Street Girl Child Series #2: Girl Exploitation – How can we protect girls?

The previous article elucidated on the importance of focusing on the well-being of girls and women in order to fuel sustainable and equal development globally. The adversity girls face in developing countries is multiplied if they are forced to live on the streets. Vulnerability to emotional, physical and sexual exploitation and diseases increase drastically with each night they have to sleep rough.

The exploitation of girls and women is often an inherent part of the culture in developing regions with predominant patriarchal customs. In these cases female relatives often exercise the same abuse they suffered onto their younger relatives; while men and boys proliferate a set of values that undermines the healthy and happy development of girls. The vicious cycle is created and hard to be escaped from.

While the education and development of boys is often welcomed and supported by families; girls are kept at home to take care of the household and to be later married off as they reach puberty. A minimum of three years of schooling can decrease child marriage rates and childbirth mortality drastically; in other words: girls have more life choices. Studies agree that girl development is essential in order to accomplish sustainable and equal development across regions and globally.

The main factors contributing to girl exploitation are lack of education of the girls themselves, their families and their communities. Strict cultural and social codes often affect girls negatively through stigma, prosecution, and exploitation, which are perpetuated by poor understanding of girl development, and their requirement for health and safety. The fear of stigma leads girls to enduring abuse and exploitation for longer and be silent about it, affecting directly their self-esteem, and mental and physical health and therefore the well-being of their children.

Breaking the cycle of girl exploitation is difficult. It not only requires access and provision of proper education for girls, but also the involvement of the entire family, community and probably the amendment of some ingrained values. Sensitive topics (such as Female Genital Mutilation[1]) reach the public conscience through international and regional campaigning and advocacy, and serve to highlight the importance of multilateral action when tackling complex issues.

The majority of studies on street children and street girl children highlight the prevalence of sexual abuse and the threat of abduction into human and sex trafficking[2]. Additionally, reaching girls who are involved into sex work and re-integrating them into families and society has proven to be very difficult: the stigma adhered to sex work makes girls reluctant to open up about their lives and struggles; and independence gained through sex work decreases the motivation to seek out more regulated and formal revenue streams.


Understanding the various vulnerabilities street girls experience is essential in order to provide them with adequate support

The protection of girls needs to run on multiple dimensions and from multiple sources. It requires adequate training and regular monitoring and evaluating on all levels of the involved bodies. Protection runs from community based participation and advocacy, to the provision of needed female health services, education on rights, access to financial services, family planning services, refuges for girls and young mothers from abusive partners and families, to adequate counselling service in order to avoid inter-generational trauma.

RETRAK has addressed the issue of invisible street girl children through various channels and in cooperation with local partners. They have recognised the importance of giving girls a safe space in which they can open up and develop without fear of threat, which resulted in a “girls only” house in the Belamu centre in Uganda. The inclusion of girls into the programs required careful assessment of RETRAK’s both material and non-material resources in order to provide adequate support for the girls since they require  different clothing and hygiene products, as well as female care and ward staff.

The protection of girls starts with community sensitisation on girls’ developmental needs. However, the government and local authorities advisably undertake these efforts, since their knowledge of customs and social hierarchies surpasses the capacity of any international agency. RETRAK overcame this challenge by engaging with local organisations in Ethiopia and Uganda, which is recommendable for any organisation addressing multidimensional issues, especially girl and women’s wellbeing, development and empowerment. The goal of girl protection is to prepare the girls and women to such an extent that they can provide for themselves without fear of abuse and exploitation, and equip them with the tools so that their daughters can face their future well educated and self-confident, perpetuating an upward spiral of sustainable development.

Protecting girls from abuse and exploitation contributes directly to a healthier and happier community, sustainable development and positive change. RETRAK’s focus on street children therefore contributes directly to the well-being and development of the community overall, and we are proud to be part of this positive change!

Happy New Year!


[2] Pratima Poudel & Jenny Carryer (2000) Girl-trafficking, HIV/AIDS, and the position of women in Nepal, Gender & Development, 8:2, 74-79


Street Girl Child Series #1 : Why should we care about girls?

As we are approaching 2015 and the final stage of the MDGs, we can take this time of the year to reflect on how the global community has fared regarding the protection and development of girl’s rights and well-being. Three of the eight development goals aim directly to the well-being of girls and women – highlighting once more, how crucial it is to promote the well-being of girls and women in order to accomplish long lasting and community wide successes.


There is no doubt – the reality of street children anywhere in the world is devastating. Life on the streets offers exposure to all sorts of violence, hunger, diseases, marginalisation and often death – but for many children who are coming from broken households, abuse, neglect and stigma; this lifestyle seemed often to be the best option they had.  Other children land on the street in a quest of finding better income generating activities, but are lost, or overwhelmed by the busy and intimidating city life, with no resources to find their way back home they are stuck on the street for an indefinite time. Most media and organisations that seek out to street children focus on street boys.

This is due to two reasons: first; street children are generally invisible. Although their whole life evolves on the street and thus in public, they tend to escape law enforcement, do not follow regular education or formal employment, are often not registered as citizens or possess official papers, and most importantly – they do not have an address.

These factors apply the same for street girls, but their invisibility is magnified by three factors: firstly, they tend to seek being invisible purposefully in order to escape violence or being tracked down by violent family members or partners. Secondly, girls often work for households as cheap house cleaners, which give them some form of shelter during their working shifts and takes them off the street where social workers could find them; lastly, they often seek income in the sex industry. It is thus incredibly hard to find the girls who are living on the street and offer them support in the first place.

street girld child

Ameria* worked as a maid at her auntie’s house but faced abuse and ran away. Retrak luckily found her within a few days on the street and has provided her with catch up lessons, counselling, shelter and care.


The second reason why media and organisations preferably focus on boys is that once the girls are found and placed in a centre, they pose a number of challenges boys do not. Quite simply: girls are more complicated to work with than boys, which make many organisations hesitant to include girls in to their programs. The challenges girls pose start with the obvious biological differences they have to boys; but local staff are also often reluctant to work with girls due to their personal worldviews. As it is almost everywhere in the world, girls struggle with prejudice, stigma, patriarchal oppression, educational neglect, and responsibilities beyond their age. For any organisation working with street children tackling all these issues in an attempt to offer quality social work is often overwhelming if not impossible, hence, many organisations opt out of girl care.

In a scenario where locating and working with street girls poses challenges to the integrity of an organisation, why should we care? As the MDGs recognised 15 years ago, a focus on girls is of imperative to the success of a development agenda. Although street girls form only a small fraction of all the people living below the poverty line, the lifestyle of any girl is passed down to her children and their children – creating a vicious cycle of hardship, abuse and often disease.

Organisations and development workers worldwide agree that girls and women shape the core of the community; however, their environment often dictates exposure to violence, exploitation and disease; unawareness of rights; lack of education; patriarchal oppression; and severely damaged self-worth and self-esteem.

Despite the challenges girls pose to programs and institutions, at Retrak we have begun to integrate girls into our projects since 2013. Previously, Retrak assessed staff concerns and views carefully in order to provide adequate and professional training. The incorporation of girls has been very successful: as of autumn 2014 (from January 2013 to autumn 2014), over one hundred girls have been reached on the streets of Kampala and integrated into the half-way homes or families. We also work with OPFRIS in Ethiopia to provide care and reintegration opportunities to girls.

Work with girls expands both the capacities of any organisation and their horizon, which is why international organisations and grass-root community development should address the break of the vicious cycle girls are trapped in combined efforts, in order to improve women and girls well-being and fuel sustainable and equal development.


*name and case study changed to protect the child

Day of the African Child

Here’s a report from our Drop In Centre Manager in Ethiopia, Julyata, on Day of the African Child:

Day of the African Child is celebrated every year on 16 June by Member States of the African Union (AU) and various development organizations under these Member states. Ethiopia is one of the Member States that celebrates the day through its governmental and non-governmental bodies. Ethiopia commemorates the 1976 uprisings in Soweto to honor school children who were killed when a protest by these children in South Africa against apartheid. They were inspired by education, but their protest  resulted in the public killing of these unarmed young protesters by police officials.

Retrak-Ethiopia is one of the many International organizations that honors the day every year on June 16 in Ethiopia. Retrak works with street-connected children by designing different programs. Providing education to these children is one of its development programs. Retrak believes children’s voice for education has to be heard and addressed in order to bring lasting positive impact in line with fulfilling their other basic needs. Retrak Ethiopia prepared a community awareness day event that entirely focused on educational activity in our Drop-in Center on June 16, 2014 on the Day of the African Child.

The purpose of the event was:

  • To commemorate the day with children, staff and community;
  • To create awareness among community members how education changes the lives of street connected children through the work of Retrak;
  • To remind children that their issues are internationally recognized;
  • To show to the international community the effort of Retrak in helping these children to have hope through education. 

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The theme for the 2014 Day of the African Child (DAC) is “Child friendly, quality, free & compulsory Education for all children in Africa.” With this theme in mind, Retrak has celebrated the day in organizing and preparing educational related activities at the Retrak Centre. There were people who came to the event representing government offices, school, police, and development organizations. The event was comprised of various activities and children were the main actors of the day. The program consisted of a welcoming speech and introduction on the purpose of the day, education focused drama, and mathematical and educational games, interviews of children about their life, exhibition that focused on education and tea time.  Children were very happy and excited as they participated in each activity. They were able to transfer their desire for education to the audience through their active involvement and will. It was such a pleasant moment to see these young children laughing, clapping, explaining and taking part with energy. Overall the day was informative, entertaining and valuable for all who were present.  

Here are some of the comments of children about education in Retrak which were posted at the exhibition


Age 15

“I lack an opportunity not an ability to learn‘‘


Age 15

“Education enables me to discover new ways”




Age 14

“Education helps me to lead my daily life properly”



Age 14

“Education helps me to distinguish good and bad things and think critically”


Age 13

“Education is a tool for my future livelihood”



Age 16

“Education is a weapon to strike poverty”



Age 9

“In the past, I used to only write my name but now I can write anything”



Age 14

“Education is a path to human development”


?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????At the end of the celebration there were informal discussions with the government officials and police. The participants expressed that they were delighted to be invited and be part of the celebration. They informed Retrak of the need for collaboration in terms of capacity building and experience sharing. The request for capacity building was especially focused on outreach; how to build trust and establish contact with street children to help them move from street life. They also requested to have a platform for discussion by inviting other organizations that work in the district “woreda” to work better through collaboration and networking. This reminded the organizers of this event that it would be a good idea for future events to invite other organizations who are working in our area of operation. At last they reminded us to include and consider one more site that is under our operational area as we invite new children through outreach. It was clear that there was a need to educate the community about the program of Retrak to facilitate collaboration with us.



Retrak takes part in Symposium of the Street

On June the 6th Retrak participated in UoM Symposium of the Street organised by Su Corcoran, an ESRC – Funded Doctoral Researcher at Manchester Institute of Education.

The aim of the event was to facilitate a discussion forum for academics and members of the civil society organisations who work with vulnerable children. The goal was to increase the impact of their work with children, particularly those who are street-connected through sharing ideas and experiences, engaging in critical discussion and developing networks to promote collaborative advocacy and research and information sharing in the future.

The day was opened by Retrak CEO, Diarmuid O’Neill 20140606_094925. He gave a talk that looked at how we must think outside of the box in developing research with and for street-connected children. When we focus on our own little area of expertise we often miss the bigger picture. In working together and exploring all possibilities we can reach a greater understanding and develop evidence that is meaningful both to organisational practice and policy development.

The day was structured around panel presentations and opportunities to network. Our monitoring and research advisor Joanna Wakia presented the results of Retrak’s Evaluating Outcomes research. This was a very popular session as Retrak’s use of the Child Status Index to measure street-connected children’s well-being, is something that organisations can develop and use as an effective tool for monitoring and evaluation. There was a small queue of people wanting to ask Jo lots of questions at the end of the session.

As well as presentations on street-connected children in a number of African, European and Caribbean countries, there were representatives from organisations and universities working with and for children of un-documented migrants in the UK and the problems they face. It was a good opportunity to see the similarities in our work.

The Symposium of the Street was a fantastic and inspiring initiative, which brought together like minded individuals who, just like everyone at Retrak, are striving to give children a better future. The event helped us understand issues around working with street-connected children, reflect on our work and learn from others’ experience.

