Buddy* was 10 when he fell victim to the increasing demand for child dancers and performers. He was one of 13 children who were exploited for forced labour, made to work long hours, dancing and performing in concerts, for which they would receive no pay. They were forced to live in one house, sometimes surviving on one meal a day, and sometimes receiving no food at all.
The man who trafficked Buddy claimed to be a teacher, and so easily won the trust of his mother, a widow with deteriorating health, who depended on subsistence farming. She was struggling to afford to keep her three children in school and provide for their basic needs, so when a friend told her about a ‘coach’ from Kampala who was identifying children to place in his school, it seemed like a great opportunity.
Buddy found the first three months to be particularly gruelling. He found it difficult to master the dance moves that the children were taught during exhausting training sessions, and this often resulted in punishment.
“We were overworked and made to perform three times each day. During some performances and live concerts in bars we were exposed to things we should never have seen – drunkenness, explicit dress, sexual abuse, immoral behaviour.
“We frequently missed school and there was little time to do personal reading in between the endless training and performances. And we didn’t receive any pay for our services even though the coach collected money from every single performance. All of the small tips were taken from us too.”
This exploitation continued for almost two years until a Community Child Protection Committee, which Hope for Justice had previously trained to spot the signs of modern slavery, reported the suspected case of human trafficking to the police. The police and a government social welfare officer then referred the children to Hope for Justice, who enrolled them at Tudabuja Lighthouse.
Social workers worked with Buddy to develop a personalised care plan based on his goals and aspirations. He was able to take part in various rehabilitative activities, with his favourite being art therapy and brass band lessons.
Through individual and group counselling, Buddy was also able to gradually rebuild his ability to trust in others. He even took on the role of secretary to the Children’s Council at the Lighthouse.
One month after his rescue, Hope for Justice took Buddy to visit his family to explore the possibility of reuniting them.
“I had lost hope of seeing you again!” exclaimed his mother, when she saw Buddy for the first time. “God has, at last, remembered me, a poor widow, and brought you back to me. We are so happy with the support Buddy has received and so thankful to Hope for Justice for everything they have done.”
During the visit, social workers provided information about child trafficking to the family, training on positive parenting skills, and discussed potential avenues for improving the household income to ensure the home would be a safe place for Buddy to return to. Now, Buddy’s dream is to return to school and one day become a doctor.
*Name changed to protect survivor’s identity