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Case Conferencing: Effective method to address Child Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in communities

January 5th, 2022

It is not uncommon for communities in the Karamoja region in Uganda to reach amicable resolutions to child rights violations between the adult parties involved. This not only lacks a child-centred protection approach, but it often also conceals child rights violations, normalising and perpetuating child trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. With this in mind, government officials, child protection organisations, community members and survivors have been brought together by the Community Action project for sub-county-specific case conferences to discuss cases of child trafficking and sexual exploitation of children (CT & SEC) that have happened within their respective communities.

Unreported cases

In Karamoja, sexual exploitation and abuse are commonly accepted. For example, in cases of courtship rape¹ it is common that families of the victim and the perpetrator mutually and amicably agree on a resolution. As a result of this, many cases of child abuse and exploitation go unreported or if reported are not further pursued because parents fear repercussions that might be associated with reporting the crime. From community dialogues it was noted that some caregivers are contributing greatly to CT & SEC and actually might be benefiting from it.

What is a case conference and why is it important?

Case conferences are designed to provide a platform and opportunity for community members to open up about their knowledge of instances of exploitation (cases) in the presence of their local leaders. The goal of case conference meetings is to develop a community-centered strategy with all stakeholders who are involved in providing a protective shield for children. The conferences provide a safe space for community members to share and learn alongside duty bearers. Case conferences are aimed at responding to cases that have been hidden or ended prematurely without legal action or follow-up, in order to offer appropriate support to survivors of CT & SEC.

Case Conferences in Napak District

Stakeholder Involvement

The Community Action project facilitated case conferences in Lorengecora, Lokopo, Matany and Lopeei Sub Counties in Napak District in the Karamoja Region, Uganda from 28 April  - 1 May 2021. In total,  30 children and 236 adult community members participated in the conference meetings, including caregivers and survivors. Other notable stakeholders who contributed to the discussions included the District Probation and Social Welfare Officer,  the District Child and Family Protection Unit, Community Development Officers, Village Local Council 1 (LC1), Parish Chiefs, Sub County Child and Family Units, and teachers.

Shared Learning & Reflection

The meetings provided a forum for survivors of CT and SEC and those familiar with cases to share their experiences and discuss how the system has handled their cases. It also provided a platform for learning and linking the survivors to appropriate services, and offered a protective shield for sustainable reintegration. While sharing of experiences was voluntary, the project ensured that a caseworker was present at each case conference meeting to offer support if needed. Cases newly identified during these sessions were referred to a child protection champion in the survivor’s respective village, who works closely with the project staff to ensure support continues following the conference.

In addition to examining real-life case scenarios, the case conferences also provided the opportunity for participants to discuss trends and other key elements that they have found to be linked to exploitation. For example, one of the discussions centred on the high temporal school dropout rate that has persisted for years and how this has made children more vulnerable. Research commissioned by GFEMS in 2021 revealed that around 38% of children in Napak District have never been to school. Moreover, case conference participants highlighted that vulnerabilities also exist for children who do go to school as many attend only the last of three terms, just enough to advance to the next class. When not in school, children often migrate to business areas like Teso, Kenya, Busia, Mbale and Kampala to make ends meet and support their families, a trend that parents, children and youth have normalised.

Outcomes

Ultimately, case conferences enabled open communication and cross-learning between different stakeholder groups. Child protection organisations and district stakeholders gained valuable knowledge and were able to take immediate action. Significant outcomes include: 

  • Community members and duty bearers were educated on how to identify, register, support and refer different child protection concerns.
  • Out of the 30 cases discussed, in all 4 sub-counties, 24 cases were resolved during the conferences; the six that were not resolved were for missing children. These children were identified as survivors of child trafficking and 10 of these cases were recommended for vocational training. 
  • One case of sexual abuse and exploitation was followed up by the Child and Family Protection Unit and the perpetrator was charged. 
  • Five cases of children (4 girls and 1 boy) who were on the verge of being trafficked were identified and referred to Child Protection Champions for support, including preparation for enrollment in school.

Case conferences also yielded recommendations for supporting children at risk of trafficking, including: 

  • Two persons with disabilities suggested that their fellow community members refer children with disabilities to the Probation Officer, who would help them benefit from the government opportunities in order to reduce their risk of vulnerability to trafficking and sexual exploitation.
  • A recommendation was presented to register children at the village level by the LC1s. 
  • A rehabilitation centre was recommended by the Probation Officer to train survivors who were identified for skilling during the conference sessions. The officer contacted the principal at the centre who agreed to have three girls enrolled under government sponsorship to acquire skills training to help them in the future.
  • Community Development Officers of the four sub-counties committed to following up on the cases of missing children from their sub-counties, including follow-up on cases presented during or in response to the conferences. 
  • The District Child and Family Protection Unit took participants through legal procedures and processes so that community members could learn more about how a victim might access justice with their support. 

Speaking about this forum, a LC1 chairperson from Lopeei said, “This should be an ongoing practice because it makes people open up about the silent cases in the community.” 

The case conference method proved to have a positive impact on how the community perceives and handles cases of CT & SEC. With a victim-centred approach, collaborative efforts in case management and decision making, CT & SEC cases were unveiled and appropriate support given to those affected. Case conferences may also promote positive behaviour change among community members, increasing the likelihood of reporting cases and lessening the stigma associated with CT & SEC. The case conference method is easily replicable and scalable to ensure positive change in other communities too.

 ¹ In this context, courtship rape refers to sexual assault that is perpetrated with the intended result of marriage through negotiation between the abuser and victim’s families and often the exchange of livestock as a dowry.


This case story was made possible through support provided by the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery under a grant from the U.S. Department of State. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of GFEMS or the U.S. Department of State.

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