When children are informed about sexual exploitation, it creates a positive ripple effect on the community. The information is not only beneficial to them but also to other children through peer to peer sharing. Without knowledge about sexual exploitation, children fall prey to the menace without their notice. On the other hand, when they are well equipped with information, they can identify the warning signs, know when and where to report exploitation cases and act as change agents within the community. Taking this into account, Terre des Hommes Netherlands´ partner, Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL) ran a programme to facilitate knowledge sharing on sexual exploitation through child participation.
The children were taught about sexual exploitation and they were also supported by UYDEL social workers to conduct their own peer to peer sessions. Since children find it easy to confide in one another, those in the programme were encouraged to share their learnings with other children outside the programme. During the weekly meetings, child representatives raised issues that affected their fellow peers. This helped the social workers learn more about the problems they face and work together with them to formulate solutions. In addition to the interactive learning sessions, children also participated in music, dance and drama classes.
Having children participate in programmes that are tailored for them helps boost their self-esteem. They are able to voice their concerns or opinions on issues that affect them. Additionally, they are able to lobby for their rights using the information they have been given. Without such programmes, children such as Nantaba and Lydia would not be where they are today.
For two years, Nantaba, who is now 15 years old, was sexually exploited. She resided in a brothel located in one of Uganda’s divisions. Men would sexually exploit her in exchange for money. When they continuously tortured her physically and psychologically, she had no choice but to stop the trade. Due to the financial constraints experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic, she was forced to go back to the brothel. Fortunately, social workers from our partner UYDEL identified her as they were interviewing girls in the brothel to see if they are eligible for their child protection project. They provided Nantaba with continuous psychosocial and medical support. They also reduced her exposure to sexual exploitation by providing her with food items and sanitary products. Additionally, Nantaba was also taken through vocational training skills. After successfully completing the training, she managed to start and run her food business for a while before securing a job at a restaurant where she works currently. Nantaba completely reformed and managed to help two of her peers in the community who were being sexually exploited. She shared her experience with them and also what she had learnt about the dangers of the trade. As a result, the two girls were able to report the case and were removed from the environment they were in. Nantaba dreams of being her own boss. “Currently I am saving money which will help me have my own restaurant in future.” She stated.
Lydia lives with her older brother in one of Kampala´s slum areas in Uganda. She was forced to join the workforce after her parents died since she had no one to provide for her needs. She found a job at a restaurant where male customers constantly made sexual advances towards her while some even assaulted her. Other than the restaurant job, Lydia also assisted her friend to sell chips by the roadside at night which exposed her to more sexual exploitation. The men offered her money and proceeded to sexually exploit her. At the age of 15 years, Lydia got pregnant. She suffered all forms of abuse at the hands of the man who impregnated her, forcing her to leave him.
At a community level, Lydia´s peers were discouraged from associating with her. She explained, “Every parent would refer to me as a bad example and their kids were told not to associate with me.” Luckily, this was not the end for Lydia. She was identified by a child protection committee member who referred her to our partner UYDEL. She received counselling, medical support and was taken through life skills and business management training. She was enrolled in a baking class after expressing interest and upon successful completion of the course, she was supported with start-up kits to run her small-scale food business. Now at 16 years old, Lydia is very optimistic about her future. “I feel I can and I will change my life through the small business I started because I have plans of starting up a good restaurant,” she said with excitement.