‘I felt like life was not worth living’ – girl, 16, forced into commercial sex

A 16-year-old girl has begun a journey to restoration after being exploited by her own mother through ‘survival sex’, emotional and physical abuse.

Melissa’s* mother turned to commercial sex work to provide for her destitute family following separation from her husband, forcing the oldest of her two daughters to do likewise.

Melissa, who was born in eastern Uganda, had to leave school when she was in primary education to meet these demands.

Cherrie Agabalinda, who works at Hope for Justice’s Kampala office, said: “Her mother would invite men into their one-room home and make her service the clients.”

Melissa fled to the streets in late 2019, after being beaten severely for crying out ‘mother’ during one of these appointments – a word she had been forbidden to use while clients were present.

Police found her in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, a few days later. She had gone in search of better work. Officers referred her to Hope for Justice’s Bulamu Lighthouse.

Immaculate Nanyonga, Lighthouse Manager, said: “At our Lighthouse, Melissa’s basic needs are being met. When she first arrived, her behaviour reflected the awful past she had been subjected to. She suffered from depression and had suicidal thoughts. She was very angry and would stir up fights with other children.

“Thankfully, with aftercare, the right support, and time to begin healing, Melissa is starting to change. She is starting to hope. She now talks about her future dreams and has developed positive relationships with both children and staff.”

Melissa has received catch-up education at the charity’s in-house Shine School, life skills training, psychotherapy, individual and group counselling, and access to medical services.

Immaculate said: “Melissa loves attending classes. She aspires to become a professional hairdresser and indeed, she keeps practicing at the Lighthouse by plaiting her friends’ hair. I am so proud of her.”

When the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted and schools are reopened, Melissa will be enrolled on a year-long vocational hairdressing course at a school in Kampala as part of her reintegration support.

One of Hope for Justice’s Foster Care Advisors is currently working to find a temporary foster home for Melissa. During school holidays, she will stay with a foster family. The charity’s social workers will also conduct a visit to Melissa’s grandmother’s home to establish whether it is safe for her to stay there.

Following completion of her course, Hope for Justice will support Melissa into independent living.

Melissa said: “I am very grateful for all the support, love and guidance that I have received while under the care of Hope for Justice. Before I came here, I felt like life was not worth living and that my life had ended, but now I am looking forward to great future accomplishments.

“May God continue providing for this organisation to enable them to continue their work.”