Biometrics: An Emerging Initiative against Child Trafficking

Among 45.8 million victims of human trafficking globally in 2016, 75% are women and girls and 25% of them are children. According to the United Nations, human trafficking generates $150 billion a year, making it the third most profitable criminal activity in the world, behind drug and arms. Children living in rural areas are particularly at risk of trafficking as they often hold no identification, which makes them invisible to authorities and easier for traffickers to smuggle domestically and across borders with fake documents.

Iris Biometric child trafficking

Roll call using iris recognition in a Kenyan school

Emerging as an initiative to fight against child trafficking, biometrics is being deployed in certain parts of the world as an effort of governments and NGOs in recent years. Biometrics is biological metrics of human which is unique to individual. Hence, it’s an innovative way of identity authentication instead of using paper documents which can be forged easily. Biometric-based systems are being developed in various ways in order to be able to tackle different problems in each country and region.

India, along with its ambition to register its 1.3 billion people with fingerprint and iris recognition, is the will to join the war on child trafficking. According to statistics, India has the most slaves in the world, 18.4 million. Much of those are minors, with an estimate of 135,000 children trafficked every year. UIDAI will collect biometric data of all children in institutes (orphanages, juvenile homes, etc.) at the age between 6 and 18. The data will be distributed to law enforcement agencies that will use it to find missing children, curb human trafficking and check illegal adoptions.

In another effort by Kenyan government, biometric school management system is being applied in around 300 schools in Kenya to track attendance of pupils using iris recognition. For instance, an affordable iris scanner is connected to a simple smart phone to do the enrollment and identification of students. The information is then saved in a secure server. Once the data is transmitted to a server via 3G networks, it is encrypted using military grade specs. The school can use the mobile app to do the roll call and access the data via a dashboard in real time.

The key advantages of this solution are firstly, the iris technology is stable since children reach their 18 months old; secondly, the system is affordable and easy to deploy and lastly, text messages will be sent to parents if their child is late or absent. In this way, parents and schools will be able to address the issues quickly before they get out of hand. According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest share of child trafficking in the world. With such advantages, the same system can be replicating in other African countries to make a comprehensive impact.

At the same time, biometrics together with blockchain is going to be piloted by the end of this year in Moldova, Europe’s poorest country. Under the project, children, who may be potential victims of traffickers, will get a digital identity based on biometrics that will eventually be stored on blockchain. Vendor intends to develop the digital ID platform to link children’s identity with their family members. Children trying to exit the country will have to have their eyes or fingerprints scanned. A phone alert would notify their legal guardians, who will have to approve the border crossing.

Human trafficking is a global phenomenon to which no country is immune. Governments and NGOs all over the world are making significant efforts to eliminate such cruelty. Of all measures, biometrics is emerging as a tool to provide individuals with proper identity especially those in rural areas with less privilege and social barriers. This will not only prevent traffickers from committing their crime, but also help children to claim back their privileges and have a better life in long term.