Su says that “in organising the symposium I wanted to provide a space for conversations to develop between academic researchers and organisations, and between organisations, to enable the sharing of experiences and lessons learned. The day itself went much better than I had anticipated and was extremely well-received. I am already planning next year’s, which we hope will be bigger and longer to allow people from further afield to join. There was definitely a practitioner voice missing and we would like to bring social workers and other grass roots level individuals into the conversations next year. We would also like to have an afternoon and evening open to the general public to come and find out more about how different organisation work with street-connected children”

Su is also a trustee for Child Rescue Kenya UK  and a research-based consultant in education and issues related to street-connectedness. The day was funded by the NWDTC (North West Doctoral Training Centre) and held at the University of Manchester.

Retrak launches Book Club

TDU word cloud - small webHere at Retrak  we strive for excellence and innovation.Whether it’s programme design, or partnership building, achieving the best possible outcomes is at the heart of everything we do.

At Retrak we hold ourselves accountable for the delivery of high quality, equitable services, that can be adapted to the unique needs of each child, family and community. We also invest heavily in innovative opportunities, cutting edge research and technological expertise, in order to improve our services and knowledge of the sector.

To make sure we  stay at the forefront of global research and best practice, Retrak has launched a new Book Club. The idea behind the new Book Club, was to create a regular conference call or virtual meeting to discuss a singular piece of research, discussion paper or policy briefing, which directly links to Retrak’s strategy, impact indicators and core competencies.

Here at Retrak, we know that staff  members are extremely busy with their day-to-day work. Finding the time to keep up-to-date with the latest research can be a tough ask. The main aim of the Book Club is to provide a space, where staff members can engage relevant global research, reflect on daily practice and share their ideas with the rest of the organisation.


Football tournament kicks off at Retrak Ethiopia

The staff at Retrak Ethiopia spent an enjoyable morning watching a children’s football tournament, to help celebrate the International Day for Street Children, which took place earlier this month.

Before the fun and games began, the children were given induction by the staff, explaining how the day provides a platform for the millions of street children around the world, helping them speak out so that their rights and aspirations cannot be ignored.  Many of the children were extremely happy to know that their issues and problems were being recognised all over the world.

Uganda Football focus training background TWAfter the introduction, the children were told that they would be travelling to a field on the outskirts of the city, to take part in a football tournament co-ordinated by Retrak. During the children’s council sessions, many of the boys had expressed an interest into gaining access to a football field. So, when they found out that their wish had  been granted, they were unsurprisingly ecstatic!

The tournament took place on a field kindly donated by the Organization for Child Development and Transformation. The tournament was well attended by Retrak staff, who came along to help coach the players,  as well as a small crowd who had also gathered pitch-side, eager to catch a good game of football and cheer the boys on.

In the final match, Group 3 gave a powerful performance and were eventually crowned the winners. That said, all the boys played with great intensity and there were some very skilful players on show. After the final whistle had blown, the winners were told to stand in front of the rest of the children and were given a round of applause. Retrak staff also took this opportunity to gather all of the children around and tell them more about what the Retrak programme can offer them, such as food, counselling, shelter and education.

Across Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya and Malawi, Retrak continues to use football as a way of encouraging boys to come into their centres. Informal football training sessions, held close to the streets where the children live, give children regular access to  services and support, so that they can eventually be re-integrated with their families and communities back home.

Click here to find out how you can help support this vital work.

A day in the life of Timothy

tIMOTHTimothy is a Child Development  Specialist. For the last eight months he’s been in charge of resettlement at Retrak’s Club House drop in center in Uganda. Here he talks about his job and what it means to work for Retrak.

“Sadly, in this world, not everyone is protected and supported. Being a social worker allows you to address some of this injustice and allows you to fight for people’s rights and prop up those who need support. As a practitioner you are in a unique position to be able to tackle a wide range of issues, including abuse, neglect, and domestic violence. You can empower families to solve their own problems and have a real opportunity to make a difference to these children and the communities they live in.

