Emerging Technologies and Child Protection—— the Global Leadership Seminar on Child Protection


This morning, Monday 8 July 2019, Mrs Wei Hong of Alibaba gave a presentation entitled ‘New Approaches to Combat Human Trafficking: Mobilizing Social Participation’. Since 1999 Alibaba’s technology-driven e-commerce platform has been accredited with creating a world of streamlined and effective business transactions globally. Now in its 20th year, Alibaba is focussing its efforts on myriad social justice initiatives, most notably the ‘Reunion’ Anti-human trafficking platform of which was the focus of today’s presentation. Reunion’s mission is to leverage private sector solutions and mobilise social participation across governmental and civilian sectors, increasing the probability of discovering of missing children. The problem until now has been the difficulty of access to clues, the gathering of conflicting clues, and the absence of effective communication between police officers from different regions and different rankings.

This has been circumvented via Reunion’s Law Enforcement Interface based on ‘Dingtalk’, an instant messaging application developed by Alibaba. Over 6000 anti-human trafficking police use the platform to corroborate their information, triangulate sources and coordinate their forces without the bureaucratic and geographical dislocation hitherto experienced. The ethical details of the application are fine-tuned, requiring that the parents consent to the police posting their missing child’s bio-information online. This information is shared with other Alibaba partner-applications and within one hour the missing-child notification reach a 100km radius, then enabling civilians to provide any clues they may possess. Once the child has been found, the police will validate the missing child’s parents by cross-referencing DNA located in a DNA map or database, set up by the Ministry of Public Security in China.

Alibaba hopes to roll out this service free-of-charge by countries the world over. The effectiveness of the project resounds loudly: after the first month of Reunion’s operation in China, the rate of finding missing children was at 89% and now the success rate sits at 98%. The global reach of the project cannot happen without the joint cooperation and participation of various countries, NGOs and public support. However there are some matters that must be fine-tuned before this can be adopted by other countries, including the use of a state-run DNA system to match missing children with their parents, which would likely be a grave concern in the area of privacy law and would arouse many an ethical debate. Also there are country-specific issues that will be hard-addressed by Reunion being informed by its Chinese context. Catherine of the Philippines raised the more insidious nature of children going missing in her country, a slow process of familial dislocation resulting in the impossibility of identifying the child differing from Reunion’s response to instant trafficking cases. In any case, the implementation of this services hinges on multilateral cooperation between countries.

The second portion of the morning session was a comprehensive presentation entitled ‘Technology’s Role in Child Protection’ led by interns Allison and Lawrence from the United States. The presentation provided a broad and useful overview of the available new technologies such as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Online Communities, Mobile Technology, Data Management and Sharing and Blockchain and current and global case examples of organisations using these technologies to address children’s rights. One noteworthy example given was the ‘Raspberry pie’ also known as MicroBit, a mini-computer that gives disadvantaged children around the world the opportunity to learn coding and diversify their career skill-set. The problem, however, with these technologies is that they can also be harnessed for damaging agendas particularly the misuse of children’s data. Deepika Murali raised the issue of how the data used by social media applications is not regulated, which leads to unbridled circulation of damaging content involving children. To address this, participants Kiiya Joel Kiiya and Mariya Brestnichka raised the need to implement offline education to raise awareness of both parents and children regarding online threats such as online bullying, the ubiquity of fake news and the circulation of damaging content depicting children as NGOs cannot compete with the underregulation of modern technologies.

After lunch the participants engaged in a discussion focalising the merits and challenges of technology being used to address children’s rights as well as the damaging effects of technology in areas of child bullying, child exploitation, child pornography and trafficking. So how can we use technology as a combative tool against itself and the damage it can procure? Hishom from Indonesia reached the crux of the issue — with great technology comes great responsibility. Some of the glaring issues raised today were cross-country cases of child trafficking where the perpetrator escapes jurisdiction and disappears. With no regional and multilateral legal processes in this area, countries like Indonesia are left powerless even if they are part of a regional bloc. Mayya mentioned the same problem that even the EU and its respective regional legal mechanisms leave a substantive gap in this area giving due power to human traffickers.

The participants also cited the legal implementation gap and lack of infrastructure as major hurdles in protecting children from cyber crime. Deepika Murali pointed to India’s Information Technology Act 2000, which criminalises making, possessing, downloading or streaming child pornography but has resulted in almost no convictions as police often don’t know how to effect investigations for crimes that have occurred in cyber-space. This rests on a lack of infrastructure in many Indian states and police units don’t have the IP addresses with fast-speed internet to track down evidence of incriminating files. NGOs and civil societies have held educational seminars with the aim of versing police officers in how to investigate by using electronic evidence and prosecute under the specific cyber crime provision of sexual assault rather than more established legal provisions. More work is needed on educating on investigative processes and on providing developed technologies to combat the abuses of technologies.

Lastly was a group discussion on Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) led by Mayya Rustakova. Although not all participants are members of ECPAT, most had valid contributions regarding how to best create a system that addresses the same challenges plaguing all countries. The emanating question was the lack of concrete reporting mechanisms and particularities members. Lopamudra Mullick noted that ECPAT must develop a uniform universal template for all members to lodge and specify which indicators are to be reported on. Suggestions on reporting particularities included: the number of cases and number of children who have received member support; the number of child trafficking cases in the member-country as a whole; conviction rates; fundraising initiatives; important case studies and internal policy frameworks. An annual situational report from each ECPAT member considering legal and political developments would be ideal for ensuring ECPAT’s success in the future.