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International schools

Hong Kong students design app to help human trafficking victims

‘Ingenious idea’ hailed as capable of supporting hundreds as well as those who assist them in gathering evidence of mistreatment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 May, 2017, 10:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 May, 2017, 10:13am

Three 12-year-old pupils from the Canadian Internation School in Hong Kong have come up with an inventive way to help hundreds of victims of human trafficking fight mistreatment.

After weeks of research, coding and interviews with experts, the group developed the Safe House smartphone app, which allows victims of human trafficking to continually collect and store evidence of mistreatment until they find a way or decide to go to police.

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“One [function] is called ‘evidence’. You can type a problem like ‘not enough food’ and then you take a picture of the problem,” said Jem Wilson, a US citizen who was born in South Africa. “The second function is the ‘payment record’. You type in how much you are paid and the date.”

The three students first started working on the human trafficking-themed school project in February.

I just felt that each and every one of us should have the same rights
James Ma, 12

Initially the two boys and one girl thought of simply writing an email to the government on the complicated subject, but quickly concluded that would have little impact.“We thought, because the majority of the human trafficking victims in Hong Kong are domestic helpers, we could make an app to support them,” said group member Yuan Tseng, from Taiwan.

One in six domestic helpers in Hong Kong was a victim of forced labour, according to a study released last year by the local human rights organisation Justice Centre. “It’s a very serious problem in Hong Kong, but it’s a hidden issue,” Tseng said.

“I have always been interested in human rights… But when I saw a video of [human rights lawyer] Patricia Ho [about human trafficking] it really moved me,” Beijing native James Ma said. “I just felt that each and every one of us should have the same rights.”

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Wilson expressed shocked about what he learned in recent months.

“I always thought Hong Kong was a safe city and I still think it is. But after hearing about this, it’s safe for some people but really dangerous for others,” he said.

Ho, who was interviewed by the three, called the app an “ingenious idea” that could help hundreds of victims as well as legal representatives and social workers who often struggle to find adequate evidence.

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The pupils said they wanted to add more features to the app in the coming weeks, make it more aesthetically pleasing and place it in the Google Play store so domestic workers could start using it.

They said they hoped the government would work to combat human trafficking in Hong Kong, where there are more than 330,000 domestic workers.

Experts and advocates have criticised the government for not passing laws that effectively protect victims of forced labour and human trafficking. Last year, the city’s rating was lowered to the Tier 2 Watch List in the annual Trafficking in Persons report by the US government for failing to improve its ability to tackle the issue.