Youth coordinate helpline to combat exploitation

Youth coordinate helpline to combat exploitation in Uganda during COVID-19.

Through our Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA) initiative with Plan International and Terre des Hommes, Restless Development has equipped a team of 6 young people from six different districts across Uganda to coordinate helplines providing support girls and young women experiencing economic exploitation and violence during the lockdown.

A lockdown was implemented on the 28th March by the president of Uganda in order to suppress the spread of the COVID-19, but it has caused an upsurge in layoffs and other challenges in both public and private spaces.

Even before COVID-19, exploitation of women was already among the most reported human rights violations both in public and private spheres in Uganda.

The young people, coordinating the operation of these helplines, are identifying, tracking, recording and referring cases of violence and economic exploitation reported by victims to the authorities and other key stakeholders.

Below, they share some of the most recurring issues they’ve come across and why it is paramount to operate a helpline in the midst of this pandemic.

“The helpline gives an assurance to the girls and young women that there is someone out there ready to listen and help them at any time in case they experience exploitation or abuse of any sort. Domestic violence is on the rise due to financial constraint within families since most breadwinners have been laid off from work and they do not yet have any other alternative means of earning a living”

– Faith, a helpline coordinator.

“Now that the nation is in a lock-down and has barred public transport, gatherings and office related work for community issues, girls and young women have been locked up with people who turn out to be their abusers. Relevant authorities to respond to their concerns are out of reach. This is the rationale for operating the helplines as local government is being notified on what is transpiring within communities and can follow up to verify if the victims are receiving justice.

“Most of the cases that have been reported during this lock-down are related to economic exploitation in the form of no payment for labour, sexual assault from bosses in their workplaces, sexual harassment in communities, human trafficking, child marriage and GBV related issues.”

– Sospeter, a helpline coordinator

“A young girl aged 16 years who was defiled by a man of 28 years acquired justice. She contacted the helpline after her parents had gone for negotiation over bride price which evolved into the parents of both the girl and boy getting rounded up and taken to the central police station to answer to the authorities on the alleged child marriage.

“A young woman was denied payment after working for 3 months before COVID-19, won justice and was in a position to receive the payment after contacting the helpline. For the weeks that I have operated the helpline, I am glad to see hope being restored in the face of those that were in despair at the time of reporting thereby deeming this initiative a much-needed hope for those that were almost giving up.

“Many cases being reported to revolve around defilement, child marriage, and rape. I believe that the more we tirelessly do this and join hands with local government in fighting this war; we shall indeed triumph and restore joy in the lives of many girls and young women.”

– Silver, a helpline coordinator.

What next?

More online advocacy and information sharing about COVID-19 and its effects on girls and young women will be conducted by these young people to ensure that girls and young women are supported to break free from exploitation.

The team is also committed to following up with community stakeholders on the cases referred within their communities to help see that redress is sought for the survivors and that those who cause harm are held to account.

This move is being supported by Restless Development to ensure that girls and young women, who are most vulnerable and marginalized, receive justice during this pandemic.

More news.