The recent San Antonio, Texas, tragedy served as a vivid reminder that human trafficking is an international crisis that spans from poor nations to the doorsteps of some of the most developed nations in the world.
While this United States-based event captured global news, the ongoing human trafficking crisis in India often goes underreported. A recent U.S. Consulate General in the country partnered with local nongovernmental organizations, creating campaigns that addressed local, mostly poor, communities to provide them with the tools to empower themselves to stand up against the crime.
Forced labour constitutes India’s largest trafficking problem: men, women, and children in debt bondage who are forced to work in brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, firecracker, and cloth embroidery factories, as well as in poorly regulated cottage-industry segments. In addition, thousands of unregulated work placement agencies are believed to recruit adults and children under false promises of employment for sex trafficking or forced labour, including domestic servitude. India also has human and natural disasters that displace and affect large segments of the population, which further adds to this problem. Statistics from India’s National Crime Records Bureau indicate a steady rise in trafficking-related crimes. In addition to local trafficking, welfare agencies estimate that around 12,000-50,000 women and children are trafficked into India every year from Nepal and Bangladesh.
The role of technology
Technology is usually leveraged and exploited by criminal perpetrators to perform illegal activities. The use of social media, websites, and anonymous apps and networks allow traffickers to contact and recruit vulnerable, and often very young, victims and also promote these services easily and anonymously with buyers via social media or through apps. The use of technology also reduces the cost of recruitment and is also safer than physical recruitment — an approach more prevalent with poor communities who do not have access to the internet.
The battle is not all lost, however. In an interconnected world, technology knows no sides and can also be leveraged in favour of the good. Trafficking generates huge data archives, including predatory networks, transportation and money trails that can be followed and acted upon.
Data and analytics provide unprecedented opportunities for law enforcement and service providers to monitor illicit activity and enables them to locate and rescue victims. An increasing number of human rights organizations and technology companies are coming together to explore various ways to collaborate and identify new ways to leverage big data and data analytics in the fight against human trafficking.
A group of three anti-trafficking organizations — The Polaris Project in the U.S., LaStrada International in Eastern Europe, and Liberty Asia — aided by a grant from Google, launched The Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network, which uses innovative big data technology — data warehousing and data analytics — to turn the tide in the fight against modern-day slavery. Software and services like Microsoft’s PhotoDNA and the Child Exploitation Tracking System , are being used to grow citizen awareness, prevent trafficking recruitment, and expose existing trafficking.
Better data equals better enforcement
The good news is that the government of India, cognizant of this problem, is working hard to address this problem — and is even contemplating a comprehensive law on human trafficking. The Trafficking of Persons Bill that aims to unify existing laws, prioritise survivors’ needs, and provide for special courts to expedite cases is expected to be tabled in parliament for approval soon. Equally important, however, will be the technological resources, namely data and analytics tools, that need to be brought on to respond to this problem and minimise, if not eliminate, the exploitation of vulnerable women and children.
Police and law enforcement agencies need cutting-edge data and analytics tools to beat traffickers, who are extremely technology-savvy. The information usually comes from very disparate data sources, and is not just significant in volume but also unstandardized with very short response times. Big data experts can fight this scourge with data warehousing and analytics tools that trawl multiple sources of data, from the deep web to Google search trends to penetrating social media platforms, chat rooms, and other domains to pinpoint trafficking instances to analyse and identify larger trends among trafficking circuits.
The National Crime Record Bureau will need to be supported with more data, including information on trafficking investigations, prosecutions, and convictions, as well as data from social and digital media sources. The Ministry of Home Affairs has also revised its strategy guiding Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs), to ensure more effective identification and investigation of trafficking cases and coordination with other agencies to refer victims to rehabilitation services. Several state governments created or reactivated AHTUs, but there is a need to bring in more districts under the AHTUs.
Teradata, the leader in data and analytics, can help such organisations leverage data better to identify patterns and linkages to take appropriate action. Such analyses can also help reveal insights that help law enforcement agencies and NGOs better gear their outreach campaigns to both victims, as well as to vulnerable groups. Better data can also help activists drive more relevant law enforcement approaches backed up by hard data to address the problem. Data-enabled insights can help agencies see patterns that they didn’t know existed to create programmes and activities that are more preventive. This will also have a positive impact on policy and decision-making and make law enforcement more effective and efficient.