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UNICEF-supported centre helps rehabilitate child sex workers in Togo

© UNICEF Togo/2008/Bonnaud
Peer educator Roland Awume stands in front of the truck used by the Centre la Providence for their outreach activities.
Names have been changed to protect the identities of the children portrayed in the story.

By Nicolas Martin-Achard and Hadrien Bonnaud

LOME, Togo, 31 December 2008 – At 10 PM on a Friday night, peer educator Roland Awume begins his rounds of outreach work through Lomé's 'red light districts'. Mr. Awume works at the UNICEF-supported Centre la Providence, a rehabilitation centre for sex workers.

The Centre rehabilitates exploited girls by providing them with vocational training and medical care, including HIV testing and psychological support. Nadia is pursuing vocational training to become a hairdresser.

Mr. Awume speaks to women and educates them on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Through his conversations, he often achieves another goal: the identification of child sex workers.

Nadia, now 15, was 13 when she first got involved.

"Some friends of mine encouraged me to join them when they were going out at night," she says. "They were working as prostitutes and told me I should do it as well. They told me it was a simple way of making money."

Nadia is now in the care of Centre la Providence.

© UNICEF Togo/2008/Bonnaud
Girls are trained to braid hair at the hairdressing class in the Centre la Providence, a rehabilitation centre for sexually exploited women and girls.

A complex issue
In Lomé, child prostitution was once practised openly in the heart of the city. According to a study conducted in 2004 by Centre la Providence, 60 per cent of prostitutes are under 24 years old.

Following raids by the police in 2000, sex workers and their clients left the city centre. New sites have emerged throughout the city, increasing the mobility of girls who now move from site to site. This has made the detection of child sex workers very complex.

"It has become more and more difficult to follow where new spots emerge and to create a relationship of trust with the girls and then convince them to come to the centre," says Mr. Awume.

Reaching out
Approximately 50 girls are currently learning hairdressing or dressmaking at the Centre la Providence. Literacy and HIV/AIDS education classes are offered. Since the Centre began its prevention and awareness project, it has reached thousands of girls. It has also administered over a thousand HIV/AIDS tests.

UNICEF has been supporting the Centre since 2002. This support has allowed over a hundred girls to receive vocational training and psychological care.

In partnership with the Government of Togo, UNICEF has been providing a package of services to vulnerable children, which includes psychological care and provides the means for an education and medical assistance.

On his rounds through the city centre, Mr. Awume meets Joyce, age 19, from Lagos. Her brother forced her here four months ago. She tried to sell water at the market, but was kicked out because she was a foreigner.

"I would love to be a hairdresser, but what I would really like more than anything is to go home," Joyce says.



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