Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
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Using SMS to report and address cases of human trafficking and domestic abuse

Enslavement Prevention Alliance West Africa (EPAWA), a nonprofit organization from Ghana, won a regional innovation grant competition held last summer that was designed to inspire creative solutions to communication barriers across the continent.  Internews teams across the world are in fact exploring ways to engage citizens in the creation of media through technology with the potential to enrich and expand the role of traditional media.  

Internews Africa received more than 400 creative, innovative ideas that involved the sharing and exchange of information  new media, including text messaging, social media, mobile phones, webcasting, podcasting, IVR systems, mBanking, mapping, crowdsourcing to address social issues ranging from health, diaspora remittances, agriculture, mining and extractive industry, refugees and IDPs, and community media sustainability.

EPAWA's project is simple: train monitors in the affected regions to report cases of human trafficking and domestic violence in real time to the EPAWA headquarter in Accra through two open source software applications: FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi.

EPAWA stood out because of the clarity and focus of mission and the tremendous potential for impact through the use of technology.  Specific factors that led to their selection included:

  • The pervasiveness of the issue to be addressed: Ghana is a country of origin, transit, and destination for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The trafficking of Ghanaian citizens, particularly children, within the country and internationally, extending to Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Russia, Syria, Lebanon, South Africa, the United States, and countries in Western Europe is principle source of forced labor in both agriculture and domestic service.
  • The strength of the EPAWA network to address the problem: the SMS ssytems tests how well an interconnected system of actors can work in real time to prevent or act as soon as possible in cases of human trafficking and domestic abuse and provide timely assistance to the victims. EPAWA vets and forwards cases to the appropriate local authorities, institutions and social workers that, together with EPAWA staff manage the case from the rescue “if necessary“ to the hosting in shelters, the provision of health support and education and legal action if necessary.
  •  The reputation of EPAWA partners in ensuring the safety of participants: Survivors Connect, EPAWA's partner in this project, has a history of safe and secure Ushahidi deployments for reporting human trafficking through mobile applications and was willing to work with EPAWA to empower local communities to take the lead in building their own capacity and creating a strong support system of civil society members.

This is a simple graphic on how it works:


The Center for Innovation and Learning is investigating the potential of this system to promote a wider discourse on human rights issues.  Through pilot research, we hope to understand:

  • Will the new system for relaying critical information and providing immediate support to victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse promote greater attention to these issues in the media?
  • Do participants trust the system and what factors influence its use and adoption?
  • How effective is this system in addressing and accounting for the political social, cultural and economic causes and minimizing the risks posed by any of the actors involved?
  • How does a technology solution contribute to other anti-trafficking efforts?  Is the network of local NGOs, local institutions and local media critical to the success of the system and are necessary factors for deployments in other regions?

Pilot Project: