Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA)

Contributor: Dorcas Mwachi, Program Associate, Lobbying, Advocacy and Communication

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Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) and Child Trafficking are closely related. Recruitment of victims normally takes place in rural areas toward an urban destination. The recruiters entice parents and children with promises of education or work prospects. More often than not, when the children get to the urban areas, with high demand for young sexual workers, they are subjected to exploitation or even get recruited and/or lured by their peers. According to the Terre des Hommes Nederlands (TdH NL) CSEC study in the Kenyan Coast (2013), there is a prevalence of 37.6% for self-reported commercial sexual exploitation among children at the Kenyan coast. Kwale County has the highest rate of CSEC (79.2%) compared to approximately one-third of children sampled in Mombasa (30.8%) and Kilifi (26%).

The age-specific rates of sexual exploitation showed a consistent increase from 12.7% for children 10-12 years to 27.7% and 56.1% in the age groups 13-15 years and 16-18 years, respectively. Findings from a research conducted by Build Africa (Kwale Girls Education Project) demonstrated that girls are significantly disadvantaged, entrenched in a cycle of poverty, and are subject to daily discrimination and violence. Their education attainment is among the poorest in the country with statistics indicating that more than 50% of girls fail to enrol in school and those who do so are likely to drop out by the age of 12. This trend stems from inherent cultural practices and attitudes; girls are marginalized and are denied education. Girls can be removed from school by parents, commodified through marriage, work and sex. Parents or caretakers fail to meet the needs of girls resulting in only 40% reaching the final year of primary school and less than 25% passing the primary level leaving exam (Ecorys GAA Baseline Report 2016:19). Girls with disabilities are even worst placed in relation to education opportunities at family level and community levels.

The Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA) is a 5-year joint project (2016-2020) led by the Dutch offices of Plan International, Terre des Hommes and Defence for Children – ECPAT and funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project aims to promote equal rights and opportunities for girls and young women in 10 countries spread across Africa and Asia.

In Kwale County, Kenya, the Girls Advocacy Alliance project is being implemented by COVAW and it seeks to eradicate Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (girls) (CSEC) and Child Trafficking (CT), however, Child Marriage has also come up as a cross cutting issue. The project is designed to cover six community clusters from Matuga, Msambweni and Lungalunga Sub-Counties. 

Since 2016, the project has continuously engaged various stakeholders including community members, government officials, other civil society organizations (CSOs) and the private sector. Communities have been engaged through community dialogue forums, which are informal meetings with specific agendas to discuss. The GAA staff usually act as moderators and allow the community activists and community leaders to facilitate the discussions, because they are well-known and trusted in the community. The dialogue sessions serve as sensitization forums for communities to identify and denounce negative social norms that increase women and young girls’ vulnerability to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and economic exclusion, and adopt positive social norms. The meetings are often attended by religious leaders and other local leaders who are expected to provide guidance on any matters in the community. Discussions have been mainly focused on discussing lobbying and advocacy with the aim of getting the communities to take action on some of the issues that make women susceptible to GBV and economic exclusion.

‘’The life skills that I have so far received have enabled me to change the way I looked at things. I now know that all hope is not lost even though I have a baby. I am more conscious and men cannot lure me into having sex in exchange for money. The knowledge that I am receiving on life skills is already helping me make the right decisions and choices in life e.g. I managed to go back to school even after I had given birth and lost hope” – Magzy (Not her real name), A GAA Kwale beneficiary

The project team also works with young adolescent girls who are organised into groups according to their localities. Currently there are 21 girls groups with each having ten girls. The girls are between the ages of 15 and 24. The GAA staff have sought to provide practical examples to ensure the girls understand the concepts of life skills. Content has also been translated into Swahili, a language commonly used in the locality. Some girls’ groups have grasped the concepts and have begun writing letter in readiness to contribute towards the attainment of the project lobby goal.

Working with the informal private sector has been successful, many of them have volunteered to capacity build the girls skills in bead and soap making. They have taught the girls how to make beads from glossy paper and in-turn make ornaments using the same. Some girls groups like Jua kali, Biga and Gazi have earned an income from selling the ornaments. Boda Boda operators, tuktuk drivers and tours and travels drivers have also supported the project towards realization of its goal. They have developed a child protection policy that will be shared among their association members. 

There is more that needs to be done, the young adolescent girls need to be economically empowered to reduce their vulnerability to CSEC and CT.  

“I have been part of the monthly life skills training being facilitated by COVAW and from those sessions, I have known about CSEC and its detriments. My attitude and practise of having several sexual partners is changing because of this knowledge that I have acquired and I am able to understand that there are alternatives to earning a livelihood. I get to learn so much about sexual exploitation and how to have goals in life and work towards achieving them” – Mariam (Not her real name), A GAA Kwale beneficiary