Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Working conditions of the Tea plantations in Kenya

Tea is a major export in Kenya, it makes up twenty percent of the countries gross domestic product. However, the working conditions for tea workers are tough.

Many workers of the tea plantations live in small shacks, many too small for entire families. So men are forced to live apart from their families. Women often sell their bodies to the men at the plantation, because they are unable to pick enough to make a good wage.

In this story about Kenya's tea trade, the IRIN profiles two tea workers who have fallen victim to the sex trade.

David Wanjala, 38, a married father of six, came from Vihiga, in Western Province, to pick tea near Kericho town, a tea-growing hub in Rift Valley Province, but because of poor pay he is unable to visit his family as often as he would like.

"When I came here seven years ago I brought my family with me, but I later realised I couldn't afford to keep them here; I took them back home and I now live alone," he told IRIN/PlusNews.

"The money I am paid here is too little even for one person ... because of these frustrations, [I] used it to buy sex and alcohol. Sex is cheap here because even the women who work here are paid little and they use their bodies to get extra income."

Wanjala said he only stopped visiting local sex workers after he tested HIV-positive two years ago. "I am lucky because my wife is negative and the doctors have told me how to stay with her without infecting her - people I know have infected their spouses."

Kenya's Rift Valley has a general HIV prevalence of seven percent, slightly lower than the national prevalence of 7.4 percent.

Consolata Awuor, a single mother of two who works on a large tea farm, says her job as a tea picker does not bring in enough to pay her rent, feed and clothe her family, and pay her sons' school fees, so she moonlights as a sex worker in Kericho town.

"For us women, we get even less pay because we cannot pick as much tea leaves [as the men]," she said. "Together with a few friends, we have rented a tin room in town where we provide sex and sell alcohol ... most of our clients are our fellow tea workers."

Awuor is aware of the risk she is running because many large tea companies distribute condoms to employees and hold regular forums to educate them about HIV, but quitting transactional sex would mean pulling her children out of school and having them grow up in poverty, just as she did.

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