Professor's role in fight against child trafficking
Child rights organisation Plan International were awarded 4,000,000 Euro funding from the Dutch Postcode Lottery, to develop and deliver a Missing Children Alert (MCA) system and have commissioned Professor Eddie Halpin from the University's Faculty of Art, Environment and Technology, to undertake a six-month feasibility study on their proposals, with funding of $127,000.
Professor Halpin, explains: "It is hard to measure the exact magnitude of the problem of missing children, and equally to define precisely what is meant by the term. It extends beyond trafficking; the dilemma revolves around how a child has gone missing and for what reason. Have they run away, been taken away, been forced by circumstances out of their control to leave their home?
"At one level the need for a Missing Children Alert system is ethical and moral. At another level it is about the practical and humane response to the desperate and urgent needs of children who are in danger and taken beyond the physical boundaries of their home and country, but also beyond the boundaries of dignity, respect, humanity, and what are expressed as the values of society.
"Children are vulnerable to many forms of abuse, amongst which perhaps the most horrifying might be the cases of missing children, who are trafficked by adults for financial and personal gain. In South Asia the problem is significant and the work of organisations such as Plan International is vital in starting to respond."
MCA is a programme which aims to be a technologically equipped regional system of alert that can prevent and rescue children, who are vulnerable to or are victims of cross border trafficking from Bangladesh, Nepal and India. Plan International's intentions are that the programme will educate South Asian children and communities about trafficking and the potential alert system, via mediums including television, radio and street theatre.
Professor Halpin, who is working on the feasibility study with Dr John Lannon who has just graduated after completing his PhD study at Leeds Metropolitan - said it was Plan's goal to undertake a mass awareness campaign on the issue of trafficking, with universal birth registration in the three countries involved. He added that the charity planned to develop and establish an alert system to track, trace and facilitate the return of child victims of cross border trafficking, as well as creating an interactive website on the subject.
The feasibility study will seek to take this innovative concept from the idea to a blueprint for the pilot, considering the technical, legal, political, and economic context. This will be done alongside Plan International staff, and in consultation with legal, border control, policing, and political authorities in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. At the end of the feasibility study a technical framework for delivery of the pilot project, and roll out of the full project will be provided to enable delivery of the full project.
As a new concept within South Asia the MCA is regarded as a pilot project. Its implementation period is planned for 36 months until May 2015, with Professor Halpin's feasibility study for the project already underway.
Professor Halpin, added: "The work of organisations, like Plan International in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, are attempting an innovative approach to add to the hard work they already apply to find solutions to this problem. They are working on a regional response, with their colleagues from India and Nepal, and supported by Plan International in the Netherlands who have obtained funding from the Dutch Postcode Lottery, to develop and deliver the MCA.
"Such a system can never answer all of the problems associated with missing children or trafficking, but it can act as a focal point to attempt to identify them and trace them, to enable rescue, repatriation, and rehabilitation and to allow them to not only survive their ordeal, but to return to experiences and a life that other children have.
"It is early days, but this is a beacon of hope and a shared aspiration of a well-motivated organisation, and staff, who are seeking to make a difference, in a complex situation. They are dealing directly with that which most of us do not see, for them it is a practical rather than a moral or ethical dilemma."