Keeping girls safe from harm | ActionAid UK

Keeping girls safe from harm

Millions of girls around the world live and work on the streets as a direct result of poverty. These are the most vulnerable and marginalised girls in the world, at risk of violence, sexual abuse, forced labour and human trafficking.

Family breakdown, a parent dying or a change in economic circumstances often leave young girls having to earn their living on the streets, sometimes helping to provide for their families and looking after siblings.

ActionAid tries to reach and protect vulnerable girls. We use tried and tested approaches like girls’ clubs and women’s rights groups, to get girls into safe homes, away from violence and into school.

Sexual abuse, exploitation and violence

  • An estimated 10 million children are involved in child prostitution around the world.1
  • 1 in 10 girls under 20 (120 million) have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.2
  • In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, an estimated two million children live in the slums and on the streets, where girls are particularly vulnerable to harassment, sexual violence and prostitution.

How ActionAid helps girls at risk

Our locally recruited staff in countries where we work understand the threats and challenges girls face.

If girls are in immediate danger, we provide shelters where they can access food, healthcare, counselling and education.

Long term, our local staff work with communities to overcome the violence and injustice faced by girls. We help girls to regain the control to make their own decisions; go and study, earn a living and choose their own future. 

Happy Homes in Dhaka, Bangladesh is an ActionAid project that provides secure shelter for street girls. Around 30 girls live there at a time under the supervision of house mothers, who ensure they are fed, they keep clean, attend school and study. Many girls arrive there traumatised, so a counsellor is also on hand to help them deal with their problems.

More than 18,400 girls have already been supported through our five Happy Homes in Dhaka.

Human trafficking: a hidden problem

By its very nature, human trafficking – especially child trafficking — is not done in public so it’s difficult to measure, find official figures or to really know the scale of the problem.

But from 45 years experience working with and talking to our local staff and partners, we know that trafficking happens in countries, cities, towns and rural areas all over the world. 

  • 40,177 trafficking cases were reported worldwide between 2010-2012 (this number is the tip of the iceberg as most trafficking goes unreported).1
  • 21% of all trafficked people are girls (70% women and girls, 33% children).2 
  • Sexual exploitation accounts for 26% of all trafficking in East Asia, South Asia and the Pacific.3

Child trafficking happens especially in the world’s poorest places, especially after a disaster strikes or if that country is experiencing civil war, drought, famine or just unrelenting poverty. Girls are particularly at risk of sex trafficking at those times.

And UN figures suggest that 7,000 women and girls are trafficked out of Nepal to India every year4

Child exploitation and labour

Missing out on an education, healthcare and proper nutrition, child workers are denied their right to a childhood. With no chance to play and exposed to exploitation, they are forced to grow up much too fast.

  • 168 million children are engaged in child labour around the world. More than half of them, 85 million, are in hazardous work.1
  • Almost 78 million, or 9.3%, of the child population in Asia and the Pacific are child labourers2
  • By the end of 2013, almost 65 million adolescents between the ages of 12 to 15 years old were denied their right to an education.3

In many countries, parents may send their children, especially daughters, off to work, or to another country through a ‘trusted guardian’ because they physically can’t provide for them, and they believe their child will better off with at least a roof over their head and enough to eat.

Sometimes the whole family are forced into work, or ‘bonded labour’, for little or no pay, in horrible conditions.


You may also be interested in…

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Sponsor a child to keep them safe from harm.


Photos: G.M.B. Akash/Panos/ActionAid, Sharron Lovell/ActionAid, Brian Sokol/ActionAid, Umar Farooq/ActionAid.