'Surge in virtual human trafficking'

'Surge in virtual human trafficking'

Technology is fuelling a surge in "virtual" human trafficking.

In recent years, more sexually exploitative images and videos - particularly of children - are being shared on the Internet, said Ms Bindu Sharma, who is the Asia-Pacific policy director at the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

Ms Sharma said that in the past, such virtual human trafficking took place on a smaller scale, as the pictures had to be physically exchanged.

These are now easily distributed online, leading to a booming child pornography industry worth US$250 million (S$316 million).

A 2010 United Nations report found that about 50,000 new child pornography images are generated each year.

"It's a money-making e-commerce (operation)," said Ms Sharma yesterday on the sidelines of a human trafficking seminar organised by the Singapore Management University and Singapore Inter-Agency Task Force on Trafficking in Persons.

Another worry is the rise in human trafficking cases for the purpose of forced labour.

A 2012 UN report found that 58 per cent of all trafficking cases detected are for sexual exploitation, while 36 per cent involve forced labour - a share that has doubled over the past four years.

More male victims have also been identified since 2008 when anti-trafficking organisations began to look beyond sexual exploitation, said Mr Jonathan Martens, who is a senior migrant assistance specialist at the Bangkok regional office of the International Organisation for Migration.

Victims of forced labour are often men who work in industries like agriculture and construction.

Mr Martens said the fight against human trafficking must involve people from all walks of life - not just those at the very top.

He said: "Everyone has a role to play. Trafficking is not something far away."

"Every single one of us, in some way, benefits from a trafficking situation, or a forced labour situation in what we buy, what we sell," he added.

Public consultation on a Bill to to tackle human trafficking, proposed in Parliament by Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza, is ongoing.

Mr Zhang Weihan, a member of the Secretariat for the Singapore Inter-Agency Task Force on Trafficking in Persons, echoing Mr Martens' point, said: "It can't be just a whole-of-government response to human trafficking. It should be a whole-of-Singapore response."

asyiqins@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 5 in The Straits Times.

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