The Unglamorous, Lifesaving Work of Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts

Amrita* was an 18 year old girl from Nepal traveling with a male companion, who appeared to be her trafficker, across the Nepal-India border into India for a job. While in transit Amrita appeared extremely nervous and afraid, catching the attention of our border monitoring staff. The manner in which a person is behaving can often raise suspicion about the situation at hand and our staff is trained to observe people’s manner, appearance and actions for clues something may be wrong. Because of Amrita’s initial behavior and appearance, the staff decided to approach Amrita and ask her a few questions.

Amrita explained she was on her way to India for a job. The staff did some investigating, called Amrita’s claimed place of work, and learned the job and place of work was not real. Traffickers often lure their victims with the promise of a job, but the staff at Tiny Hands, a Christian nonprofit doing anti-trafficking  work, among other things, are trained to call and confirm details about the job if it is the reason given by the victim for travel. In this particular case, there was enough evidence to bring in the police to help, ultimately taking the trafficker into custody.

Amrita’s story is an example of how a transit monitoring model plays an integral role in anti-human trafficking prevention.

Scope of Human Trafficking in Nepal and Bangladesh

Most recent estimates state there are nearly 36 million slaves in the world today. Trafficking victims are subjected to horrid conditions and several of the most horrific crimes including deception, kidnapping, rape, torture, and enslavement. Over half of the world’s trafficking victims are in South Asia (India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan). The state of trafficking from Nepal and Bangladesh into India is hard to quantify because definitive numbers are not agreed upon. However, an estimate of 10,000 victims a year from Nepal and 20,000 victims a year from Bangladesh is a conservatively realistic estimate according to sources.

Pre-Trafficking and Post- Trafficking Intervention

Most of the work to combat human trafficking can be broadly categorized into pre-trafficking and post-trafficking interventions. When implemented correctly, both play an indispensable role in the fight against trafficking, but both also have limitations. Post-trafficking interventions respond to cases after the damage has already occurred, often times results in outdated intelligence, and comes with high costs accompany the level of care needed for victims.  Pre-Trafficking interventions assume we are correctly identifying individuals who are in need of the awareness or prevention without necessarily having the accurate foreknowledge of who specifically is at risk. Additionally, it’s extremely difficult to measure the success of awareness efforts. 

Transit Monitoring Prevention Strategy

Transit Monitoring attacks trafficking at the most strategic moment—while it is in the process of occurring, but before victims have been exploited or enslaved. The main component of this strategy is what is called a Border Monitoring Station (or Transit Monitoring Station, depending on the location) which comprises of highly trained local staff standing in public areas like border crossing or transit stations who watch for sign of trafficking, stop girls potentially at risk, and question the potential victims and suspected trafficker for more details of their travel based on a question protocol form. This model was refined and further developed by Tiny Hands International and currently being implanted in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. Although Tiny Hands staff don’t have the legal authority to prevent a women or child from traveling, there are three ways we can help prevent potential victims from traveling such as calling the parents, informing police, and education and convince the victims they are at risk of being exploited.

Data Collection and Research

Prevention alone does not stop at interceptions. Accurate information about trafficking is needed and critical to fighting the issue which is why highly prioritizing data collection is extremely important when fighting injustice. The questioning protocol carried out by border staff includes staff filling out a series of forms that allows Tiny Hands to gather large amounts of up-to-date information about trafficking including demographic information, how victims are recruited, what promises were made, how they travel, where they are going and what for, as well as detailed information about traffickers.

Because of data collection, the transit/border monitoring model is tangible, measurable, and has a very high impact on the dollar. Since 2009, our staff has intercepted 10,517 victims before they have been exploited. Over the last five years, Tiny Hands as intercepted an average of 125 women and children per month and on average each intercept costs $100. Our database also contains intelligence on over 3,000 traffickers which has helped secured 40 trafficker convictions in the last four years.

In today’s age, for-profit businesses have long recognized the value of data. Companies like Google, Amazon, and Netflix as well as professional sports teams, cable networks, and health care industries prioritize data collection and use data analysis in their daily operations to make gains above competitors, implement solutions for success, and identifying trends to make more money. If data analysis provide strategic success in the for-profit sector, similar advantages are available (yet not nearly as tapped into) to the non-profit sector.

The Bigger Picture

So why is something like data collection and analysis a seemingly low priority in the non-profit sector? Human trafficking is an emotionally charged issue and when people hear about this injustice, they feel compelled to over simplified and knee jerk responses to an issue that is complex, difficult and requires a great deal of time, hard work, consistency, ongoing research, sacrifice, and dedication. Anti-trafficking work is not glamorous and not something we can effectively solve through emotional responses alone. The fight against trafficking needs data and research driven action, partnerships, long term financial support, commitment, professionals, experts, and prayer partners.

Let’s dig into the different facets of anti-trafficking work and specifically Tiny Hands’ prevention model. Since Tiny Hands staff do not have the legal authority to prevent women and children from traveling, relationships with the government and law enforcement are extremely strategic in prevention efforts especially since trafficking is illegal. Working relationships with the government and law enforcement allow our staff to provide them intelligence on traffickers, support arrests and convictions of suspected traffickers, support the capacity of key players, provide ongoing support and monitoring, and accountability in carrying out the law. All the staff working at border and transit stations are local nationals, but expat staff are working behind the scenes researching, creating and implementing effective strategies and empowering local staff to see them to fruition.

Aftercare and socially ethical business models also play a unique role in anti-trafficking work. For example, since Tiny Hands specifically doesn’t provide aftercare or long term housing for at risk victims who do not feel safe at home, our staff also develop working relationships with local and international aftercare organization and socially responsible business to provide emotional stability and future opportunity for victims. The implementation of our model is only possible through the financial and prayer support from the global church. The church comes to know about Tiny Hands through awareness teachers, passionate advocates, and fundraisers all equipped with up to date information from our data to paint the most accurate picture. Data, underestimated and seemingly boring and tedious, is changing the landscape of how we tackle this injustice.  

Just imagine if data analysts from Google used some of their expertise in the non-profit world to help empower local efforts. Similarly, anti-trafficking work needs journalists, counselors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, accountants, marketing gurus, communication specialists, political leaders, event planners, teachers, healthcare professionals, and more  to strategically use their skills to bring light into the darkness of human trafficking by new innovative and powerful means.

-Hannah Husmann is a Data Analyst for Tiny Hands International