 Have you ever imagined how painful it is for a parent to have a child missing in their family? Have you ever imagined how terrible it is to sleep in the cold wind with no blanket or mattress? Just imagine a life where you are not sure when you will next eat! The children we work with face these challenges on a daily basis. There is therefore nothing more satisfying than seeing a child change from sniffing aviation fuel, smoking, drug abuse among other survival strategies, to being in school, staying in a safe family and sharing with other children about life on the street. I am truly satisfied whenever I see tears of joy rolling on the face of parents/caregivers, when the children are resettled. Put simply, this is the reason I love my job. 

I remember one mother who believed her child was dead.  When I was able to reunite her with her boy I remember her saying “It is too good to be true! I am almost crying. Joy is killing me. It is like seeing a dead relative mysteriously coming back to life and what’s more looking healthier and more handsome than when he left”. Whenever I start to lose hope, its instances like these which make all the pain, heartache and suffering I witness on a daily basis, more bearable.

Every day at Retrak is unique and special. That said, I usually arrive at 7:30am to do my devotions and prayers.  Afterwards interact with the children. I ask them how their night was and find out how they are all feeling. Next I draw up my objectives for the day, often this includes several counselling sessions with children, meetings with my line manager and general paperwork. Because I work in the reception of the drop in centre – my case load can be quite large. On average I can respond to 15-30 cases every day. These can range from children using abusive language, to children fighting alongside many other issues.

Around once a week I travel into the countryside to do the follow up with children who have been re-integrated. Sometimes I have to stay overnight. This can be a big commitment and usually I have to wake up very early in order to start the journey. Often it can be a struggle finding the families, but when we are able to place the child back in a safe and secure home and I find out how well they are doing, I know the long trip has been worth it.

Improving the lives of children is at the heart of everything I do. Without a doubt, my favorite thing about working for Retrak is the opportunity it has given me to work with such  special group of children. Like I said, there is still nothing better than seeing a smile on a face of a child who has been re-integrated into a safe and secure home. Working for Retrak is so amazing I feel privileged just being here. I give thanks to god that he has given me such a fantastic opportunity.”

A gift of just £10 a month can help pay the salary of a social worker like Timothy,  helping more children reunite with their families back home. Click here to find out how you can donate.

See a video of Timothy talking about his scariest moment as a Social Worker here.

Changing the game for Street Children – Simon’s Story

SimonThis year, Retrak is encouraging people to support the International Day for Street Children, by wearing their favourite football shirt or team colours for a day, in exchange for a small donation. At Retrak we know, only too well, the impact football can have their lives. Barely regarded as human, often existing on the very fringe of society, street children eke out a miserable existence, begging and scavenging for what little they can find. For these children football is more than just a game. It’s a chance to escape.

Informal football training sessions, held close to the streets where the children live, provide Retrak with the opportunity to introduce them and explain the services they provide. Through football, children can begin to access regular food and shelter, re-enter education or training and can eventually be re-integrated with their family or communities.

At the age of nine, Simon was already playing in one of the community junior teams as well as in his school team. In 2006, a friend of his convinced him to move to Kampala, so that he could find a position in a school with a football scholarship and develop his talent further. Instead of chasing his dream, Simon ended up on the street. This is his story.

“Like many boys, I fell in love with football at a very early age. I was so obsessed with it that any advice about how I could progress or develop my talent was always welcome. That’s how my friend brought me to Kampala.

When I arrived in city, everything was very different to how I had imagined. Although my friend was a talented footballer, he had failed to find a school to take him on and now worked on of the streets of Kampala. Life was a struggle and after a  few short months my friend and I were evicted from our home. With nowhere else to go we decided to try our luck in Kisenyi – Kampala’s biggest and arguably most notorious slum.

Initially I fell into the scrap business, which had the added benefit of providing me with food and shelter. But sleeping in the shed where they stored the empty water bottles I collected, didn’t last long. The boss quickly sent me and my friends packing, when we tried to ask for our two weeks’ wages.

After being turned away I headed to the nearby taxi park, thinking the lights and crowds of people would offer me some sanctuary. I think it was at that moment that I was at my most desperate. With nowhere else to turn, I sat down on one of the verandas and bedded down for the night.

