Each year, 400-900 children (90% of whom are girls) in Uganda’s Karamoja region are trafficked for sexual exploitation and street begging. Napak district in Karamoja is a key trafficking source area. Conflict, drought, poverty and food insecurity in the region compel many Karamojongs to migrate and increase vulnerabilities to trafficking. There is evidence that children are sometimes lured out of Karamoja by their peers, or by individuals promising better opportunities outside the region. With funding from the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, Terre des Hommes Netherlands in partnership with Dwelling Places is combating child trafficking and sexual exploitation of children in Karamoja, Uganda.
In August 2021, Terre des Hommes Netherlands and Dwelling Places, with a multitude of partner organisations, supported the supported the repatriation of 35 Karamojong children from Kenya. When these children arrived at the rehabilitation centre, they were registered in the beneficiary database, and participated in group counselling sessions for support staff to better understand their experiences while in Nairobi. This informed focused individual counselling sessions for psychosocial support. Social workers also pursued family tracing and reconciliation with the survivors’ families and communities to ensure that the girls would be well received at the point of reunification. Survivors also participated in an education assessment to guide what courses they were going to take during skilling according to ability and interest/passion. On 25th October 2022, they were enrolled for skilling at Koblin Youth Skilling Centre.
Existing evidence suggests that there is a strong link between poverty and the risk factors leading to SEC. Even when the children in Napak get an opportunity to go to school, they fail to attend or when they attend they fail to graduate because of the burden placed on their shoulders to help support their families, which pushes many into exploitation. Because of this, the Community Action Project in Napak focuses on skilling survivors of child trafficking so that they, as well as their families, might achieve economic stability.
The project provides access to vocational skills training for older child survivors of trafficking as a means of preventing re-trafficking and exploitation of themselves and other minors in a survivor’s household.
Training for the first cohort, which started in October, lasted for four and half months. On 18th March 2022, 68 youth graduated and attained certifications in Tailoring, Hairdressing or Bakery. Of the 68, 22 were among those repatriated from Nairobi. The rest of the 46 were youth intercepted under the project.
18th March, 2022 is a day that will be forever memorable for these youth. The graduates started off with a walk from the District Council to the Koblin Youth Skills Training Centre grounds where the main event took place. Upon arrival of the graduates, there were chants from the parents of the children who later engaged in Edonga dance - a dance performed by the Karamojong people during celebrations. One could see the excitement and happy faces on both the children and the parents.
During the ceremony, the local council chairperson highlighted the importance of the Community Action Project in the provision of skilling for the youth. The youth were advised to focus and to use the skills they had attained to continue their journeys of sustainable reintegration.
A comprehensive program presentation was given to those who attended, the District Education Officer (DEO) of Napak District gave a speech on Education, Youth and Vocational skills and its relevance. Successful graduates from prior skilling cohorts were invited and they shared their testimonies to encourage the new graduates during the event, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) gave words of appreciation to the donors and Dwelling Places. The best students from each course were awarded by the guest of honour.
One of the female graduates who obtained a certificate in hairdressing, with a bright smile on her face, said that this has fulfilled her dream of starting up a salon business where she will earn money to support her family. The young lady who had been trafficked to Nairobi but was later brought back home stated that she didn’t find what was promised by the people who took her to Nairobi.
“Life wasn’t easy in Nairobi because I used to struggle for survival and living was too hard but having attained a skill, now I can work and earn money to support myself and my family.”
The guest of honour Mr. Aome Francis Lorika, the LC 5 of Napak, commended all stakeholders for the important role they played in ensuring that more and more street-connected children are reintegrated in mainstream education. He also stated that the event was an inspiration to the rest of the children in the society and to the parents as well.
“Now the parents of these children are hopeful that their children can have a bright future,” he said.
Staff from Dwelling Places added to this message, speaking directly to the new graduates:
“The skills you have received during these four and a half months are your capital to change your life and that of your family, use it, empower other youth with it. It is something which can never be stolen from you and through it, you can change your story and the stories of the many girls and boys you encounter. Make it grow by teaching others what you have learnt and then you will become the experts and advocates for your generations and be role models for your siblings and fellow youth.”
In total 197 participants attended the event, which was a joint graduation ceremony for graduates from both Koblin and Nakichumet Skilling Centres —both are operated by the Cooperation and Development (C&D). Attendees included 64 parents, 11 leaders from Lorengecora town council, 10 leaders from Lorengecora sub-county, 5 district officials, 3 NGO staff and 103 students from both skilling centres. After the event, the graduates received certificates of completion and they now await their Directorate of Industrial Training (DIT) certificates, which they will receive later in the year.
The graduation was a pivotal moment of great impact for the survivors, as a result of their participation in the Community Action Project. Survivors are better prepared to become advocates of change in their communities and to influence other youth positively and intensify the fight against child trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.
The Project staff continue to follow up with the youth to monitor their wellbeing but also offer continuous guidance and mentorship in the realities of life and in their careers. Graduates will also receive individualised start up kits to support their livelihood endeavours.
*This article 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.