Empowering underage girls to escape the sex trade in Uganda

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Aisha smiles


Aisha never imagined becoming a sex worker at age 13.

Growing up in poverty, she decided to leave her rural home after being promised an education and lucrative career in Kampala – Uganda’s bustling capital city.

“The woman promised me that I would work and use my salary for my school fees,” says Aisha.  “She got me a job as a bar maid. That’s where it all started, because being a bar maid meant sleeping with customers.”

Aisha’s story is not uncommon. In fact, many young girls just like her are lured from their villages to Uganda’s big cities by false promises. These girls are trafficked while many others are forced into the sex trade in an attempt to escape poverty, sexual abuse and child marriage.

It’s estimated that 54,000 girls under age 18 are currently being forced into sex work in Uganda. These girls make as little as $3 USD per client – but can receive higher rates if they don’t use a condom. As a result, many sex workers are at risk of contracting and spreading sexually transmitted diseases. Many also become pregnant.

With an understanding of the complex challenges facing girls like Aisha, Plan International is working in Uganda to help girls aged 13 to 24 transform their lives by providing job skills training and alternative income opportunities.

Girls in charge of their lives

Along with training in business management, entrepreneurship and rights awareness, this project is enabling sex workers to access sexual and reproductive healthcare services to ensure their safety and well-being.

So far, over 200 girls have participated in our skills training program and they’ve learned skills such as catering, hairdressing, tailoring and electronics repair. Today, over 72% have been employed and 25% are running their very own thriving businesses!

Meet Aisha along with other former sex workers, and see how their new skills are changing their lives:

A space to learn and play

Regina and her daughter smiling

Regina and her 5-year-old daughter

The grim reality of sex work is that many children are left unattended for many hours while their mothers are out working.

“I went back to sex work five months after giving birth,” says Regina, a former sex worker who now has a 5-year-old daughter.

“When she turned one, I’d lock her in after feeding her. I’d go to work at 10pm and return at 2am to find her there – still safe. I feel scared to leave her behind but it’s the only option I had to provide for her.”

Today, Regina is learning to become a hairdresser while her daughter is one of 1000 children benefiting from Plan International’s Early Childhood Care  which ensures education and care for children with mothers currently in the sex trade, and also for those who are learning new skills

Through singing, dancing and fun interactive games, children are educated and have fun too! Meanwhile, their mothers are reassured their children are in a safe and protected environment.

group of children raising their hands

Children participate in classroom activities at Plan International’s ECCD center in Kampala, Uganda

Big dreams for the future

For Aisha, learning to become a hairdresser has not only given her a different career option, but also enabled her to establish a supportive network of friends who share a similar story.

“Now that I’m studying here, people respect me,” she says. “I have a future.”

And fellow peer and former sex worker, Harriet, couldn’t agree more.

“The most significant change is the ability to live a predictable life because I have the confidence to plan and pursue my targets,” says Harriet, who studied catering and dreams of helping others escape the sex trade.

“My ambition is to expand and operate a big restaurant where I can employ other girls,” she says, with a smile.

Group of former sex workers in hair salon

Confident and empowered: these former sex workers are leading change in their lives and in their communities.

Helping girls and women change the story for themselves

If you believe, like we do, that every girl has the right to live a life she chooses, then join Plan International’s Because I am a Girl movement and let’s create a brighter future for girls together!

Help empower girls today!