Sat, Aug 03, 2019 - Page 9 News List

More digital platforms means increased human sex trafficking

As rapid growth of digital platforms makes child sex trafficking even more lucrative, the world must step up its efforts to prevent this appalling crime

By Kailash Satyarthi

A 26-year-old man from Baltimore was recently convicted in the US on federal charges of trafficking two girls, aged 15 and 16, and then posting advertisements on a Web site offering them as prostitutes.

The man stayed with the 16-year-old girl in a motel room, along with a woman he was also prostituting, and would leave the room when men came to have sex with the girl. One of her customers returned the following day to rescue her and took her to live in another city with his sister.

That girl was relatively lucky, but more than 1 million child victims of forced sexual exploitation around the world are far less fortunate.

Globally, human trafficking generates average annual profits of US$150 billion, of which two-thirds (US$99 billion) come from forced sexual exploitation.

With the rapid growth of digital platforms threatening to make child sex trafficking even more lucrative, the world must take urgent, coordinated action to combat this appalling crime.

Today, almost 4.5 billion people have access to the Internet and about one in three Internet users is under the age of 18.

The unregulated online world is therefore fertile ground for reaping enormous profits from child sex trafficking. Would-be traffickers need only a laptop or a smartphone with a high-speed Internet connection to go into business.

Traffickers can easily contact children through popular social media platforms. Children who show visible signs of loneliness, anxiety, stress or family problems are the most vulnerable.

Traffickers “e-meet” several children simultaneously, lure them with false promises and solicit compromising digital images of them. Once the trafficker has this material, the child becomes easy prey and is coerced into sex slavery.

Child-sex traffickers advertise on Web sites specializing in adult sexual services and often force their victims to post on portals that enable viewers to buy sex from children in their vicinity. In the US case above, the trafficker paid more than US$1,000 to place almost 300 advertisements online between February 2017 and January last year.

Some victims livestream content from their homes or hostels, in exchange for payment in cryptocurrencies and via online-receipt mechanisms. To entice children, some traffickers even pay their mobile phone bills or send gifts using e-commerce sites as bait. Later, the children are physically lured for sex.

As online child sex trafficking is a fast-growing global organized crime, combating it effectively requires a range of legal, political, social and technological measures.

For starters, all countries need to define the crime of online child trafficking and incorporate it into their national penal codes, along with tough punishments for violators.

All recruitment activities, advertising and financial transactions associated with online child trafficking should also be criminalized.

Raising awareness about the issue is also crucial — especially in developing countries, where illiteracy, poverty and a lack of age-appropriate sex education in schools can leave children even more vulnerable.

Parents must build bridges of trust so that their children feel able to open up about their problems. Faith leaders, too, should educate and sensitize their followers in this regard. Promoting positive notions of masculinity, making counseling available and encouraging effective parenting can go a long way toward preventing online child sex trafficking.

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