Indo-China is a source, a destination and a transit area for every illicit trade from drugs through flora and fauna to people. But in the case of people, the internet has brought new ways of abusing, mainly, children and young persons.
The Financial Crime Forum Indo-China 2023 will concentrate on how payments tech and the internet has changed the face of both human trafficking and the nature of abuse.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, Loas , Cambodia Thailand, Indonesia and other countries in Indochina and South East Asia have long been destinations for sex tourism but it doesn't end there: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all have their own problems.
Sex tourism remains a serious problem but human trafficking for sex purposes, also a long-standing area of concern, has reached the public consciousness in recent years. Be it voluntary prostitution or sex working by force, fraud or coercion, there is an industry dedicated to trying to prevent it. Even forced marriage comes into play.
Sex voyeurism, always a problem, has grown exponentially with ever greater accessibility through the internet. Distribution of pornography has become simple. The formation of groups of like minded individuals has resulted in the development of vast libraries of photographs and videos of relatively mild porn to that of the utmost depravity. Intelligence and investigation-led arrests demonstrate the possibilities but they are resource-hungry.
Worse, while porn-to-order has been available since the days of portable film cameras, its latest iteration, live-streaming of abuse, is growing exponentially. Victims are tortured while someone sits at home issuing instructions as to what to do next. Let's not be coy: just as in the streets where abused children are left in the gutter to die, the victims of 4G and 5G-enabled are sometimes killed on screen or so horribly injured that they die later. It's an industry where kids are sold or rented out by poor parents - or where designer-porn requires the kidnapping of a victim meeting a specification.
It's an industry where victims are advertised in a face (and body) book and depraved and violent acts performed by an agent acting on the instructions of someone who is records and watches the suffering of another person at his whim.
But sexual abuse and trafficking are not the only forms of abuse enabled by technology. For decades, children have been put in the streets to beg. In 1996, I learned that, in India, parents would break the bones of their children, resetting them into deformity, because deformed children get more donations. Today, as the BBC recently reported, TikTok is used as a platform for begging by families which push their children to the fore. The BBC investigation found that the begging it looked at was both necessary and benign but there is no doubt that, once the market becomes used to semi-clothed children with flies in their eyes, the next step for some will be mutilation. Platforms other than TikTok, which apparently takes 70% of sums donated, will soon find that this business is lucrative and if it's lucrative, the criminals move in. Many will be independent: try searching Google for host tick tok clone. There are dozens of entries explaining how to make and host your own version.
Of course, the use of the internet for begging is not new. It's not even hidden. GoFundMe, a crowdsourcing platform, has long been - with others - used by both genuine and fraudulent persons seeking money. Many of those show children with medical conditions, some of which include deformity but bald kids are very prominent, too. In one Asian city, migrants run a baby factory so that beggars always have a supply of infants to use as their prop.
These threats are not going away and nor are the complexities of detection and prosecution.
There are successes and long prison sentences.
Like most trades, it's works because someone pays and someone profits.
That's where financial services companies come in.
We are not overstating the case when we say that stemming the flow of money can stem misery and death.
Just as with drugs, there is a moral imperative to act.
Financial Services businesses including banks remittance companies and fintechs, internet service providers and platform hosts, bulletin board operators, telcos and airlines all play a part in keeping this industry ahead. So is corruption especially in immigration departments.
They are, mostly, an inadvertent part of the problem but they can be a significant part of the solution.
Come and join us in Manila in June 2023.
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