Prostitution law

Girls United works with at-risk 12 to 15-year-old girls to help keep them out of the sex trade. (Shutterstock)

A pilot program to help keep at-risk girls out of the sex trade is expanding from Halifax into North Preston, thanks to $12,000 in funding from the provincial Department of Justice.

The program is called Girls United and works with 12- to 15year–old girls to help them increase their self–reliance and life skills.

Sharon Martin oversees the city–run Girls United. She says the program uses seemingly unrelated activities to get the girls to open up about their problems. For example, past activities have included learning how to be a circus performer, art programs and skiing at Ski Martock.

"Through those vehicles, which actually have nothing to do with what we're talking about, the girls actually become more comfortable and relaxed and open," said Martin. "It's through that sort of indirect approach that seems to work the best with the girls."

According to Girls United's website, some of the risk factors for girls going into the sex trade include alcohol or drug use, being frequently in trouble with the law, having friends and family who are gang members, and poverty.

The program will expand into North Preston in the next school year. There is no charge for program participants. During the pilot run, 17 girls took part on a regular basis.