Taking a cue as we welcome the New Year and bid adieu to the pandemic ridden 2020, we have a lot to be thankful for and much more to learn. A recent discussion with a few brought about serious concerns about the rise of human trafficking and how technology is now the new tool to lure.
Human trafficking is at an all-time high with the increased use of the internet, and the easy access people have to information. Talking about human trafficking and the work done for it cannot be complete without the mention of Impulse NGO Network and its Founder and Chairperson – Hasina Kharbhih who has an apparent mission in life –“For 30 years now, I have been working to provide sustainable livelihood in a safe environment for women and children. What started as a mission in my home state of Meghalaya, has today evolved into a global program that aims to put an end to human trafficking and exploitation worldwide.”
A telephonic discussion with her over the trafficking issue was informative and alarming at the same time. In the discussion, the rise of the online mediums for human trafficking was explained and how over the last 3 to 4 years, the social media platform has become a tool to target young people and exploit them into the flesh trade. Young people are vulnerable to cyber-crime and its complexities, as they use the medium to connect, enjoy and share. Technology though is not that straightforward; it does make our life easy. It has helped us tremendously during this pandemic, but the downside is incredibly intimidating if not checked.
Ms.Kharbhih shared from her records how the entire COVID-19 situation has increased the watching of pornography, which in time increases the demand and supply, and thus increasing the rise of cases centering human-trafficking. The “Mama Counsellor” case from the Impulse Network file is about how potential targets were comforted by the traffickers to get them convinced and hooked to every word used to lure them. These traffickers used Artificial Intelligence to track every move and activity done and made an analysis of the key points that they needed to follow to lure the targets. The traffickers were groomed to hook their targets, and they used every possible option available like forwarded messages, pop-ups to get the attention. These people mapped their targets and followed the likes/dislikes, their retail activities and also worked on their vulnerabilities. The conclusion drawn from this case was a straightforward word – caution. We need to be cautious with what we share, express and emote on our social handles. There needs to be a definite level of control.
Social media has led to a high in human-trafficking and has even brought about mental health issues to the forefront. All the time spent on our social handles makes us think about the frivolities in life without looking at the bigger picture, increasing the insecurities and impacting our well-being.
Taking a cue Ms.Kharbhih has expressed how “Education on all such issues” needs to be more expansive as the enemy is as smart or even smarter. Without a clear understanding, it will be challenging to fight this evil. The new trends in the trafficking patterns bring up new challenges and need a clear understanding of the nexus to stay a step ahead of the traffickers. Impact Network is already in SOPs with organisations in Myanmar, and Bangladesh, it is now working on finalising one with organisations in Nepal. The civil society needs to come together for skill-building and up-gradation.
Taking a cue the better we cooperate and coordinate, the better we fight the evils in society. As the New Year begins, let us not carry the evils with us.
The writer is a PhD Scholar and a trainer from Guwahati (Assam)
The views expressed by the writer are personal and may not in any way represent those of TIME8.