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Togo - Nadia’s story: from prostitution to rehabilitation

© UNICEF/Togo/2008/Bonnaud
Girls being trained to braid hair at the hairdressing class in the “Centre la Providence”.

Lomé Togo, 20 November 2008 - Even though she’s only 15, Nadia already has a troubled past. At the age of 13, she became a prostitute on the streets of Lomé to provide for her basic needs. Thanks to the support of UNICEF, she is currently in the care of the “Centre la Providence”, where she is pursuing a 2-year vocational training to become a hairdresser. 

Like Nadia, approximately 50 other girls are learning hairdressing or dressmaking through vocational training in the centre, which provides this opportunity for girl’s under 18 years old since 2002. According to a study conducted by the non-governmental organization SIDA III, 30% of prostitutes in Lomé are under 20. 

“Our approach is based on two pillars: prevention and rehabilitation” explains Roland, a volunteer for the Centre la Providence. “As part of the prevention component, we focus on poor girls such as students who prostitute themselves occasionally in order to give them an alternative. The rehabilitation component targets girls who are enrolled in the vicious circle of prostitution and want to learn a skill that will enable them to get off the streets”.
In the course of their vocational training, girls benefit from complete training including various classes, such as literacy, religious education, health and sexuality, as well as singing and cooking lessons. Nadia likes to focus on the hairdressing class, which is her favourite.

“I want to be able to do all different types of hair. Even white people’s hair” she jokes.

Beaten, abused, exploited

Nadia comes from Ghana, where she spent her early childhood. When she was only 10 the nightmare began. Her parents decided to send her to a village near Lomé to live with her aunt and work in her small cosmetics shop. When she recalls the experience, she stares at the ground with sadness in her eyes.

“My aunt beats me. I was confined to the house and sometimes she deprived me of food” she whispers. “It got worse and worse every day, I was really sad“. 

Unable to find anyone else to care for her, Nadia ended up spending two years with her aunt, before finally running away to live with her mother, who sells bread in Lomé. Lost and lonely, she was only 13 when she started “going out” in the Togolese capital’s red light districts.

“Some friends of mine encouraged me to join them when they were going out at night. 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 “explains Nadia.
Her mother, aware of her daughter’s night time activities, felt totally helpless. She thought there was no hope of getting Nadia off the streets. But thanks to the weekly visits by the volunteers from the centre, Nadia was quickly taken care of.

Optimism for the future

Following the advice of a friend who became a trainee at the centre, Nadia decided to go to find out about the centre. Attracted by the options, she decides to sign up for the hairdressing training as an “extern” which consists of following the training during the day and going home at night.

“Then, when they complete their vocational training, the girls receive a diploma, as well as the material they need to begin their professional career” explains proudly Sister Pascaline, director of the Centre. In June 2008, 12 hairdressers and 9 dressmakers left the centre with the precious diploma in their possession. Nadia really hopes to imitate them. “When I finish my training, I will open a hair salon in which I will also sell beauty products” she says, enthusiastically.

In line with the objectives for 2012 and in partnership with the Government of Togo, UNICEF provides a minimum package of services to vulnerable children. At least 40% of these children, among which many are girl victims of sexual exploitation, will have access to these essential services. The package includes psychological care but also provides the means for an education and medical assistance in order to ensure an effective protection of rights, a quality education and good health for every child.

by Nicolas Martin-Achard and Hadrien Bonnaud



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