Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar business and it is growing exponentially. Consider the fact that a kilo of drugs can only be sold once only but a human being can be trafficked over and over again. It’s all in the maths. 40 million people are trafficked each year with half being women and children, and most sold into the sex trade. This is modern slavery.
While researching this story I spoke with a number of people active in highlighting the issue or seeking to put a stop to this heinous crime. I had imagined that human trafficking belonged solely to developing countries where human life was considered cheap – not a comment on my part, I may add, but an observation. To my shock I discovered that human trafficking happens under our noses in well-developed countries and includes people of all nationalities including the host nation. In fact, if a child runs away and is on the streets in any city, any western city, experts say that the odds are they will be trafficked if not found in 48 hours. 48 hours? That is in just two days.
It’s also a scientific fact is that we humans are never more than six feet away from a rat, our faithful shadow. The same can be said for trafficking human beings – they are all around us, but we have not been educated to open our eyes.
A charity in Ireland called https://mecpaths.com/ MECPATHS (Mercy Efforts for Child Protection Against Trafficking with the Hospitality Sector) was founded in 2013 as a non-profit organisation to work directly with the hospitality industry to prevent child trafficking. One in four victims of human trafficking worldwide is a child and in COVID this is even worse as children in danger can be locked down with their abusers or spend more time online and risk contact with traffickers.
The definition of child trafficking is the ‘recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt’ of a child for the purpose of exploitation under the United Nation’s Palermo Protocol, and a child is defined as any person under the age of 18. The United Nations regards all trafficking as modern slavery.
Trafficking exists undetected for two main reasons. The first is lack of education on what a trafficked person might look like, how they might behave, where they might be found. The second is our misplaced emphasis on privacy.
Patrick Baker, an independent Irish radio documentary maker, spent a year working with MECPATHS to record their work and produced an impactful documentary called Do Disturb. http://curiousbroadcast.com/do-disturb/2422/. In it, she explores what we need to look for and how MECPATHS works with the hospitality sector to make them aware.
“I fell into this story while researching another, and was shocked to discover not only is human trafficking present in every village in Ireland, but we here in Ireland have been downgraded in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report published by the US Department of State to Tier 2-watch list. The need for public awareness is paramount; the statistics are frightening and overwhelming.”
Detecting child trafficking is not a clear science, but a series of observations combined can help illuminate such slavery. MECATHS educates people working in the hospitality sector. Porters are taught to check if young adults or children arrive without luggage. Receptionists are taught to see if the child looks upset, if the body language looks off, even if they do not resemble their ‘parent’. Do they have identification? A passport? Then maids are taught to note if extra towels are ordered for a room. Night porters are taught to question multiple visitors to a room. It is not just one thing; it is a series of things and what is the worst outcome that can happen if an incorrect call is made? Egg on face? Perhaps, but surely that is so much better than having a child trafficked under your nose.
In the radio documentary, a brave young Irish woman explained that her father trafficked her for sex from age four until eight. She argued that someone might have seen something wrong, spotted something amiss. She called out for people to ‘twitch that curtain’ and be nosy. And this is the second point which lets off the purveyors of human trafficking.
We are taught not to interfere into other people’s business, in their marriage, in their home. It is only recently in Ireland that domestic abuse is being called out, people are calling it out, it is no longer good enough to say what happens behind closed doors is their own business. It feels alien to tell tales but when lives are at stake then we are encouraged to be that whistle blower.
There is a third reason why trafficking is growing – the lack of prosecutions since 2015. Globally, these have fallen by 42% and in Europe, prosecutions have fallen by 52% leaving the perpetrators of these crimes to conduct their business with impunity.
If awareness and education can help stop trafficking, how can technology help?
One way can be to limit access to the web. In February 2020, Irish web hosting company Blacknight joined industry giants such as GoDaddy, Nominet and Amazon to agree a common framework to address abuse of the DNS by criminals. This voluntary agreement identifies four types of web content abuse which includes child sexual abuse materials and human trafficking. If witnessed, the 48 companies so far signed up have agreed to disrupt this content without waiting for a court order.
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But how can trafficking be prevented at source? This is an issue that led entrepreneur Jax Harrison to set up two companies: a for-profit to develop and combine technology to help children at risk called Innovation For Good and a not-for-profit to implement the technology and education called StopChildTraffic.org.
Originally from New Zealand, Jax worked in Peru for many years and witnessed first-hand the fate of street children in a time of terrorism and political unrest. She was involved in helping to establish an NGO for a local orphanage where parents would surrender their children to keep them safe from being trafficked, into sex or as child soldiers. This sparked her lifelong interest in working to save such children but to her horror when she travelled to the US and settled in Kanas City, Missouri she discovered child trafficking was very much present there too, in fact she discovered that Kansas City is considered an origination city – from which children were trafficked across the country.
Now she uses technology, and notably blockchain, to develop technology to protect children. Her starting point is prevention and she has worked closely with the UK government to provide safe protocols for children accessing online services.
“That also includes educating parents what to look for in their child’s behaviour and if your child is playing an online game, chances are they have already been approached in the accompanying chat rooms. There are some basics – parents are meant to parent and not to be their child’s friend. Simple actions like once a week looking at their phones, checking where they have been, and having access to their passwords.”
That is just one element, Jax is bringing together CEOs of technology companies to use AI and blockchain to map the locations of vulnerable children and the potential traffickers. “We follow a similar trajectory used to track terrorists. It’s all about disrupting the supply chains, with the slim numbers of people being prosecuted we need to break the chains so they can’t pass on the child.”
Another key element is identity. A child or person who is trafficked is most likely denied their identity or may not have any. Likewise, they do not have access to money and are largely unbanked. She is working to develop a platform that allows an undocumented person to claim their identity and attach it to a self-sovereign wallet.
“Identity and financial access are key to keeping people safe, recovering trafficked people and helping them get their lives back.”
For example; Innovation for Good and StopChildTraffic are working with WyOfi and Secours.io to help provide access to good digital identity and to finance.
WyoFi are the Inovators bank and as a Wyoming state-chartered Special Purpose Depository Institution (SPDI), WyoFi is a bank with purpose – enabling innovative companies to operate through their compliant financial services on a robust fintech platform in a thriving global ecosystem. One of the ways they do this is through their proprietary blockchain protocols which provide frictionless transfer of all types of currencies i.e from Krypto to Dollars. They do this in a seamless user experience enabling one currency to transfer to a preferred currency providing a frictionless transfer from sender to receiver. This opens up opportunities for at risk populations to use all forms of digital currencies and transfer options.
Secours.io is the first global, cryptographic public safety network based on the TrustOverIP Foundation and Sovrin Foundation governance architecture.
A new hybrid platform whose most powerful imperative is trusted digital relationships, verified credentials, secure data transactions and AI. This unified global safety infrastructure empowers a new digital mechanism of trust between citizens and public safety.
This risk mitigation, loss control platform which can take the form of a digital wallet allows integration of any application, phone, or IOT device, freeing others from having to create this pivotal public safety infrastructure. They bill themselves as the “ Intel Inside” of public safety.
“It is imperative that we use all forms of cutting-edge technology for the good of humanity and to prevent harm to those who are vulnerable to these heinous crimes. It is only by working together that we can break the supply chains and save millions of children from being trafficked,“ says Jax.