Human Trafficking Hotline: Mobile Phones in the Fight Against Slavery

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Aug 08, 2007

Mobile phones are a vital resource in the fight against human trafficking. We hear occasionally of stories like this recent one from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysian police tracked down a syndicate using foreign women as sex slaves after receiving text messages from the women allegedly being held against their will.

According to the Star, "groups of gangsters in the eastern Sarawak state on Borneo island are believed to be holding women from the Philippines, Indonesia and China as prostitutes for foreign labourers working at the massive Bakun hydroelectric dam construction site in the state." One of the women obtained the mobile number of a reporter from the English daily and began sending SMS messages that the Star reported to police. A police raid resulted in the arrest of a local pimp and 10 women from Indonesia, the Philippines and China.

Meanwhile, in the Ukraine, three of the country's carriers are collaborating with the International Organization for Migration and set up a toll-free trafficking hotline. According to a report on Radio Netherlands, "customers of Ukrainian mobile phone service providers KyivStar, MTS and life:) can dial '527' from their handsets in order to receive information and advice from the IOM on migration and trafficking issues." The short code routes calls to a free IOM service providing information on the current realities facing migrants abroad including human trafficking and the consequences of irregular entry and stay in foreign countries. Migrants can also request information on legal methods of migration.

Human trafficking is a global issue but has strong resonance in the Ukraine. The IOM estimates that 100,000 Ukrainians have been trafficked for various forms of exploitation since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The population has dropped by over five million in the last 15 years.

According to Radio Netherland, Economic migrants Post-Soviet Ukraine has seen large numbers of its population leave for western Europe and beyond as economic migrants. The mobile phone networks reach as many as 40 million Ukrainians.

The toll-free short number complements other ongoing counter-trafficking activities of IOM in Ukraine. These include a new trafficking prevention campaign “Say ‘Stop!’ to Traffickers” targeting the youth who are particularly vulnerable to the crime, according to IOM's press release. For the last five years, IOM has provided assistance to more than 4,000 victims of trafficking in Ukraine including medical care, psychological counselling, reintegration grants, vocational training and legal assistance.

This creative private/NGO partnership is replicable elsewhere on issues of human trafficking but also AIDS, disaster relief and prevention, and other issues where NGO and public partners provide vital information via text or short number hotlines. If you know of similar efforts, please let us know in the comments!


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