Whenever the issue of slave trading arises, many people especially those of African descent, often recall the transatlantic slave trade of hundreds of years ago.
In those days, Europeans forcibly uprooted millions of African men, women, and children from across West Africa and West Central Africa and shipped them across the Atlantic Ocean in conditions of unspeakable cruelty. Sad to say it didn’t end there.
In our modern era, slave trading has donned on a malevolent guise. The practice is synonymously tied to human trafficking, one of the worst crimes that can be perpetrated against a person. Fiction books, movies, theatrical plays, and the like have attempted to fictionalise some of the degrading experiences of victims. Yet, none of this comes close to explicitly documenting the actual horrors they have faced.
You may recall that Òlòturé, a Nigerian movie production in 2019, depicted the real-life experience of a Nigerian journalist who goes undercover to expose the dangerous and brutal underworld of human trafficking. Why have I decided to explore this issue of human trafficking?
Human trafficking is a global and widespread crime that uses men, women, and children for profit. According to the International Police (INTERPOL), it is a multi-billion-dollar international form of organised crime which has continued to drive modern-day slavery.
Inasmuch as billions of dollars are involved, the organised networks and unscrupulous individuals perpetrating this barbaric crime will continue to take advantage of vulnerable, desperate people or those simply seeking a better life. Indeed, there is every reason to stand up and collectively tackle this unnatural act of human exploitation as much as we can.
But first, we need to answer some questions such as: What is human trafficking? Who is the most vulnerable? And more importantly, how can technology be used to curb the evil that is called human trafficking?
Human depravity at its worst
Trafficking of humans involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of people through force, threat, fraud, or deception, with the sole aim of exploiting them for profit. Men, women, and children of all ages and from all backgrounds and nationalities can become victims of this crime.
Human trafficking strips people of their dignity and human rights. For criminals, victims might as well be commodities that can be used, sold for financial gain, or even disposed of if they are no longer deemed useful.
Using tactics such as false promises of education, job opportunities, and violence to capture their victims, human traffickers subject them to forced labour or criminal activities. Others get their vital organs- liver, heart, kidney, lung, and so forth- harvested and sold in black markets to rich clients who do not want to wait on a transplant list. Some of the victims especially women, young girls, and boys are traded or kept for sexual exploitation.
Estimates put victims of human trafficking at 40.3 million globally. Of this figure, one in four are children; three in four are women and girls. Yearly, thousands of men, women, and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their home countries and beyond. Developed or not, almost every country in the world is affected by human trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit, or destination for victims.
Human trafficking is a hydra-headed problem that has been linked to a number of crimes, not excluding illicit money flows, the use of fake travel documents, and cybercrime.
Evidence shows that human traffickers leverage technology during all the stages of their crime. Traffickers use sophisticated digital tools technology to profile, recruit, control and exploit their victims as well as the Internet (the dark web) to hide illegal materials gathered from trafficking and their real identities from investigators.
For traffickers, “out of sight” does not mean “out of mind.” Even if they are not physically present, they use technology to control their victims remotely using state-of-the-art location-tracking applications and global positioning systems to know their victim’s location and activities at any point in time.
To avoid detection, the illicit gains from this nefarious crime are also engage in money laundering online through cryptocurrency exchanges, allowing traffickers to receive, hide and move large amounts of money.
Notwithstanding these developments, technology can still be used as a force for good, helping to curtail the activities of human traffickers and also bring them to justice. Artificial Intelligence, big data, blockchain, the Internet of Things are among some of the best technologies that can combat human trafficking.
Technological solutions range from mobile apps that can help to identify victims of sex trafficking, satellite imagery that tracks down vessels carrying victims of forced labour to web scraping tools that aggregate sexual abuse images that allow law enforcement to track down victims in need of rescue.
Facial recognition and visual processing software can be used to search for photos and videos of victims trafficked for sexual exploitation. Even more, facial recognition technology can empower law enforcement officers to identify potentially matching photos of traffickers from a database. This will aid investigators in finding human trafficking victims and apprehending their captors.
The unfortunate reality is that survivors of human trafficking do not completely escape the impact of their horrific experiences and victimisation from sadistic criminals. Asides from visible scars, many suffer psychological, emotional, and mental distresses and may find it challenging to cope in a functional society.
For such ones, a rescue mission goes beyond breaking them out of literal captivity, it involves putting them through well-designed survivors programmes where they can recover their human dignity and self-worth.
To prevent more innocent people from going through the nightmare, technology companies have a major role to play in combating human trafficking. This is even more important in the African context because, despite the increasing number of Sub-Saharan African countries that have set out a specific offence against trafficking in persons, the conviction rate is one of the lowest in the world.
Africa’s technology scene is a flourishing one as the fintech sector continues to dominate other sectors within the ecosystem. With the proliferation of innovative financial solutions across Africa, fintech seems to be the new oil. However, beyond fintech, proptech, e-commerce, and a host of other sectors, Africa has countless problems seeking solutions, one of which is human trafficking.
With the right mix of public-private partnership, innovation, and greater adoption of emerging technologies, African founders may need to extend their resources outside fintech to build a robust and complementary technology ecosystem on the continent.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch