Technology in the Fight Against Trafficking: Tracking Criminals and Helping Victims

By Mary Donovan, CLC Contributing Writer

Mary DonovanFrom mobile phones to big data analytics, technology can help in the fight against human trafficking. Access to a phone can enable a victim to call friends, family, or a hotline for help. Data trends enable us to study the patterns of trafficking and to know where to combat it. On the other hand, technology is definitely part of the problem of trafficking, as traffickers are quickly incorporating technology trends and social media in their recruitment of victims. This is why it is crucial to use technology as part of the solution.

While each incident of human trafficking differs in specifics, all have three clear steps, the acquisition step, the transportation step, and the final step of forced labor. Technology can help in each phase.

With access to technology, human trafficking can be avoided in the first place. Technology could directly connect a worker with a safe job, eliminating the need for a middleman, who may exploit the worker. Think of the impact of AirBnB and Uber on the hotel and taxi industries. What if workers could locate honest labor recruiters directly with technology? The supply side of human trafficking would diminish.

The Centro de los Derechos de Migrants launched a website,, which allows temporary Mexican workers to share their experiences working in the United States. The website also accepts reviews by text message and telephone. Workers can warn other workers, so labor abuses are not perpetuated and new migrant workers do not unknowingly put themselves in positions to be trafficked.

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10 Facts about Child Soldiers…

Boys play with a wooden gun used in re-enactment dramas, which can be part of rehabilitation therapy sessions. Many are familiar with how to handle the weapon.  Photographs from World Vision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu: daily life under World Vision’s care and reunions with their families; portraits to accompany Nigel Marsh interviews.  Please refer to Nigel Marsh Scribe stories and to the Winter 2005 WVUS magazine cover story.  Used in Winter 2005 World Vision Magazine - Pg. 12-13  Africa  digital  color  horizontal

Boys play with a wooden gun used in re-enactment dramas, which can be part of rehabilitation therapy sessions. Courtesy of World Vision

  • How do you define a ‘child soldier’? The UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (1990) defined childhood as under 18 years of age. In 1997 an International conference in Cape Town adopted the definition, “any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity…” A key 2nd Conference in Paris 2007[1] concluded with a definition of, “any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.”
  • The Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 of the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers estimated there are 300,000-plus child soldiers at any point in time[2]. Forty percent of those are thought to be girls[3]. Most are aged between 13-17 years, but they are accounts of children as young as 7.
  • Why do they join how do they become child soldiers? Many children are forcible recruited and brain washed. Children are cheap requiring less pay and food, available in times of conflict when schools, homes and other places of infrastructure are destroyed, convenient as they are teachable and vulnerable to both political persuasion and violence – particularly when their primary care giver is threatened, violated or killed.
  • We often view this as a human rights issue, but is it a peace issue? War intensifies poverty and poverty reduces or destroys the power of choice and increases vulnerability to extreme political agenda. Quickly the gap between an active civilian life and one of organized violence is bridged.
  • How do children evolve from being normal, moral children to brutal soldiers able to carry out atrocities? The training varies across geographical areas, but common threads include a baptism of fire approach into a culture of violence, fueling a culture of control and obedience that is often rewarded by greater access to food or health care for example. Isolation increases the culture of fear amongst the children and unquestioning obedience. Following orders is rewarded by the protection of ones life. An encouragement to devalue and dehumanize the enemy creates the ability for commanders to lead the children in to a ‘new moral space[4] where the rules are totally different and following them is the only thing that guarantees their protection. Over time most children adapt to their new set of values and often when this is paired with a political awakening to explain their poverty this becomes a compelling motivation for committing violence.
  • Geographically the issue is global. All states should have an interest in the protection of children from recruitment as child soldiers. From Angola, to the DRC, to Colombia, to Afghanistan, to Indonesia, to Nepal, to Russia, to Iran and to the Sudan to name but a few – every continent has at some point been affected.
  • The implementation of national Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs following the end of armed conflict involves soldiers turning in their weapons, the formal disbanding of military groups including the surrender of uniforms and the release of combatants and finally the longer term process of reintegration to civilian life, finding viable roles for former soldiers and places of education. These programs are as necessary for children as adult soldiers. More tailor-made programs are require and a greater sharing of knowledge of effective programs would radically increase their success.
  • Attacking poverty is critically important. Lack of educational and vocational opportunity is a major contributory factor for children remaining with their role and identity as a soldier. Continuing as a child soldier provides them with an infrastructure within which to be fed and survive.
  • What can be done to protect vulnerable children? Prevention and protection must be sought and struggled for. Global campaigns to strengthen child protection must be pursued. Research that identifies effective DDR programs must be conducted. Strengthening the International Criminal Court and its ability to prosecute child recruiters; building into international peace agreements provision for children’s DDRs and preventing further recruitment and penalties administered by the UN Security Council on countries that trade weapons with countries that exploit children as soldiers are also critical to solving this problem.
  • How can we increase the effectiveness of intervention programs? We can do a better job of gathering success stories of prevention and rehabilitation and disseminating them. There are some incredible stories of success from which we can take courage and continue to move forward with hope and purpose.


[1] Co-hosted by UNICEF and the French Government.

[2] Child Soldiers, From Violence to Protection, Michael Wessells, Harvard Press. Page 9.

