimes involves production of videos featuring nude dancing in which no direct physical contact occurs; the tourists engage in voyeurism.

There are also casual prostitutes or freelancers who move in and out of prostitution depending on their financial needs. In this case, sex tourism may be regarded as incomplete commercialized and the relationship between sex worker and the client may be ridden with ambiguities (Cohen 1982; Ryan and Hall 2001), particularly if the relationship shifts from an economic to a social base. However, some women entering into sex tourism in Kenya are not financially needy but only seeking fun and 'social class', whereby the community views women seen socializing with white men with high esteem and associate them with wealth and success in life. Some of these women have jobs in noble professions while others are college students.

There is also the more formalized form of prostitution where the workers operate through intermediaries. Since sex tourism is illegal in Kenya, prostitutes use entertainment establishments such as night clubs, bars, beaches and other retail outlets to get customers. The other type of sex tourism is that of bonded prostitutes. This is more of slavery because it is enforced by people such as family members through abductions and kidnapping.

Motivation Factors: Why do Tourists Look for Sex

Most tourists tend to behave differently while in the countries they are touring. This is because there is an assurance of anonymity, which releases them from the usual restraints, which determine their behavior in their home countries. Tourism allows people "to lose their identity" and gives them the freedom to escape realities and live their fantasies. They spend more money, relax more, drink more, eat more and get involved in pleasures they would not at home. Men who would never visit brothels in their home countries will end up doing so in a foreign country where there is negligible chance of detection and penalty. For the same reason, women who would never have sex with boys young enough to be their grand children at their home country would do so in a foreign country.

Tourists tend to seek commercial sex services in Kenya because the services are readily available and quite cheap compared to what they would pay for such services in their home countries. Such tourists are able to enjoy lifestyles they could never enjoy in their home countries. Furthermore, some of these tourists may hold menial jobs in their industrialized home countries but because of the disparity in salaries and high exchange rates, they may appear comparatively rich when in a poorer country like Kenya. They would therefore tend to spend their money in sexual activities that they associate with the rich and the famous in their home countries. Chissim has illustrated this in his interview with a German tourist visiting Kenya (Chissim 1996:18).

".... Morco said he was in Kenya for a month but within four days, he boasted of already fucking five girls. He said he fucked one girl on the beach but pretended that he had no money, so he got that one for free. Another girl he fucked on the beach for 100/- (about $1) and told her that he had no more money. The others he said he had to pay 200/- (about $3) ..."

For some of these tourists, Kenya represents Africa where life is perceived as raw and wild and a place where people are uncontrolled, liberal and polygamous. These reasons partly explain why some European women visit Kenya to look for sex from beach boys young enough to be their grandsons. It is estimated that more than 5% of all European women who visit Kenya go in search of sex, especially those from German, Switzerland and Italy (New York Times Feb. 14, 2002).

Many Kenyan communities highly value virginity. This motivates tourists to have sex with younger girls; in the anticipation of having sex with a virgin who may be free from HIV/ AIDS.

Some tourists engage in sex tourism because they may be fleeing from unhappy relationships at home and, perhaps, from women who may tend to question male domination. Male supremacy is perceived as a natural kind of authority in many cultures and world religions. Cultural values defining traditional male sex roles are power, dominance, strength and supremacy, while those defining female roles are submissiveness, weakness, inferiority and passivity. Women are perceived as property of men and sex as exchange of goods, which further entrenches male supremacy. This notion also teaches men that females are worthless and less deserving and may be treated as objects of men.

The mafia- style drugs and sex industry along the Kenyan coast is another motivating factor for sex tourism. People with a lot of money are capable of bribing their way out of trouble if caught Such people are also responsible for organizing sex services for clients outside the country (Sindiga 1999; Chessim 1996).

Supply Factors: Why Do Sex Workers Get Involved

"Many times I don't feel anything during sexual encounters. It is because I need money for myself and my children that I keep doing it. I have learned to do motions mechanically in order to satisfy my clients. If I do it well, they will come back and that means more money." (Lin Lean Lim 2000:74).

