In 2018, a group of high school students were arrested while engaging in sexual activities inside Michuki Park in Nairobi.
According to the police, the seven girls and a boy had been lured via Instagram by the administrator of a page called Party Animals, for the purposes of filming them in the act.
The subsequent photos and videos would go for a premium on multibillion-dollar-making porn sites on both surface and dark webs.
Although some needy children engage in such exploitative activities for material gain, the group aged between 14 and 18 was sadly still required to part with some money for the photo session.
And they are not the only ones; multiple cases of child sexual exploitation and abuse have been reported around the country.
In July, 2019, 10 women and a man were charged with trafficking obscene publication by producing and streaming pornographic videos through social media at Simba Estate in Nyali, Mombasa. They were part of a wider syndicate that promotes the sexual exploitation of minors, under the auspices of an international company of Canadian origin.
Driven by the children’s exposure to the internet, reduced contact with their parents and demand for child pornography, more so on the dark web where users have a level of anonymity, there are fears more innocent children would find themselves in the grip of a vice they can’t control.
Young, energetic, creative, misguided and sometimes incorrigible, the internet is where the youngsters derive their sense of belonging and identity. For some, online sites are their alpha and omega, moreso in a society where sex education is frowned upon and the role of raising children is no longer communal.
Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) chief executive officer Ezekiel Mutua notes that sexual exploitation of children has reached alarming levels, with foreigners taking advantage of weak laws in Kenya to make illegal films that earn them millions of dollars when sold abroad.
Dr Mutua has been pushing for the establishment of a police unit, hosted at the board, to crack down on child pornography.
“We are talking of children as young as 12 who are being introduced to pornography by foreigners. These children are exploited in this business worth billions of dollars,” he said.
He added that one of the challenges the board is facing is failure by the police to carry out proper investigations on reported cases, with the perpetrators left to go scot-free.
With lack of means to properly document cases of online child sexual exploitation, child prostitution and sale and trafficking of children for sexual purposes, their scope is not clear due to the clandestine nature of the trade and the inaccessibility of the dark web where the trade booms.
Last year, Kenya became the first African country to connect to the International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database, in a bid to boost the fight against online child sexual abuse.
According to the Kenya Alliance for Advancement of Children (KAACR), an increase in the number of children lured to the coastal urban centres of Mombasa, Ukunda and Malindi through online platforms are higher.
Between October 2018 and July 2019 when KAACR presented the report, 67 children out of 120 reported being invited to travel unaccompanied to the Coast region via social media, particularly Facebook. “The increase in internet availability across Kenya has not been matched by (adequate) cyber-security and … child protection measures,” the alliance said in its submission to the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Situation in Kenya, in Bangkok, Thailand.
Other underlying causes of child sexual exploitation listed include poverty, child abuse, traditional gender roles, and inadequate government and private sector action on the issue.
A 2017 study of major tourist hotspots, conducted by Awareness Against Human Trafficking, sampled 10 children exploited for prostitution in Bombolulu and Tudor in Mombasa County and found that the average age of children,who are initiated into the illicit business is 14.8.
In February 2020, Mr Eric Eoin Marques, a dual citizen of the United States and Ireland, who has been on the police radar since 2006, finally pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to advertise child pornography in a Maryland federal court in the US.
Marques, 33, sold the content through an anonymous web-hosting service that contained more than 8.5 million pictures and videos of child exploitation material, one of the largest caches in the world.
“This is an egregious case where one individual facilitated the abuse of more than a million child victims and attempted to keep the abuse hidden on the dark web. We must do everything we can to bring individuals like Marques to justice to keep our children safe,” said US Attorney Robert Hur of the District of Maryland.
Such materials are exchanged on the dark web, which is only accessible by means of special software that comes with inbuilt virtual private network (VPN), allowing users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable.
Users do not use fiat currency to trade, preferring to use cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
The US Justice Department said the site collected at least $3.7 million (€3.3 million) worth of Bitcoin between June 2015 and March 2018 when it was taken down.
Although the dark web itself is not illegal, a high magnitude of unlawful activities occurs therein, such as the sale of illegal drugs, firearms.
Aside from the internet, societal moral decadence has seen cases of rape rise with impunity and few intervention measures put in place to keep the girls safe and bring perpetrators to book.
The current rise in cases of teenage pregnancies, gender-based violence and ongoing teenage marriages across the country are testimonies.
A spot check in a number of North Rift counties reveals ill-prepared administrations and weak structures to deal with effects that come with these vices.
Narrations from survivors and gender rights activists reveal victims and vulnerable women and girls struggling to live in societies that do not only not take their plights seriously, but also advocate for silence.
Jepkemoi (not her real name) from Kimumu on the outskirts of Eldoret town is a survivor of incest, who has since found no stable place to stay.
“I was sexually molested by my biological father three months ago. It was the darkest moment of my life. Were it not for well-wishers who took me to the hospital and the temporary care centre at AMPATH, I would have committed suicide,” says the 16-year-old Form Two student.
Jepkemoi now faces an unpredictable future as she cannot go back to the home she was defiled in. Her father was arrested and released after a few days under unclear circumstances.
“I am so afraid to go back home. It doesn’t look like home anymore and I would rather get lost in the streets than live under the same roof with someone who took away my dignity,” she says battling tears.
Jepkemoi now lives with friends, something she says is not sustainable. Her schooling now remains in limbo as the fees was paid by the father.
“We have tried to push for a gender and sexually based violence recovery home to be built by the county government but to no avail,” says Immaculate Shamalah, a Trans Nzoia County human and gender rights activist.
According to Ms Shamalah, the plan to construct such a home has been there since 2016, but it has never been implemented by the county government.
The script is the same in Elgeyo-Marakwet as Ms Ruth Kilimo, who runs an anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) organisation called Marakwet Girls’ Foundation attests, so is the case in Uasin Gishu County as given by Mr Nick Omito from ‘Center for Human Rights and Mediation’.
Both counties have a problem shielding survivors of abuse due to lack of safe havens.
According to Omito, the few religious based recue centers that used to help out all closed down due to what he terms as lack of cooperation from the county government.
“We only have the AMPATH centre at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital that takes in such victims. Theirs though is purely for medication. We lack a place where we can put up the survivors as we try to reconcile them with their community,” he says.
Ms Kilimo says: “It has been an uphill task on my side. Since I started this foundation, I have saved hundreds of girls and young women from the dreadful genital mutilation. This I have done with the assistance of other church based foundations and NGOs.”
County government of Elgeyo Marakwet has been having a plan of putting up a rescue centre since 2017, but that has just remained a plan.