[3] Save The Children UK 2005.

[4] Child Soldiers, From Violence to Protection, Michael Wessells, Harvard Press. Page 65.

This list was compiled by CLC Contributing Writer Deborah Andrews.


The Top 10 Child Labor Stories of 2015

by Sally Greenberg

Executive Director, National Consumers League and Co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition

[Originally published 1/6/2016 in the Huffington Post]

sallyThere were plenty of ups and downs in the fight against child labor this year. With an estimated 168 million children still trapped in exploitative labor, including 85 million doing hazardous work, we have an ambitious agenda ahead of us in 2016. Here are 10 highs and lows from 2015:

  1. The U.S. Department of Labor’s international child labor programs avoided the ax of conservative appropriators in the Congressional budget package released on December 17. During the battle, the child labor advocacy community argued that the International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) plays a vital role in the fight against child labor, which has seen a reduction of nearly 80 million children over the last 15 years. ILAB documents the prevalence of child labor on a country-by-country basis, and then uses that information to fund about $60 million in remediation programs each year. In the end, appropriators shaved off $5 million but kept these valuable programs intact.
  2. In June, India’s government provisionally approved a huge loophole in a 2012 ban on child work under the age of 14. Unfortunately, it allows children under that age to work in “family enterprises,” which will make child labor laws harder to enforce. Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi noted that millions of Indian children said to be working in family businesses are actually sold into bonded labor and other forms of slavery. A New York Times editorial weighed in on the proposed policy in June, and the advocacy community continued to fight against the proposal as the year drew to a close.
  3. The battle against child labor in U.S. tobacco continued to gather strength in 2015. Altria Group, parent to three tobacco companies, implemented a new policy (announced in late 2014) that prohibits its growers from hiring children under 16. Implementing and monitoring such a policy presents challenges, and it’s difficult to gauge yet how well that policy is working, but it’s good to see a step forward and an acknowledgement that children and teens should not be harvesting this hazardous crop. The members of the Child Labor Coalition, which my organization coordinates, continue to press for a total ban on workers under 18. We organized a House and Senate briefing on child labor in tobacco this year. Legislation in the House, HR 1848, with 19 co-sponsors, and a companion bill in the Senate, S.974, with seven co-sponsors, would both ban child labor in tobacco. More than 40,000 individuals signed an petition asking President Obama and Secretary of Labor Perez to ban child labor in the crop.
  4. Child Labor in hazardous gold mining received focused attention in 2015. In April, ILAB, the CLC, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) convened a stakeholder meeting to improve child labor interventions in small-scale gold mining communities. In May, a government report from Burkina Faso revealed that nearly 20,000 children were working in small-scale gold mines–part of an upsurge over the last few years. In June, HRW released Precious Metal, Cheap Labor: Child Labor and Corporate Responsibility in Ghana’s Artisanal Gold Mines, documenting the use of child labor in Ghana’s unlicensed mines and the use of highly toxic mercury by children. HRW asked refiners to take immediate steps to eliminate gold from their supply chains. In September, HRW released a report on child labor in small-scale gold mining in the Philippines, exploring the dangerous work of underwater compressor divers. PBS NewsHour won an Emmy for its coverage of this most-dangerous form of child labor.
  5. In July, Tulane University researchers estimated that 2.12 million child laborers were still working in cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana during the 2014-2014 harvest. The study, commissioned by ILAB, found a 59 percent increase in the number of children in cocoa production since the last survey in 2008/2009–despite a decade-and-half-long multi-stakeholder initiative to reduce child labor in cocoa led by the West African countries and the major chocolate companies. Researchers found a 46 percent increase in hazardous work by children on the cocoa plantations.
  6. News out of Panama in 2015 showed an almost 50 percent reduction in child labor over two years. The census by the Panamanian government reported a drop from 50,410 children in child labor (about seven percent of childhood population) to 26,710. Advocates express hope that the country could be largely child labor-free in the next few years.
  7. In May, South Sudan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, followed by Somalia in October, leaving the United States as the only UN Nation not to ratify the international child rights treaty. HRW’s Jo Becker shares her views on what it means for the United States to be in a “Club of One.”
  8. In September, the Department of Labor’s ILAB launched the Sweat and Toil app, putting more than 1,000 pages of country-by-country research on child labor and forced labor in the palm of consumers’ hands. We’ve never had such easy access to supply chain info, nor been able to track individual countries’ progress in removing child labor and slavery. An android version of the app will be available shortly.
  9. Mega retailer Target announced a partnership with CLC member GoodWeave to sell child-labor-free certified rugs. We rarely see major corporations making that type of commitment to join the fight against child labor, and we applaud this partnership, which will help reduce the number of children who are chained to the loom.
  10. This year has seen progress in cleaning up South Asia’s notorious brick kilns. In February, officials helped free 333 bonded kiln workers, including 75 children, in Pudukuppam, India. Workers were paid $3 a week, if they were paid at all. There were a number of similar raids during the year. An ongoing program, “Better Brick Nepal,” conducted by CLC members Global Fairness Initiative and GoodWeave, is working to ensure that laborers who produce bricks are not exploited and that Nepal’s 60,000 child brick workers are protected.

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