Digital Skills | Emerging Trends | ICT4SDG | Youth
July 30, 2019

How technology can combat human trafficking

By Yushi Torigoe, ITU Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership

A high-resolution satellite image of a fishing boat off the coast of Papua New Guinea provided the final piece of evidence in a months-long investigation into human trafficking on the high seas; two illegal trawlers carrying slave labourers on board were caught using global tracking and satellite technology. As a result, 2,000 victims of modern slavery were freed.

This is just one way that we can harness today’s digital revolution to combat human trafficking.

Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking. Over 40 million people globally are victims of human trafficking and its associated forms of exploitation today – and more victims are being detected and reported every year.

Technology is a key tool to tackling this growing issue. Artificial intelligence, big data, Blockchain, the Internet of Things and 5G; these new technologies can all aid in the fight to combat human trafficking. But we also need to improve information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and digital skills to enable people around the world to take advantage of what the Internet and ICTs can offer.

“Technology companies also have a major role to play in combatting human trafficking – and ITU’s own Sector Members are already active in this area.”

ITU Member States formally recognized the power of ICTs to combat human trafficking in a new recommendation (Recommendation WGPL/1, Dubai 2018) which was adopted at the 2018 Plenipotentiary in Dubai. It “recommends that Member States work with ITU to continue improving their national ICT infrastructure and connectivity rates in order to facilitate the use of ICT tools by relevant actors involved in combating trafficking in persons.”

Technology companies also have a major role to play in combatting human trafficking – and ITU’s own Sector Members are already active in this area.

Partnering with Thorn, an NGO which leverages the power of technology to combat child sex trafficking, engineers from across the technology industry – including ITU Sector Members such as Facebook, Microsoft and Intel – work together to tackle the issue. In 2017, they helped to develop a Child Finder Service, which uses machine learning to identify possible matches between of the faces of missing children with those being advertised for sex online.

Co-founded by ITU Sector Members, British Telecom (BT), Nokia and Microsoft, the “Tech against Trafficking” initiative is a coalition of UN agencies, civil society organizations and global technology companies that is looking at how technology can be better utilized to tackle human trafficking.

Women and girls

Labour and sex trafficking disproportionately affects women and girls in poorer communities in the developing world.

“We all need to continue to work together to curb trafficking in persons and ensure that everyone is empowered by technology.”

In 2018, Vodafone Americas Foundation partnered with Nomi Network, a non-profit development agency, to launch a mobile-based training programme that helps survivors of human trafficking and women at risk gain skills that can help them find jobs and enter the workforce. Using mobile technology will help reach millions of people who may not have otherwise been able to access to this type of training programme.

Digital literacy is one of ITU’s priorities. Together with ILO, we are leading the Digital Skills for Decent Jobs Campaign, equipping millions of young men and women with job-ready, transferable digital skills by 2030 in support of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Protecting children

Unfortunately, children account for 30% of those being trafficked.

With this in mind, ITU launched the “Child Online Protection Initiative” almost 11 years ago with just one goal: to empower our children to use the Internet safely and responsibly. Today, our Child Online Protection guidelines help keep children safe from predators who may solicit them online for trafficking purposes at a time when the SDGs recognize “reducing violence against children” as a key area for development.

It is well established that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can transform lives. We all need to continue to work together to curb trafficking in persons and ensure that everyone is empowered by technology.

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ITU is the United Nations' specialized agency for information and communication technology. Any opinions expressed and statistics presented by third parties do not necessarily reflect the views of ITU.

How technology can combat human trafficking

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