Human Ecology

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 397–403 | Cite as

Family Kinship Patterns and Female Sex Work in the Informal Urban Settlement of Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya

  • Elizabeth N. Ngugi
  • Cecilia Benoit
  • Helga Hallgrimsdottir
  • Mikael Jansson
  • Eric A. RothEmail author


A basic ecological and epidemiological question is why some women enter into commercial sex work while other women in the same socio-economic environment never do. To address this question respondent driven sampling principles were adopted to recruit and collect data for 161 female sex workers and 159 same aged women who never engaged in commercial sex in Kibera, a large informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. Univariate analysis indicated that basic kinship measures, including number of family members seen during adolescence and at present, not having a male guardian while growing up, and earlier times of ending relationships with both male and female guardians were associated with commercial sex work in Kibera. Multivariate analysis via logistic regression modeling showed that not having a male guardian during childhood, low education attainment and a small number of family members seen at adolescence were all significant predictors of entering sex work. By far the most important predictor of entering sex work was not having any male guardian, e.g., father, uncle, older brother, etc. during childhood. Results are interpreted in light of the historic pattern of sub-Saharan African child fostering and their relevance for young women in Kibera today.


Urban ecology Female sex work HIV/AIDS Nairobi Kenya 



This research was supported by a National Institutes of Health Center Grant (1R24HD056799-01) entitled “A Kenya Free of AIDS: Harnessing interdisciplinary science for HIV prevention,” Co-Principal Investigators Dr. Martina Morris, Department of Sociology, University of Washington and Dr. Elizabeth N. Ngugi, Director, University of Nairobi Centre for HIV Prevention and Research. From the University of Nairobi Centre for HIV Prevention and Research we wish to acknowledge the assistance of Ms. Ann Gikuni, Ms. Veronica Kamau, and Ms. Mary Pere in data collection and Ms. Beth Njeri for data coding, cleaning and entry.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth N. Ngugi
    • 1
  • Cecilia Benoit
    • 1
  • Helga Hallgrimsdottir
    • 1
  • Mikael Jansson
    • 1
  • Eric A. Roth
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.University of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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