Since taking part in the Community Action Project training in February 2021, Mary, a single mother currently operating a bar in Lopeei, has been working to protect children at risk of exploitation. Under this project, Mary was selected to be a child protection champion. Equipped with the knowledge she gained from the project’s training, Mary continues to champion child protection. Some months ago, In November 2021, after supporting and advising him, he was safely resettled with his grandmother.
Children’s exposure to grave human rights violations, which include child trafficking and sexual exploitation continues to rise in Uganda. According to the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, Ugandan children as young as seven are exploited in forced labour and commercial sex. Girls and women aged 13-24 years are targeted specifically by recruiters for domestic sex trafficking. There is a need to build a protective environment for children and protect them from trafficking and sexual exploitation.
The reality is, on-the-ground efforts to make our communities a safer place for all children is paramount. Everyone needs to take an active role in helping to fight this crime. That is why individuals like Mary have made a strong commitment to protect children who are exposed to sexual exploitation and trafficking in her hometown, Lopeei, Napak district in Uganda.
As part of the Community Action project, Dwelling Places in partnership with Terre des Hommes Netherlands, held training sessions within the project’s 4 target sub-counties. Trainings engaged bar, lodge and guest house owners and managers and transport operators to lobby for their commitment to protect children from child trafficking and sexual exploitation. Mary and other community members were sensitised on child protection guidelines, the roles of the private sector and communities in curbing child sexual exploitation and trafficking, risk identification, reporting and referral of victims.
Several months after the training, Mary has ensured that children in her community at risk of exploitation are protected. She has continued to work with Dwelling Places Project staff and other trained private sector actors to continue this important work in the community. Through follow-up meetings, Mary and others who participated in the trainings are able to share personal experiences and challenges. Together, they devise solutions depending on the areas of operation and the dynamics in their different areas. With the support and encouragement she receives during such meetings, Mary is motivated to keep going in her efforts of fighting child trafficking and sexual exploitation.
According to Mary, the support given to her has helped her have a keen eye to identify victims of child trafficking and sexual exploitation especially in her business.
“I feel empowered to help my community. When I shifted to Lopeei, I introduced myself to the Child Protection Champions and the Private Sector members of Lopeei and I was received gladly, since we subscribed to the same duty and united by the same cause under the same umbrella of Dwelling Places. So currently I work with the child protection committee in Lopeei together with the other private sector members.” She stated.
While she now feels equipped to identify and respond to suspected cases of child trafficking or exploitation, Mary now understands the importance of the training she received.
“Before the project trained and absorbed me in the program, I totally had no interest in child trafficking cases, but I would witness many of them in my own sub-county who used to move to the streets. I saw it as a venture, which they wished to go into to change their lives. I was ignorant about the child protection issues, but as a result of this project, I have learnt to care and I use my knowledge and experience to continue fighting trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.”
Mary is committed in her role as child protection champion, but she is also eager to share what she learned with others in her community. “Enriched with knowledge, I have started teaching my close family relatives and friends, especially about positive parenting; ways of handling children at home, safeguarding them from harm, and generally protecting children and being critical about the friends our children associate with, because many children, in many villages have been trafficked by their peers,” Mary explained.
Mary understands that everyone has a role to play in ending child trafficking, and she continues to engage her community to ensure children are protected.
From September to November 2021, Mary assisted children in exiting exploitative or risky situations on five occasions. In addition, she contributed to one community dialogue that engaged 60 participants, and two positive parenting sessions that trained 109 of her peers.
In her role, Mary has faced some challenges including travelling long distances to follow up on some cases which stagnates their interventions, the reluctance of police to follow up on cases, and influential local council members reluctant to support the victims. To address some of these challenges, the project team has worked with the police and local council members to follow up on the cases reported. From this, some of the perpetrators have been brought to book.
Despite these challenges and her demanding business and busy schedule, Mary has still been able to carry on her duties as child protection champion and will continue to do so for years to come.
According to Mary, she advises children to listen to adults' advice, especially those who advise them to stay in school and to be engaged in community programs and club activities. She advises her community, including the leaders, to fight child trafficking and sexual exploitation together, emphasizing that everyone can do something in the fight- report, witness, talk to children. It does not cost much yet can make a tremendous difference for a child.
Working to safeguard children against trafficking and exploitation is an uphill climb. The Community Action Project provides training to communities on child protection to put mechanisms in place that can help reduce child vulnerability. Terre des Hommes Netherlands and its partners ensure communities are equipped to spot and respond quickly to cases and actively take on the responsibility of protecting children as champions. With increasing community support, children are better protected and able to experience the opportunities every child deserves.
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