Young sex workers in Kenya: reducing risks with medical abortion information

By Pauline Diaz

When organizing a talk with a group of young teenagers about reproductive health, you can always expect a little shyness, some repelled looks, and many nervous laughs from the audience. However, when you discuss with a group of young sex workers that had to grow up quicker than regular teenage girls, don’t expect them to hold back on the questions and the wit.

Acceptation, humor and empowerment are definitely key to these strong young women. They totally assume what they do and they’re trying to make it work with what they were given. Most of the times, it was never really a choice for them. And to be honest, the sad reality that countries such as Kenya face is that no matter what school degree girls pursue, they will never earn as much money as they do as sex workers. Unfortunately, such conditions leave them with very few alternatives.

Trace Kenya, a local NGO from Mombasa, Kenya, has a program that aims to take as many of these young sex workers out of the streets as possible. The region is known for being a sex tourism hub and a platform for human trafficking. So of course, the problem extends beyond these 24 girls, as many more are involved in early prostitution and lack basic information on how to protect themselves. However, this is a start.

Fighting misinformation

We know we cannot stop these young women from engaging in risky behaviors, as the clients’ requests might overtake their rational decisions. But there are ways to connect them with tools that will increase their chances to stay alive and healthy. That was our goal as safe2choose, when we decided to organize a group discussion with them during the 16 days of activism in 2017.

The first step was busting as many myths as possible around reproductive health. The girls introduced us to what they had heard and thought they knew, and it was alarming. “The birth control pill makes you fat”, “the morning-after-pill gives you nice curves, but then you get immune to it” or “there is an abortion pill, you put only one in your mouth and one in your vagina” those were only a few of the misconceptions they had. And it exposed the urgent need for proper sex education.

The group also listed the abortion methods used in their neighborhood such as roots, tea leaves, bleach and some magical black colored pill. They were very sensitive about it, as they had already lost two friends to unsafe abortion complications in the past few years.

Being able to access simple information such as knowing the right protocols for them to use the abortion pills properly, was mind blowing. Everyone was very attentive and taking notes to hopefully spread the right information to their own network of women.

Besides referring them to health centers where they could get cheap condoms, contraceptives and pregnancy tests, we introduced them to safe2choose as a reliable option to access safe abortion pills on the ground. Two hours weren’t enough as the girls had many more questions. Nevertheless, we definitely hope to go back and strengthen the partnership with the NGO.

If you know more organizations that would benefit from medical abortion training, let us know at The more organizations we reach out to, the more women will have access to reliable safe abortion information, and the more lives will be saved.