Defending African Children From Western Sexual Predators

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[Global: Africa]

Like many holiday destinations, East Africa’s pristine shorelines, game reserves, abundant night life and cultural attractions are the stuff holiday brochures in the west are made of.

Tourism is a major money spinner for many of the world’s poorest countries, but East Africa’s tropical paradise hides a dark, sordid secret: child sex tourism.

It is estimated that upwards of a million under-age children around the world are living in a kind of indentured servitude and being forced to participate in sex acts with pedophiles masquerading as tourists or NGO workers.

The rise of this trade is shocking; and the speed of its establishment is staggering. It can only happen under a culture of deep rooted corruption, poverty and lack of concern for the most vulnerable in society that prevails in East African countries, especially Uganda and Kenya.

Child sex tourism has a long history. However, the practice has developed substantially during the last few decades. It has kept pace with globalization of hedonist culture of consumerism; fantasies about sex with exotic "natives"; increase in global travel, and the spread of the Internet. Other factors include weak national law enforcement in the developing countries, and the depth of poverty that force parents to live off the sale and exploitation of their children to traffickers and brothels.

According to the experts, child sex tourism has opportunistic facets and is always premeditated. It involves tourists who do not deliberately travel to foreign destinations for sex purposes, but while there make use of opportunities when they arise. The other group is tourists who travel to foreign destinations mainly and sometimes solely the purpose of engaging in sex with juveniles.

For example, a 65 year old expatriate teacher from the United States is facing jail time in Ghana after being arrested for abusing several African children by exchanging sexual favors for food. Patrick Ken Larbash, is currently in custody whilst officials investigate his child abuse practices. His arrest followed the seizure of video recordings with up to eight Ghanaian children performing oral sex –Felatio- on him at his house in Adjomanikope, near Sege, in the Dangme East District.

Larbash, who was previously living in Techiman in Ghana, had relocated to another location within the country, Adjomanikope after being forced to flee when elders of the community suspected him of abusing other little girls in the area. The police failed to follow his trail.

In 2006, Alexander Kilpatrick, a 56 year old father of two, was arrested in Milton Keynes, England, and jailed for 17 counts of sex offences after making several trips to East Africa, masquerading as an non-governmental organization (NGO) worker, when he was actually a pedophile.

Kilpatrick made harrowing films of the abuse; publishing them on DVDs labeled with his victims’ names, with background music set to various Elvis Presley songs.

More recently, police in Gulu, in the war-torn northern part of Uganda, arrested and detained Peter Kets, a Belgian "tourist" for taking and possessing nude pictures of little girls from the area whom he lured to his hotel room. Peter Kets was arrested on 24 October 2009.

He admitted to have travelled in and out of Gulu four times since 2006, and for having taken nude pictures of the under-aged children. In his defense, he claimed he did not know he was committing any crime because the girls in the photographs were his "girlfriends."

In all these cases, Larbash, Kilpatrick, and Kets, are some of the many white men who travel to Africa seeking to abuse children to fulfill their sexual perversions. Whilst other expatriates make permanent bases in Africa as NGOs, others make frequent visits with the sole purpose of grooming minors by using their comparative wealth to entice, exploit and ultimately abuse vulnerable Africans - often creating films of their abuse to sell and share worldwide with other pedophiles.

The problem is that, East African countries are doing little or nothing of note to prevent child sexual tourism. In Kenya for instance, the practice has become part of daily life along the shores of Mombasa, the coastal city.

It is done with the knowledge of the police who always accept bribes –"chai"- to look the other way. African borders and immigration rules towards white foreigners are simply too porous and permissive. Greater scrutiny of NGOs and background checks on their foreign managers need to be done as a condition for granting license of operations and issuing work and entry permits.

In recent years, growing concerns about rising abuses of children has tested the resolve of governments to implement international agreements designed to end the exploitation of children.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is already the most widely recognized of any international agreement. Concern over child labor, child prostitution and the civil rights of children are a benchmark by which any nation's commitment to human rights and democracy can be judged. But this has achieved very little in places like the northern part of Uganda, with its army of "lost children" and whose survivors of wars and conscriptions continue to face sexual exploitation by those who purport to help them cope.

As experiences have shown from DR Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda, respect for children’s rights cannot be guaranteed by goodwill alone.

The pressures of commercial development, cultural diversity and a global economy that give easy access for a rich minority to regions where people are struggling under appalling conditions of war, poverty and colonial exploitation, vulnerable, powerless and voiceless group like children become easy victims as their governments are fixated with attracting foreign investments more than protecting their own citizens.

Tourism is the world's leading economic sector and all countries compete to lure visitors. The problem is that in many regions of Africa, particularly countries like Kenya and Uganda, sexual exploitation, specifically the exploitation of children is an unpleasant by-product of tourism. Equally the ready acceptance of "NGOs" whose credentials go unchecked is a major contributor.

It is an issue that should involve many players - journalists and media organizations, travel agents and tourism companies, national tourist boards, airlines and travel services, hotels and restaurants and entertainment providers in host countries.

Until now, there has been little co-operation between these different players in seeking to raise awareness on the issue and in taking practical steps to combat this form of exploitation.

The exploitation of human beings in any form, particularly sexual exploitation of children, must never be part of the tourism industry. Any form of child sex tourism, child sexual exploitation, should be robustly combated and perpetrators and those who abet them penalized without concession.

Some countries already penalize their nationals for such crimes, even when it is committed abroad. It is an encouraging development that if adopted and practiced worldwide, will protect the world’s vulnerable people: our children.

Olara is a human rights advocate.

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