14-year-old Asha sits outside a rescue centre in Kilifi County, Kenya scrolling through her phone. As a teenager, she enjoys learning and doing activities that touch on beauty and fashion. After being admitted to form one, she couldn't cope up with the new school life. As a result, she disappeared from home on the eve of school reopening for the second term in 2021. After she vanished, she ended up being sexually exploited.
Asha completed her primary school education in 2020 and joined a High School school in Mombasa County the following year. Her school attendance was regular, however, she couldn't cope with the new high school life. She had always wanted to pursue a beauty and fashion course instead of continuing with her education. On 5th October 2021 when schools were reopening for the second term, she disappeared to an unknown location. After her disappearance, her father reported the case to a nearby police station. One week later, she returned home and her father escorted her to the police station where he had initially reported the case.
Upon their arrival at the police station, Asha was taken into a separate room for questioning. While interviewing her, the police discovered that she was in possession of a smartphone and decided to go through it. The police officer discovered that she had been in communication with several men aged between 25 -40 years. Thereafter, the police officer in charge contacted the project officer for further intervention. During a separate counselling session, Asha informed the project officer that she had met five of the men physically and slept with them. She met some of the men via online platforms like Facebook. Consequently, she also met other men offline, exchanged contacts and continued with the conversations via WhatsApp before meeting them in public places and private residences. The men would give her money, around 62 euros in exchage for sex. Additionally, Asha´s phone chats clearly showed how the conversations progressed from friendly chats to sexualized conversations that included plans on when and where she was to meet these men.
“I feel bad about myself. ¨I also feel that I am responsible for all these things because It’s me who agreed to meet them all.” She explains.
The Watch 24/7 project team met Asha and taught her how to avoid online sexual explotiation and how to be SMART while online to avoid such incidents from happening in the future. She was also encouraged to report any cases of harassment online.
The case of OCSE was reported to the Children’s Office and police post in Nyali Sub County in Mombasa County on 25th October 2021. The case files and the smartphone(exhibit) were forwarded to the DCI-Child Protection Unit on the same day for further investigations to identify the perpetrators and bring them to book. The case is also being followed up by Nyali Sub County children’s office for monitoring of the child’s progress.
Psychological well-being, follow-up and monitoring of the child’s progress is ongoing and will happen every 2 weeks. This is expected to continue until the case is concluded. From the Counselor’s assessment the child’s behavior has really improved. She now understands herself better. She however wishes to engage herself in activities that will help her use her time productively like learning the course she has always wanted to do on beauty. Speaking about her future she explained, “I want to be a beautician.”