A charity associated with the US Peace Corps works hard in Kenya to end the ‘sex for fish’ trade, a common practice in which the risk of contracting the HIV virus is high.

Known the locals as “jaboya,” the transaction literally involves the act of trading sex for fish. Fishermen daily compete for business in Lake Victoria at the western end of the country to sell the fish they caught. Most of their clients, however, are women who are willing to pay with more than just money.

According to a fishermen interviewed by the BBC, a female customer will sometimes “pay 500 Kenyan shillings ($6) in cash and another 500 shillings with their body.” Despite being ashamed, he said that the women were tempting and couldn’t resist having sex with them. He promised his father, who also practiced jaboya, to always wear a condom.

However, statistics show that not everyone involved in jaboya is wearing a condom. The BBC claims that the HIV infection rate around the Lake Victoria area is at 15% and is “double the national average.”

But, why would people risk getting such disease? Lucy Odhiambo, a mother of five who was left widowed told the BBC that she is forced to purchase fish by pleasing men because that is the only option she has.

“Usually I sleep with one or two fishermen a week,” she said. “I could get diseases but I have no other choice: I have my children to send to school.”

Fortunately, the charity supported by the US Peace Corps is finally beginning to make a scene in the area. Although 19 women currently run it, the organization called Vired helps females look for their own catch instead of depending on men to do the fishing.

Managed by Agnes Auma – who practiced jaboya but quit after realizing how dangerous it was – Vired is a project that sells fish and uses the money to pay its staff. With more money, people like Odhiambo would less likely depend on men and risk getting a disease to support their children.

According to Avert, a UK-based organization, “Kenya is home to one of the word’s harshest HIV and AIDS epidemics.”

“An estimated 1.6 million people are living with HIV, around 1.1 million children have been orphaned by AIDS and in 2011 nearly 62,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses,” states Avert in its website.

To prevent the HIV epidemic in Kenya from getting worse, the world community needs to focus on putting an end to poverty within the country. However, attention is also needed in other African countries with a high HIV infection rate. Poverty results in the lack of material and health resources that makes contracting infectious diseases possible.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Avert, BBC
Photo: PeaceCorps