Malaysian NGOs Launch Region's First Mobile App Against Human Trafficking

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
2018-04-19
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180419-MY-app-620.jpg Members of the Malaysian NGO Change Your World and Tenaganita, a rights group, show their new mobile phone app “Be My Protector,” which allows the public to report human-trafficking activities, during a news conference in Puchong, near Kuala Lumpur, April 19, 2018.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Malaysian nongovernmental organizations on Thursday unveiled “Be My Protector,” a mobile phone app aimed at helping people report cases of human trafficking, including foreign migrant workers.

Tenaganita and Change Your World (CYW) said they spent two years developing the app to reach diverse groups in Malaysia, which has a migrant population of 3.1 million. The app, which is free and available in eight languages, allows a victim – or anyone who has identified possible trafficking victims – to attach photographs and anonymously file a report.

Aegile Fernandez, director of Tenaganita, a migrant and refugee rights group, said the idea came from realizing that her group and others needed to reach more victims of human trafficking in the Malaysian west coast state of Selangor and elsewhere.

“Selangor is the gateway and has the highest number of cases [of human trafficking],” she said during the app’s launch in Puchong city, Selangor, where Tenaganita is based. “How do we reach them, what do we do?”

In 2015, Tenaganita identified a low-income public housing area of Mentari Court in Petaling Jaya as a hotspot of trafficking.

“We began to receive cases from Mentari Court that involved students and traffickers who were posing as students at the universities,” she said, noting that at least seven private colleges were within 5 km (3 miles) of the housing area.

“It was happening in the colleges and universities, but nobody wanted to believe that,” she said.

Government efforts

The Malaysian government, meanwhile, has touted its efforts to combat human trafficking.

In January, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters that a special court to deal with human trafficking cases would be established in June. He said the court was a crucial component of the government’s effort to fight human trafficking.

As many as 282 human trafficking cases were prosecuted last year, compared with 131 in 2016 and 26 in 2015, Zahid said.

In June 2017, the U.S. State Department upgraded Malaysia in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report that ranks countries in their efforts to combat the problem. The department bumped Malaysia up by a notch to a Tier 2 ranking from its Tier 2 Watch List.

The TIP report credited the government with increasing efforts to identify trafficking victims, but said Malaysia fell short on protection. Government officials said they hoped to reach Tier 1 status by 2020.

“It is a huge problem because we have a lot of migrant workers here, and Malaysia will be measured globally by how we treat the victims of human trafficking,” said Hannah Yeoh, former speaker of the Selangor State Legislative Assembly.

Partnering in protecting people

Tenaganita and Change Your World say they are targeting 100,000 downloads of the new app by the end of 2018 and about 1 million by 2023. It is the first anti-human trafficking mobile app in Southeast Asia, developers said.

CYW co-founder Kelvin Lim told BenarNews his organization would promote the app while Tenaganita, which has been dealing with human trafficking during the past three decades, would investigate the complaints.

“If they find that [a report] is real, they will call police,” he said, adding that Tenaganita would begin investigations of reports within 24 hours.

Crime analyst Kamal Affandi Hashim applauded the app, saying it should help government efforts against traffickers.

“Even though TIP showed that the country is in the Tier 2 list, the channelling of information has to continue to increase government efforts in tracking and rescuing victims and in charging culprits,” said Kamal, a former police officer.

However, Kamal expressed concern that the app could be used to spread fake information.

“If the data is not secured carefully, it can have a bad impact on the victims,” he said.

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