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By Dann Okoth
March 9, 2010
I wake up in this foul mood on the sultry morning of August 16, after an all-night prowl on the streets of Mombasa yielded nothing. After days of seeking to expose the child sex trade at the Coast and several useful leads have run cold, I feel like I am chasing the wind. I am about to pick up the phone rings, it is my source in Ukunda in North coast. She is calling to tell me "my packages have arrived I can go pick them up in the afternoon".
I rub my palms in anticipation. After days of frustrating search and haggling I now had the opportunity to ‘buy children and potentially sell them to paedophiles for sex' – to expose the trade.
Incidentally, my source is a social worker in Msambweni who had agreed to arrange for me to meet a broker.
"It is risky business though," she had warned. "These people are dangerous you must always watch your back."
I arrive in Ukunda at 4.30 pm but what follows is an agonising two-hour wait amid fear and uncertainty.
Worse still my source's phone has gone off and there is no telling what had happened to her. Then at 6.45pm she calls to tell us she is in a hotel next to the beach outside Ukunda town. She instructs me to drive there immediately and leave the vehicle a few metres from the hotel.
After a few minutes, I arrive to find her huddled in a corner at the bar with two girls aged at least 10-14 years.
I demand to see the broker. Unfortunately, she says, the broker cannot come because she is still out there looking for a third child – I had said I wanted as many as possible because I had many clients.
Half an hour later and the third child – a girl of about 14 or 15 – arrives at the hotel, but still no broker. After a brief conversation on the phone my sources tell me the broker cannot come because she cannot trust me.
However, she is in a nearby hotel and demands Sh5, 000 deposit for each child.
But I insist I cannot pay until I reach an agreement with the children first. At this point we move to an adjacent seedy (and noisy) joint where the negotiations start. But before the talks begin I fish out my recorder and switch it on.
The conversation goes like this:
Writer to girl (1) (Agnes): Sasa wasemaja, tunaweza enda Mombasa? (Hi, how about we go to Mombasa, what do you say?)
Agnes: Mimi bora imenitumikia mahitaji yangu halafu tunamalizana hapa hapa tu (I don't mind provided you take care of my needs and we seal the deal here first).
Writer: Unataka pesa ngapi? (How much money do you want?)
Agnes: Elfu moja (Sh 1,000).
Writer: Si hiyo ni kidogo sana? (Isn't that too little?)
Agnes: Mimi bora nipate kidogo ya kunitosheleza mahitaji yangu (I don't mind provided I get something little to take care of my needs).
Writer: Lakini lazima twende Mombasa kwani huku ndiko marafiki zangu wazungu (wateja) ambo wanakutaka wako. Sio mimi nakutaka. Usipoenda Mombasa sasa itakuwaje? (But we must travel to Mombasa where my white friends (customers) are. It is not me who is interested in you. How would it be if you don't accompany me?
Agnes: Sawa bora tu utaturushida (No problem as long as you will bring us back).
Writer: Na utawambia hawa wenzako pia twende kwa sababu niko na wateja wengi (Ask your friends to come along too because customers are many).
Girl (2): Mimi siendi Mombasa (I won't go to Mombasa)
Writer to source: I want you to solve this issue once and for all. I don't want trouble once on the way. Sort it out between yourselves and let me know.
Source to writer: You know I should not get mixed up in this. There's no need for me to accompany them. After all, they do this daily. Just agree with them on payment. They will go.
Writer to Agnes: Sasa wamekubali wataenda na mimi Mombasa? (Have they agreed to accompany me to Mombasa?)
Agnes: Sawa lakini utatulipa zaidi tukishakutana na hao wateja wako (But you will pay us more once we meet your clients).
Writer: Mimi hata sina haja ya kuwalipa. Kazi yangu nikutafuta wasichana wadogo kama nyinyi na kuwapelekea wazungu na kupata 'cut' yangu (I do not have to pay you. My job is to look for young girls like you, take them to the tourists and get my commission).
Writer: Ndio (Yes)
Third girl: Heeeh Utapenda! (You will like it!) They laugh.
Third girl: Lakini usiniuze huko Mombasa kabisa na wasinitie (But don't sell me completely and make sure they do not get me pregnant.)
Soon we are off to 'Mombasa' with the 'precious cargo' safely cuddled together in the seat of the car.
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Police Lieutenant Andriakou says many women do not know they will be working as prostitutes once they travel abroad or the working conditions and abuses they will face and it is these areas the joint efforts hope to address.
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