Glimmers of Hope in Bleak Landscape of Kenyan Child Sex Trafficking
Measuring Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Coastal Kenya
It may be 2023, but modern slavery persists, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). Experts estimate that there are about one million CSEC victims worldwide and that 99 percent are female. This is a loose estimate, as CSEC evidence is difficult to gather for several reasons. Victims are not easily identified through traditional sampling methods and are often unable or unwilling to report their experiences because they do not know how, are afraid of retribution, or do not wish to relive their trauma.
The difficulty in collecting CSEC data often requires novel approaches for measuring prevalence. That’s why the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS) commissioned NORC to conduct a prevalence study and an impact study in two coastal Kenyan counties where GFEMS and its partner had launched the “Building a Future” (BAF) project, a package of community-oriented trafficking protection and prevention activities.
“The grim reality is that coastal Kenya continues to be a hotbed of child sex trafficking and exploitation despite efforts by Kenya’s government to combat it. An estimated 2,426 children are engaged in CSEC in just two counties, Kilifi and Kwale. As experts in measuring such hidden and hard-to-reach groups, we combined our trauma-informed research practices with the latest methods to measure this population and changes to it between 2021 and 2022.”
Using Innovative Methods for Multiple Insights
In the prevalence study, Keaveney and her team used link-tracing. Pioneered by the study’s chief statistician, Dr. Kyle Vincent, this method unites the strengths of respondent-driven sampling and mark-recapture—which was originally used to successfully track animal populations—to estimate the population size and characteristics of CSEC victims at two points in time. Researchers detected that the prevalence of such exploitation declined by half (1.7 to 0.8 percent) from 2021 to 2022. However, they also found that children continue to bring other children into the sex trade (37 percent), and a third of survivors have been victimized by local authorities such as law enforcement and government officials.
The impact study combined a pre-post outcomes assessment and multiple regression analysis to examine BAF’s impact on community knowledge, attitudes, and practices. Researchers found that BAF participants were 29 percent more likely to watch for CSEC signs at home and became more aware of the sex trade’s adverse physical and mental effects on child victims. Nevertheless, the vast majority of participants remained afraid or unwilling to report known cases and unconvinced that local perpetrators should be arrested.
Both studies made multiple recommendations, including expanding community education and prevalence monitoring and offering quality mental health services and alternative livelihoods for survivors.
GFEMS's Build a Future program and NORC's evaluation were funded by U.S. Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
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