IoT kills ‘fish-for-sex’ and prostitution in Kenya


End of sexual exploitation in fishing villages?

On the eastern shores of the great Lake Victoria, giving women access to special technology tools has become a blessing in disguise. Witfully, the advent of Internet of Things (IoT) is actually saving early adopters from sexual exploitation by fishermen and male fishmongers.

Women engaged in the fish trade have taken up the use of a mobile app which tells them of the availability of fish harvests and the related market demand for fish.

women fish sellers
Women fish sellers converge at a collection point following a harvest from one of the cage fish farms on Lake Victoria. Copyright: Dave Okech

One may ask: Why this development?

Prostitution in Kenya is widespread and the legal situation is complex. Although prostitution is not criminalised by law, municipal by-laws may prohibit it just like the capital city – Nairobi banned all sex work in December 2017. Actually, it is illegal to profit from the prostitution of others, and to aid, abet, compel or incite prostitution.

But in the western part of Kenya, on the shores of Lake Victoria, there has been a long-standing culture perpetrated by notorious fishermen and fishmongers who use their powerful positions in the community to sexually exploit poor women using a “Fish-for-Sex” approach to business.

Traditionally, in western Kenya, men do the fishing. Women mostly do the vending of the fish in the local markets. This leaves the fisher men in control of the business where they can demand to be paid in all sorts of currency, including, mostly ‘sex’.

With the advent of IoT, the tradition and culture of “fish-for-Sex” in western Kenya is now facing it’s last days.

What has happened now?

A new breed of technologically savvy and innovative fish farmers has come into the picture and are fast replacing the traditional fishermen fishmongers on Kenya’s section of Lake Victoria – which is currently experiencing dwindling wild fish stocks.

Enter award-winning local youthful star-innovator and fish-farmer Dave Okech, and see a fish farming revolution brewing in western Kenya.

Initially, Okech saw an opportunity in using IoT to monitor fish stocks and help in improving fish yields for local fish farmers. It actually grew to benefit a wider spectrum of the fish market in western Kenya. He got in touch with local technology developers who helped design for him the AquaRech system which can be accessed using both Android and iOS Apps.

What exactly does this technology do?

Sensor for AquaRech
One of the floating AquaRech-feeding sensors. Copyright: RoFish

So far, in pilot-phase since January 2019, AquaRech acquires data from sensors that monitor water temperature and pH values in ponds and on Lake Victoria.

Okech explains that the sensors tap into local telecom networks to transmit data including information and feeding instructions to farmers through the AquaRech App.

In a nutshell, Okech says there are three parts to the Aquarech system – an app, a thermometer for the fish ponds or cages, and a website for the feed producer to process orders. The app is designed for farmers to be able to input relevant data on a daily basis about the conditions of their fish ponds, relative fish mortality rates, and profit gains.

The app also monitors stocks of fish distributed to the various local markets as everyone who has downloaded it actually describes their segment in the local fishing industry which includes fish farmers, fish markets, fish mongers etc.

Obviously, the local women fish sellers who have downloaded AquaRech onto their phones also get access to the other bit of very vital information – the fish farm that is harvesting. Okech explains that it enables them to book for stock in advance.

sensors on cages
Technologists installing sensors to the Rio Fish cage farms on Lake Victoria. Copyright: Dave Okech

“They do not have to go begging the fisherman for fish. They do not have to trade their bodies for fish,” says Okech, who personally owns cage fish farms on Lake Victoria under the business name Rio Fish.

As they acquire information about availability of fish, the women are empowered to plan for when and where to go to replenish their stocks. They also now get to know the pricing in advance and this will enable them to avoid being cheated like was the case previously.

Bigger picture

In parts of Africa, the use of technology in empowering women and girls in fishing communities is likely to be a blessing in disguise. It is saving them from falling victim to sexually exploitative fishermen and male fish mongers. It is also saving them from resorting to prostitution as a source for earning for a living. In some parts of Kenya, prostitution is banned.

The Legal Status of Prostitution by Country

Map of the world showing the status of prostitution by country. Source:

A 2018 International telecommunications union (ITU) report says, globally, some 250 million fewer women use the Internet in their daily lives than men.

The report adds that in 2017, the global Internet penetration rate for men stood at 50.9 per cent compared to 44.9 per cent for women. Across all least developed countries, only one out of seven women uses the Internet compared with one out of five men.

When women and girls have access to the Internet and the skills to use information and communications technologies (ICTs). They have the opportunity to start new businesses, sell products to new markets, find better-paid jobs and access education as well as health and financial services.

While the gender gap has narrowed in many regions of the world since 2013, it has widened in Africa. The only region where a higher percentage of women than men are using the Internet is the Americas where countries also score highly on women in tertiary education.

The ITU affirms that giving women and girls access to the Internet and the skills to use ICTs gives them the opportunity to start new businesses, sell products to new markets, find better-paid jobs and access education as well as health and financial services.