Whilst I was sat there, two children who had seen me play football saw me and asked me what I was doing. Hearing my story, they asked me go with them to their shelter in the slum. As I slept the older boys kept looking through my pockets for money. Many of them were sniffing thinner and fighting from time to time. This made me very worried. The night was so long I thought I wouldn’t get through it!

Early the next morning I heard some of the children talking about going to Retrak for a wash and a hot meal. Intrigued, I asked if I could come along.  When I arrived at Retrak I felt very safe. I was like a person who had been rescued from drowning in the lake. After my meal, they asked me if I wanted to stay.

I was so glad to be taken on to the Tigers FC (Retrak’s football team) to play for their under 12’s Team.  Here I was able to develop my talent and learn a number of good skills like patience, respect, kindness and commitment. I was loved by both the coach and my fellow players and this inspired me to become a better person and player.

Retrak organised a reintegration visit to my home in Jinja, but unfortunately I  found out that my mum passed away. I became so hopeless that I refused to return to Kampala, as I wanted to remain with my little sister and brother. Things quickly spiralled out of control and I decided to return to life the streets.Simon in workshop

Fortunately one of Retrak’s outreach workers found me. They spoke to me about my situation and after some time, advised me to take on another skill, alongside football. I chose welding. This skill not only provided me with a trade, but also accommodation, transport and regular meals.

I am so grateful to Retrak for nurturing me into the kind of person I am today. My boss finds it easy to work with me and so does my coach because of the character I adopted during my time at Retrak. My ultimate dream is to play real professional football anywhere in the world, but the English Premier league is at my heart.”

Diarmuid O Neill, Retrak’s Chief Executive, said “Wearing your favourite football shirt or team colours to promote the International Day for Street Children is a great way to raise awareness of this issue. More often than not, it is simple acts like this, which make a real difference to these children’s lives.  Donating just £1 can have a huge impact on children like Simon, providing them with real alternatives to life on the street.  I would therefore encourage as many people as possible to get behind this event and Retrak, to act as a voice for children who are otherwise unheard.”

If you aren’t able to participate on the day but would like to take part in an event for street children, take a look at our other challenge events here

See Simon displaying his skills here. Could you do this?

My name is Esubalew and I am 16 years old.

imageI was born in the north-western part of Ethiopia, in a small rural village called Debre-Iyesus. Life was incredibly tough for me and my family. We were desperately poor and finding enough money to survive was incredibly difficult. The cost of clothing, food, books and school fees put an almost intolerable strain on my family. Because of this, I decided to drop out of school and search for work in Addis Ababa.  As the eldest, I felt a responsibility to provide for my family and I thought I would be able to make more money in the city.

When I arrived in the capital I was very confused. Addis Ababa was so big and imposing that I didn’t know where to turn. Unable to find a job, I quickly resorted to living on the streets.

I soon realised that life on the streets was harder than the one I had left behind. Every day was a simple matter of survival, begging for scraps of food and searching for shelter. It was an incredibly threatening and scary time. It quickly became clear how vulnerable I was. The long, dark nights were the worst. In addition to the endless bouts hunger and sickness, I suffered terrible physical abuse and a couple of attempts of sexual abuse.

It was in this desperate situation that Retrak found me. The outreach workers talked to me about my problems and encouraged me to accept their assistance. This meeting gave me a sense of hope and the next time they came to visit, they invited me to come to the Drop in Centre.

I was extremely excited to enrol in the Retrak programme. The staff went to great lengths to make us feel welcome and created a very loving and safe environment for us all. Very quickly I was able to access regular meals and shelter, as well as schooling, health care and counselling services. My favourite part of the programme was attending a vocational training skills course, which taught me how to set up and run a small business.

After a few months, I was able to move back to a town near my birthplace. Retrak provided me with a start up loan to help me purchase items for my new shoe repairing business and also helped me reintegrate with my family.

Now I can  support my siblings and give them the opportunities I never had myself. My time at Retrak has made me more determined than ever to work hard and fulfil my dreams. Thanks to Retrak my future is bright.  Hopefully I can continue on this path and become an investor in other small businesses like mine.

If you would like to provide vital help to children like me you can make a donation to Retrak here.

In accordance with our child protection policy, names and images of children in this blog have been changed.