The interests of Western tourists in Africa have for a long time divided opinions among natives on the continent. But moral concerns have usually been muffled by the more than 8% in GDP tourism rakes in for the continent.
Now, The Sun of the UK has reported that its investigations have revealed a debauched culture of British tourists picking up little Gambian boys and girls for sex.
For as little as £2 or $2.60, British tourists to the West African country can convince parents to “sell” their kids.
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The report cites “lax laws” as well as poverty in The Gambia as the perfect conditions for the predatory behavior.
Most of the British tourists in the country are to be found holidaying on the coast. Some of them are described as “middle-aged Western men” who accompany the little African kids at the beach and other places of interest.
A night situation was described quite graphically with all the imagery that should bar a child’s presence.
But a “child, no older than two, was being held closely by a white man with a British accent.”
What The Sun’s investigations in Gambia reveal is not disconnected from an increasing rate of sex tourism in that sub-region. Young women, and some men, in countries such as Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast present opportunities for Westerners looking to fulfill carnal desires.
But if sex tourism in itself is not a social problem, trafficking of young girls is. Nigeria, for instance, has for years, had some of the worst sex trafficking numbers on the continent.
Poverty seems to be the biggest driving factor.
The Sun’s interview with Lamin Fatty, the National Coordinator of the Child Protection Alliance in The Gambia, pointed to this very problem.
“Sex is cheap in my country,” Fatty was quoted as saying. “And children are being sold for as little as 150 dalasis, or just over £2 in your currency.”
Some of the parents know their children are being abused and they accept it because they are so desperate for food in their bellies.
“Others are too naïve to realize. They think the Westerner is paying their bills and helping their boy or girl out of the kindness of their heart, while in reality, they have bad intentions.”
Another, Malick Jallow, a lawyer and a child rights advocate agreed.
“While some tourists will always want to help poor Gambians, others will see this situation as an opportunity to exploit young children. The problem is that the abuse is sometimes carried out with the blessing of the parents because they are so in need,” said Jallow.
The myriad of ways to fight this problem is not lost on Africans. Poverty reduction seems to be the most important project to continuously undertake but technology presents new horizons.
Three Nigerian students have invented software that can track and expose human traffickers as well as rescue and rehabilitate victims.
David Popoola, Eyitayo Ogunbiyi and Chukwudumebi Onwuli, students of System Engineering and Computer Engineering Departments at the University of Lagos, Nigeria, developed the software called ‘Let’s Fight Trafficking’ to help tackle the problem of human trafficking in the West African nation.
There are high hopes for the software but what remains to be seen is how many lives it can impact.
Sub-Saharan governments have a long way to go in providing the security and social welfare that safeguard their most vulnerable populations against predatory tourist behavior.
As things are, poor people like those in The Gambia can only trust in their prayers.