SILIGURI, India, Feb 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Charities in South Asia are piloting new software which aims to speed up the repatriation of rescued victims of human trafficking who have been smuggled from countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh and forced into slavery in India.
South Asia, with India at its centre, is the fastest-growing and second-largest region for human trafficking in the world, after East Asia, according to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Charities focusing on the rehabilitation of victims say repatriation is often one of their biggest challenges and can, in some cases, take years.
There is a lack of effective international coordination between states to verify victims' identities and trace their places of origin - often remote, impoverished, interior regions with poor telecommunications and infrastructure, they add.
Developed by aid agency Plan India and Bangladeshi social enterprise Dnet, the Missing Child Alert (MCA) is a database programme - with the victim's data, including their name, photo and place of origin - which can shared between South Asian nations.
"We've had cases that have taken up to three years for the person to be repatriated back to their home countries and they are stuck in shelter homes for all that time," Mohammed Asif, Plan India's director of programme implementation, said on Saturday.
"After testing this technology, we have found repatriation can be done much faster as the sharing of information and tracing of a person's home will be immediate and agencies can quickly try to reunite them with their families."
There are no accurate figures on the number of people being trafficked within South Asia, but activists say thousands of mostly women and children are trafficked to India annually from its poorer neighbours Nepal and Bangladesh.
Most are sold into forced marriage or bonded labour working in middle class homes as domestic servants, in small shops and hotels or confined to brothels where they are repeatedly raped.
The MCA, which is being piloted by ten charities in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, would allow the details of a rescued victim to be entered into the system and agencies in the country of origin immediately alerted.
The one-year pilot began in January and will be assessed at the end of 2016, Asif told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of an anti-human trafficking conference in the east Indian town of Siliguri.
"If we are successful in demonstrating this is a much more efficient system which will achieve safer and faster repatriation, we may be able to get the three governments to adopt this, and eventually the whole region," he said.
"If adopted, this alert system will create pressure on the traffickers if they know that this information is being already being shared across borders and make it much more difficult for people who perpetrate these crimes against women and children."
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla, editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)