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Sexual exploitation of children in East Africa

In East Africa, an increasing number of children are becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. They are working in the sex industry, are involved in the production of child pornography or forced to engage in webcam sex. In return they or their family receive money, clothing, shelter and protection.


Especially girls from rural areas are lured to urban centres under false pretences by recruiters. They think that they can go to school, or get a good job. In reality they become victims of commercial sexual exploitation. This does not only happen in the urban centres, but also on the coast and other tourist destinations frequented by child sex tourists. However, sexual exploitation is not limited to tourism or child pornography only. Concurrently there are numerous child domestic workers who are sexually exploited in urban centres.

The reason children fall for the promises of recruiters is simple: they are pushed by poverty. In addition, girls are especially vulnerable because they are often seen as an easy to trade commodity. Dangerous or difficult circumstances at home coupled with a dysfunctional child protection structure are also contributing factors to the sexual exploitation of children.

Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda all have laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children, but in practice there is little to no enactment or implementation of these laws. This can be contributed to limited capacity and budgets, as well as to corruption.


Sexual exploitation of children causes huge physical, mental and social harm to the victims. Child victims become traumatised and often suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives.

They drop out of school and they are often treated as outcast after their return to their families and communities. In case they have been infected with HIV, the consequences are even beyond repair.

Although mostly girls are being sexually exploited, it happens to boys too. For boys, it is even more difficult to get help. There are no programmes specifically focusing on boys, whereas sexual abuse of boys is still considered taboo in East Africa.

Target groups

To eliminate sexual exploitation of children in East Africa, we focus on the following target groups:

  • Victims (girls and boys) of child prostitution, child sex tourism and child pornography between 8 and 18 years old.
  • Children from families and communities who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
  • The private sector.
  • The authorities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda who are responsible for protecting children.
  • Police and judiciary.
  • Civil society.


The main objectives of our programme in East Africa up to 2019 are:

  • 800 children have been withdrawn from child prostitution.
  • 1,000 child victims of sexual exploitation have resumed their education.
  • over 30 perpetrators of child sexual exploitation have been prosecuted.

What we do

Our programme from 2016 onwards is concentrated in all four countries in East Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Our main focus is on the elimination of child trafficking and unsafe migration for the sex industry that thrives along the coast, in urban areas and in areas experiencing economic growth spurred by oil and gas discoveries.

We implement our programme by:

  • Taking children away from situations where they are sexually exploited. We give them shelter and ensure that they can recover from their experiences. Moreover, they can improve their future prospects by returning to school or enrolling in vocational training.
  • Creating awareness amongst communities (including parents and guardians) on child sexual exploitation, so that they can play their part in the prevention of it. We also train law enforcement officers, including the police.
  • Training parents/ guardians in increasing the family income, so that they and their children are less inclined to fall for the false promises of recruiters.
  • Detecting and prosecuting perpetrators, in cooperation with law enforcement authorities such as police and judiciary.


Some of the results of our work against sexual exploitation of children in East Africa in the first six months of 2017:

  • 40 households with child victims of sexual exploitation have developed alternative sources of income
  • 400 vulnerable children and 741 parents/care takers received education about the risks of sexual exploitation of children and the importance of education
  • 33 networkmeetings have been organised with local community leaders, such as religious or traditional leaders, to raise awareness
  • 64 mediacampaigns have been organised to raise awareness about children's rights and sexual exploitation, mainly to change local policies and legislation
  • Terre des Hommes partners are participating in 43 local child protection networks

Latest news

April 2nd, 2019

In the media: fighting sexual exploitation at the Kenyan coast

Poverty remains the major push factor for children to engage in child sexual exploitation at the Kenyan coast.…

March 18th, 2019

African CSO's jointly voice child rights issues before the African Union

African civil society organisations (CSOs) have jointly been voicing child rights issues in Addis Ababa, Ethio…

March 15th, 2019

Evidence on Online Child Sexual Exploitation in Kenya presented to the African Union

Terre des Hommes Netherlands has presented evidence from Kenya on Online Child Sexual Exploitation (OCSE) to t…

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