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Human Trafficking Day: Energy Access as probable elixir

Human Trafficking Day: Energy Access as probable elixir

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WORLD-TRAFFICKING-DAY

By Ejiro Gray

 

I still remember the first time I heard of kidnappers. I must have been about six or seven then, growing up in a university community and attending the senior staff primary school. The tale was told of a young boy in our primary school who had been a victim of attempted kidnap. We were regaled with different versions of how he fluidly dodged their manoeuvring with such agility as would make spider man green with envy. I remember listening wide-eyed and dreading treading the route to school, which before then had always been a joyful experience as we moved in groups along quiet tree-lined lanes, the only sounds renting the air being the noisy chatter of rambunctious children and the occasional bird chirping away from a tree. Suddenly, we felt exposed and vulnerable in what was otherwise a serene and sane close-knit community. But as with a lot of tales that find their origins in the nimble minds of children, we later discovered that it was one huge lie! A lie concocted to instil fear into us, of marauders and persons of questionable character on the prowl, looking for innocent little children to kidnap, one of the vices of the term – human trafficking.

Today, human trafficking has taken on even more creative and dangerous forms. The 30th of July is commemorated each year by the United Nations, as the “World Day Against Trafficking in Persons”. The primary objective is to raise awareness on the criminality of human trafficking in all its forms and in particular, the exploitation of women and children who are arguably the most vulnerable and are being used for forced labour and sexual exploitation. Human trafficking involves the movement of people across locations (often across countries) forcefully and amidst threats, or deception, with the primary purpose of financial exploitation. Men, women, and children of all ages alike fall victim annually to the vice of human trafficking.

However, women and children have been the most vulnerable to this heinous crime. Research has shown that five in ten victims of human trafficking are women, and two are girls. Victims of knotty situations who often out of desperation to seek a better life, having been ill-advised are deceived by others equally seeking to take advantage of their desperation and naivete. The tactics of deception deployed include promises of education, marriage, employment opportunities, and promises of immigration assistance, only to subject their (usually unsuspecting) victims to forced labour, sexual exploitation, and forced marriages amongst others, on the other side of the failed promise. Globally, there is an estimated 40.3 million victims of human trafficking.

 

A multi-billion-dollar industry

The theme for the year 2022 is, “Use and abuse of technology”. It focuses on the role of technology as a double-edged sword which can be used to either facilitate or combat human trafficking, depending on who is wielding it and what for. Over the years and fast-tracked by the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a shift towards increased use of cyberspace as a meeting point for persons, for both social and business needs. But as with all things, there are pros and cons. The human mind has amazing capacity for creativity and is constantly seeking ways to ease the process and flow of moving from desire to actualization. Crime was not left behind in the shift, as we have witnessed an increase in human-trafficking related cyber-crimes. This has been made even easier by the ease of access to modern communication technologies such as smart phones, thereby creating avenues to ensure that the next victim is always within reach. It is now said to be a multi-billion-dollar industry made up of organized networks often utilizing digital technology and more specifically, social networking sites to profile, track and recruit victims. The use of cyberspace as a haven for the crime can be attributed to the relative ease of access to victims and target markets, as well as the anonymity it offers to the perpetrators of the crime. Between developed and developing economies most are in one way or the other involved in the value chain, whether as country of origin, or transit or destination. Inherently, it is a global problem that must be addressed as such.
One of the questions we should be asking if we are to get to the root of the issue and address it from source is, why are people still falling for the bait, what is enabling the proliferation of crimes of this nature and how can it be addressed from the root cause, with other potential forms of expression nipped in the bud before it is too late? There are countless reasons why people are falling for the bait despite some effort to enact laws prohibiting the practice. They include:

– internal displacement due to conflict, insecurity, and terrorism
–  marginalization of disadvantaged communities and societies in governance and development policies leading to desperation of its people to emigrate
–  undesirable domestic situations such as child abuse and domestic violence, social caste systems and servitude thereby presenting an apparent escape route from despondency.

Other reasons may be more obvious such as:
– poverty
– a simple desire to seek a better life due to socio-economic hardship
– lack of education on cyber risk and vulnerability on social media, especially for children and teenagers
– a perceived opportunity to obtain quality education, and
– high levels of unemployment.

Further, inadequate legal frameworks and lack of expertise of law enforcement agents (particularly in sub-Saharan Africa) insufficiently trained to support the fight through investigation and prosecution of offenders have not helped in deterring the crime. Some ill-equipped agencies are up against international and often cross-continental technologically enabled networks through which the crime is managed from start to finish. All these factors and more, have left a huge gap which has festered for so long, it has created an enabling environment for the exploitation of vulnerable people in these situations.

 

The Way Forward

According to the United Nations Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking of Persons (ICAT), several initiatives have already been launched around the world on the use of technology to fight human trafficking. For example, there is a coalition of tech companies collaborating to combat human trafficking, known as ‘Tech Against Trafficking’. It is a multi-stakeholder network of international organizations that has successfully mapped technology tools that support anti-trafficking work. The technological solutions range from blockchain technology, artificial intelligence & machine learning assisting with predictability, profiling, and patterns, as well as visual processing software and satellite imagery all for traceability of victims, movement of their captors and transportation of victims. The question is, how readily available are these tools to law enforcement agencies in developing nations? Where they are available is there a concerted effort to drive training and competence in the use of the tools?

There is still much work to be done if we are honest with ourselves. Strengthening border controls and laws on gender-based crimes, as well as continuous education of young men and women as to the loopholes exploited by perpetrators and how they can protect themselves, remains critical. But beyond that, a multi-stakeholder and multi-dimensional approach must also be deployed to put an end to the economic hardship, societal practices and stigmas that are inimical to the deterrents of the vice. These conditions if not addressed, will only serve to continue to undermine the efforts to rehabilitate victims and protect their rights. One of the evils of human trafficking lies in the fact that it tends to completely strip people of their already fragile self-esteem and dignity, through persistent ill-treatment and dehumanizing acts. When persons in such situations are already stripped of their dignity, knowledge of and enforcement of their human rights becomes a pipe dream to them. This means that beyond physically rescuing victims of human trafficking, psychological and socio-economic rescue missions also to be undertaken for full rehabilitation to be achieved.

Sustainability, Energy Transition & Human Trafficking – The Nexus

A recurrent theme when one considers the reasons why human trafficking has persisted and seems to be growing, is sustainability. Virtually all the issues listed above can be traced to the very challenges that the UN Sustainable Development Goals seek to address. Challenges such as poverty, hunger, gender equality, decent work & economic growth, and peace and justice & strong institutions. These are some indicators of underdeveloped societies and drives home the importance of addressing these issues to curb a bigger problem.
If we can address what the real issues are, we are more likely to succeed in stemming the tide, and a key to addressing these challenges the SDGs seek to deal with, is economic empowerment. Economic empowerment thrives where the development goals of a country are being met. The development goals in turn are largely dependent on energy access. The growth of enterprise and industry in developing economies and in that regard, much of sub-Saharan Africa, naturally rides on the back of energy access and the right regulatory framework to support the implementation of development policies. This is one of the major reasons why the energy transition agenda for Africa cannot be treated with levity. Energy transition must not be treated as a trade-off for the socio-economic development of the continent. Rather, it is a veritable tool for driving growth and development of our economies if supported by both the developed and developing world, with a mindset of inclusivity and due consideration for the African context and development needs. If this approach is taken, energy access and transition can be an effective driver for reducing the scourge and eventually, putting an end to human trafficking in developing countries.

***Gray is Director, Governance and Sustainability at Sahara Group

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