The Internews Center for Innovation & Learning commissioned iHub Research (Nairobi, Kenya) to conduct a 4-month study in Ghana beginning in September 2011 to understand the impact of the EPAWA SMS Helpline Network pilot project on the local human trafficking network, as well as the impact of the project on the local communities involved.
In this pilot, EPAWA, a Ghana-based non-profit organization, together with Survivor’s Connect, an international anti-trafficking non-profit organization, built the SMS Helpline using mobile phones, a laptop, and an easy-to-use desktop software. This technology, which was piloted from October 2011 through January 2012, sought to connect a network of professionals who could quickly respond to human rights violations and facilitate a timely exchange of information with relevant authorities and communities. Field research was conducted with three target groups (27 potential community users, 24 Monitors, and 10 Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence stakeholders) by a local researcher over the course of 30 days from October 20, 2011 to March 6, 2012.
Key Research Findings
Impact on Ghana’s DV/HT Network:
There was limited impact on the overall network of professionals working in the Domestic Violence (DV)/Human Trafficking (HT) sector in Ghana. The data entered and processed through the system has yet to be accessed and utilized productively by local stakeholders working in DV/HT, with the exception of certain staff within EPAWA. Greater impact can be achieved by increasing the opportunities available for other DV/HT organizations to engage substantively in the project.
Impact of the Pilot on Communities:
Despite some technical challenges faced by Monitors when reporting cases of DV/HT using the EPAWA Helpline, there was an increase in overall reports by Monitors. This was a result of increased HT/DV awareness, as well as a speedier mechanism to report these cases through the use of mobile technology. Many of the Monitors who wanted to report cases did so using the EPAWA system. Monitors that did not use the system either did not feel that there were any cases to report, or stated that they did not want to get involved in private domestic matters. It is impossible to assess whether HT/DV incidents in the communities decreased as a result of the technology.
Scalability and Replicability:
In total, by April 2012, there had been 200 reports to the Helpline Network in 34 different categories, of which 141 were approved or verified by the EPAWA website administrator. The online database does not register if these 141 cases were resolved. However, an earlier report from EPAWA on February 8, 2012 stated that 76 verified reports had come through the EPAWA reporting system during the pilot project period. Of those reports, EPAWA self-reported that only 43.4 percent of the verified reports were followed up. This could be as a result of EPAWA’s limited capacity to handle all the cases coming through the helpline. As such, it appears that the potential utility of the helpline system is significant; however, an organizational structure and collaboration strategy needs to be developed to ensure that the entire DV/HT network (and not only EPAWA) has the capacity to follow-up on all of the reports.
Challenges and Recommendations
Hardware malfunctions presented the most significant challenge to users of the SMS reporting system. The mobile phones issued for the pilot project were reported to have numerous technical glitches, including SMS downtime, phone failures, and out-of-service toll-free numbers which were frustrating to the Monitors. The registration of the SIM cards was problematic as well, with deactivation to failed registration of about 50 percent of the phone lines. According to key stakeholders, there are also cultural inhibitions in some communities that will prevent accurate reporting of domestic violence and human trafficking cases.
As an illustration of this point, 45 percent of Monitors viewed domestic violence as a private matter which should be handled by family members; unless the case is very serious, outsiders should not get involved. Moreover, this attitude may be more prevalent in rural areas where domestic violence and human trafficking are not seen as problems. This indicates that the project may not be sustainable without a civic education component. Accordingly, 75 percent of Monitors themselves said that education was the best long-term solution to combating HT/DV in communities.
For the project to be effective and sustainable, it is recommended for any future project to consider the following:
i. Experiment with other mobile phone network providers in order to identify the most reliable network.
ii. Conduct more research in order to identify a phone model that is well suited for the system.
iii. Establish partnerships with similar existing initiatives to increase capacity for follow-up and response to reports made through the helpline; and
iv. Identify certain types of domestic violence and human trafficking cases that local organization have the capacity to pursue to conclusion, and refer the remaining cases to other groups equipped to address them.
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