Shafiq R Khan

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Technology and youngsters’ vulnerability in trafficking

Information and communication technology intertwined almost every section and aspects of our society in a way or other. Be it an individual, for personal expression/relation or for corporate and social enterprise--for marketing, governance, gathering, movement and political ambitions. It has also affected right based movements as well as tradition groups such as ethnic or religious groups, which obviously have its own negative and positive dimensions.

Nowadays, information & communications technologies are on target of some groups for causing ‘moral damage’ in youths, especially girls by exposing them to pornography or by making them an easy prey in way or the other. Different incidents have been cited, where internet friendship and use of mobile phones were instrumental in the perceived ‘social crimes’. Increasing numbers of cases of misuse of ICT urged some caste panchayats and ethnic groups to impose ban on use of technologies by young generation, which has been criticized by civil societies as a patriarchal reaction. Obviously, ban on using mobile or jeans is a patriarchal notion for controlling female self in the community.

Photo courtesy : Empower People 

In a time where a number of social service and government organizations are providing ICT services and awareness programs for citizens, human traffickers too find it to be a comparatively safe mode for luring girls into their trap. They are using it on a very basic ICT environment and their targets have often been school going girls.  

Rumali’s father is a laborer, who used to visit faraway Assam villages with his wife and son. Meanwhile, Rumali stayed at her home in Guwahati for her schooling. Her father gave her a mobile for communication in absence of the family. She got a call from an unknown number and caller was sweet to her. As an adolescent she fell in love with the caller who later identified himself as Rahul Bhuniyya (a fake name). He lured her for a face-to-face meeting, he came in a car and in the very meeting he proposed her for marriage with a condition that he can only marry her once they leave the place since his parents wouldn’t accept her as his bride due to her humble background.  Later when she eloped to Delhi with him, the man tried to sell her into the bride trafficking market. She managed to raise an alarm from his captivity and called our organization.
In another case, in April 2013, two Kolkata schoolgirls were rescued from the red light area of Gaya and handed over to their parents. The girls were of class 7, had a providential escape from being pushed into the flesh trade. The girls of Hooghly had befriended two youths - Pintu and Nasim - on facebook.

A girl approached me for help, who was forcibly working as sex-worker because of her MMS which she shot with her boyfriend. Her mobile got lost and soon after she was approached by an unknown man who gave her stills from that video and forced her to have sex with him and since then he was using her as a sex-worker by offering her for money to his friends as well. Irony of the whole story was that her boyfriend was not aware of anything. The accused of the case was later arrested by police and the case is under court proceedings.

In Berpeta of Assam we have witnessed 3 cases of attempt trafficking in one high school within a year, which could only be averted due to the awareness of the locals but unfortunately last month one of the girls committed suicide when she felt shame of being a target of the trafficker. She was lured to have a romantic meeting with the trafficker. She went with another girl who was her classmate and the trafficker tried to abduct both of them in a vehicle. The girls started shouting for help and the vehicle met with an accident which saved them. The trafficker was handed over to the police by locals who later got released by the police for a bribe, one of above mentioned girl committed suicide after the episode.

Trafficking in persons is developing new modules and forms, traffickers are becoming smart and techno-savy to improve their business and security.  Mobile based applications like Whatsapp and Telegram is being used for offering sex services and other kind of logistical support for prostitution and trafficking. Interestingly, part of the new development is that the pimps and traffickers now prefer literate girls, who can be trained in using these new technologies. Foot-soldiers of the trafficking-rings are now targeting school going girls in poverty stricken or developing areas by using technologies like mobile or social networking websites. 

The smarter ways of the traffickers somehow are inviting smarter solution for the problem. Certainly, I am not suggesting any ban on the use of technologies rather it would be wiser to be aware with the new strategies and modules of the criminals. It will be more fruitful if the problem could be placed for debate in public domain, especially in civil societies. It is suggested that the approach should be three dimensional-- Social, Technical and the legal.
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