Online Traps for Women and Girls Expanding


To address online trafficking of women and girls, both companies and the state need to create effective policies, writes GYAN PATHAK.

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Online traps for women and girls have been expanding and have become stronger in the recent months. Social media platforms are being used for trafficking and recruiting potential victims. Despite the plethora of existing anti-trafficking legal and policy frameworks at the national, regional, and international levels, the perpetrators enjoy widespread impunity. COVID-19 has worsened the situation across the world.

This fact is already known to the people, but its expression in the report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has special significance. The UN rights committee has called for crackdown on trafficking of women and girls in the digital age, because the increased online traps are designed to recruit potential victims.

Despite the global rise in trafficking in cyberspace, the identity of the perpetrators are mostly hidden, because the online demand has been channelled through social media, dark web, and messaging platforms. Increased recruitment of vulnerable people by traffickers for online sexual exploitation has been on the rise along with an increased demand for child sexual abuse material and technology-facilitated child sex trafficking, it has been reported. 

To tackle the problem, it has brought forward general recommendation on trafficking in women and girls in the context of global migration, which needs to be taken seriously by all the stakeholders.

There are also file sharing platforms, many of them are hidden, and accessed through virtual private networks (VPNs). Anonymous crypto-currencies are also used for money transactions. 

To tackle the problem, it has brought forward general recommendation on trafficking in women and girls in the context of global migration, which needs to be taken seriously by all the stakeholders. In the Committee’s view, this situation persists due to a lack of appreciation of the gender dimensions of trafficking in general and trafficking in women and girls in particular, who are exposed to different types of exploitation, including sexual exploitation. 

For addressing the use of digital technology in trafficking, the report calls for responsibility of social media and messaging platform companies for exposure of women and girls to trafficking and sexual exploitation as users of their services. Such companies are required to define the relevant controls to mitigate these risks. They must put in place the appropriate governance structure and procedures which will allow them to be reactive in their response and provide the relevant level of information to the concerned authorities. They also require using their existing capabilities in ‘big data’, artificial intelligence, and analytics to identify any pattern that could lead to trafficking and identification of the involved parties, including the demand side. 

States have greater responsibilities to protect the women and girls from being exploited. They are obliged to do so under international laws. Therefore, they should call for the existing digital technology companies to increase transparency, CEDAW said. 

Since electronic currencies are also being used anonymously in trafficking, it has been recommended that the governments should aim to initiate and create platforms. For example, the use of electronic currencies that are based on disclosed user information, such as beneficial owner, ordering costumer and services, or goods related to the transactions as part of the central bank’s systems. States must ensure that anti-money laundering laws are effectively implemented in order to disincentivize the use of electronic currencies based on user anonymity. 

They must put in place the appropriate governance structure and procedures which will allow them to be reactive in their response and provide the relevant level of information to the concerned authorities.

During the COVID-19 and afterwards, initiation of proactive identification of production of on-line sexual abuse material is recommended for the governments. 

The UN body asked the governments to cooperate with technology companies in creating automated tools to detect online recruitment and identity of traffickers, and strengthen partnerships between public and private sectors to address pandemic related increases of this crime. It also called for information sharing between digital interactive platforms in order to facilitate international cooperation in combating trafficking and sexual exploitation and assist law enforcement efforts. Companies are asked to improve data collection, ensure that data is up to date and provide reliable information sharing,

Women and girls in vulnerable positions must be enabled by better awareness of the trap, their rights, and the means of motivation to avoid human traffickers. They should also be provided access to the mechanism to report their exploitation and potential traffickers. Victims’ rights must be upheld, and it should be ensured that innocent women and girls are not arbitrarily arrested, abused, and falsely charged, the report has recommended. 

A gendered analysis of the crime reveals that its root causes lie in sex-based discrimination.

The failure to address the prevailing economic and patriarchal structures and the adverse and gender-differentiated impact of labour, migration, and asylum regimes creates situations of vulnerabilities, leading to trafficking of women and girls. The dominant economic policies further exacerbate large-scale economic inequality manifesting as labour exploitation, including denial by corporations, public procurement officials, and employers, of an obligation to ensure that there are no trafficked persons in their supply or production chain. 

Victims’ rights must be upheld, and it should be ensured that innocent women and girls are not arbitrarily arrested, abused, and falsely charged, the report has recommended. 

Globalized macroeconomic and political factors, including the privatization of public goods, deregulated labour markets, the shrinking of the welfare state and austerity measures as part of structural adjustment policies and aid conditionality, often exacerbate unemployment and poverty. They produce economic policies, such as reduction in government spending on social services and privatization of public goods and services, regressive tax shifts and labour market reforms. All of these severely hamper the state’s abilities to implement social policies that lay the basis for dismantling structural inequalities, including gendered inequalities and violations of women’s human rights in different spheres. 

Reduced social expenditures furthermore shift the responsibilities for basic social services from the government to women. These factors reinforce, and are perpetuated by, discriminatory cultural and social norms that engender oppression of different groups of women. 

It is therefore certain that criminal law alone is unable to address or redress the crime of trafficking, the report says. It noted the uneven harmonization of laws, including the definition of trafficking both between countries and within countries, complexity of the financial operations, powerlessness of justice system which are often corrupt, underfunded and under resourced to fight against powerful trafficking nets. (IPA)

(Gyan Pathak is a journalist. Views are personal.)



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