This Filipino woman quoted by Lin Lean Lim expresses the reason why many women from Third World countries practice sex tourism and their feelings about sex work. The main reason for sex tourism for many is poverty. Many Kenyan women are economically desperate. With the increasing rate of unemployment and high cost of living, prostitution is left as the only option for them to earn a living and support their children. Such women migrate to coast with hope of finding white tourists who can pay more for the services or even may end up marrying them.

Some girls involved in sex tourism come from broken homes or very poor family backgrounds and are never taken to school to attain formal education. They resolve to sex prostitution as a means of supporting themselves economically.

In Kenya, women are generally poorer than men because women have limited access to resources such as land, capital, farm equipments and agricultural inputs. Inheritance practices in most Kenyan communities seem to favor men. This means that men can easily have access to other productive resources because they can use land as security to borrow money if needed to purchase other productive resources. This option is normally not available for women.

In many Kenyan communities, illiteracy levels in women are higher than those of men. This is because parents give priority to boy's education particularly if resources are limited. Along the coast, education is not valued because people from these areas are used to receiving tokens and money from the tourists. Children of school going age therefore prefer to go to beaches in search for tourists who give them tokens in exchange for sex. Other factors affecting education for girls include unwanted pregnancies and the fact that they are forced to early marriages by their parents for economic gains.

Kenyan women are discriminated against in most areas of formal employment and more often left with poorly paid jobs or no jobs at all. This makes prostitution an alternative.

The HIV/AIDS scourge in Kenya is estimated to claim 500 lives daily leaving many orphans. The young children left become heads of the families and may often turn to sex tourism and prostitution as a means of earning a living to support their siblings.

Impact of Sex Tourism in Kenya

Sex tourism can be seen as both a risk and an opportunity. Most women in sex tourism face the risk of material loss because their clients may not pay them for the services (ref. The Marco case). Women are generally helpless against such exploitation and take it as part of their business.

Sex workers face the risk of losing their money to thieves and police because they have to bribe their way out if caught as they mostly work at night.

Women can sometimes face attacks by dissatisfied customers. These attacks may be in form of rape, cruelty, violence or even murder.

"Monica Njeri was a 32- year old mother of two and a prostitute in Mombasa. She was brutally murdered by Frank Sundstrom a 19 year old USA navy service man who wanted the kind of sex that Monica could not provide. When he was not satisfied with merely sleeping, he woke up and tried to steal back the money he had given to her plus her own money but she woke up and caught him in the act. In ensuing struggle, he broke a beer bottle to make a weapon and repeatedly stabbed her until she died." (Migot- Adhola 1982:74).

Although Sundstrom admitted the offence, his only sentence was to sign a bond of 500/- (equivalent to US$46 at that time) to be of good conduct.

Women in sex tourism industry and prostitution are continually exposed to sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS. Many tourists may not accept to use protection such as condoms because they argue that it interrupts the flow of sex and carrying it may imply that one is promiscuous (Clift and Grabowski 1997).

Sex workers are also faced with the danger of susceptibility to anal or cervical cancers, additionally, since many women are forced into sex work, many of them only work under influence of drugs and/or alcohol. This may lead to depression or alcohol addiction.

Sex tourism has been blamed in Kenyan coast for increasing rate of school drop-out, poverty and illiteracy. This is mainly because children of school going age choose not to school but to follow tourists who lure them to sex tourism.

However, some women that have risked sex tourism have been able to build better houses and invested in urban businesses. This is largely because earnings from prostitution are often more than those from other alternative employment opportunities open to women.

Sex workers contribute to national economy by boosting profits of many transnational hotels and airlines, taxi drivers, brothel owners and many other intermediaries. The Kenyan police, the state, as well as the local and international enterprises are well aware that sex has a market value even though they proclaim that prostitution is immoral (Ryan and Hall 2001).

Sex tourism has also contributed to cultural exchange because many sea workers are forced to learn foreign languages so that they can communicate with their clients. There are occasions when these temporary relationships have led to marriages hence removing such girls from prostitution. The other positive impact is that health workers are encouraged to go for regular medical checkups because of the nature of their work, hence paying more attention to their health.


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