Girl, 14, reintegrated after being rescued from sexual exploitation

A young girl has been reunited with her family following interventions from one of Hope for Justice’s community protection committees.

The team, based on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital Kampala, identified that a 14-year-old girl, Rachel*, was trapped in an abusive, exploitative relationship under the guise of marriage to a 17-year-old boy.

Rachel had run away from home – to escape an abusive and alcoholic relative – seeking security and an improved way of life on the streets of Kampala.

But she was lured into sexual exploitation and forced labour at a bar, servicing customers for the profit of the bar owner in exchange for food and shelter. Three of her peers were rescued earlier this year but fearing arrest, Rachel ran back to the streets.

One of Hope for Justice’s staff members said: “When the lockdown restrictions were brought in due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rachel was left stranded. It became a huge struggle for her to survive on the streets. As a survival mechanism, she began living with a 17-year-old boy in the name of marriage, who could provide her with shelter and food. But in reality, she was abused and sexually exploited.”

The Parish Kagugube Child Community Protection Committee (CCPC) identified the abused child and worked with Hope for Justice’s Family Strengthening Officer to help Rachel make an informed decision.

She chose to separate from the boy and sought refuge with a friend, during which time she received support from Prevention Community Officers, CCPC members, police and local community leaders in the form of counselling, food, tracing her family and preparation for reunification with her family. She has also been supported to stop using drugs which she had been given during her time in exploitation as a coping mechanism.

Following support from the police and local authorities to trace the family, the prevention team worked with the reunification team at Hope for Justice’s Tigers’ Lighthouse to arrange a pre-visit and eventually reunite her with her grandmother.

Josephine Nangendo, Hope for Justice’s Family Strengthening Officer, said: “The sight of Rachel hugging her grandmother gave me goosebumps. This immense love and family attachment had been destroyed by parental negligence but has now been rebuilt through Hope for Justice’s community-based responses by simply linking formal and informal processes.”

Rachel is now under the follow-up care of staff at Mary Lighthouse, who will provide continued psychosocial support and family support.

Another Hope for Justice staff member said: “When Rachel began the process of rehabilitation, she was lonely and sad. She had lost hope that her family would receive her. At reunification, Rachel was a happier girl, determined to become a better person. She longed to see her family and could not hide her excitement on seeing her grandmother after almost one year apart.”

*Name changed to protect identity of victim