By Nanchanok Wongsamuth
BANGKOK, Jan 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A mobile app launched in Thailand to boost the reporting of human trafficking risks could be hampered by a lack of trust in government officials, anti-slavery experts said on Wednesday.
The application was developed by Mahanakorn University of Technology in Bangkok and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the main government agency responsible for protecting and supporting victims of human trafficking.
"We hope that the application can be another tool that trafficking victims and witnesses will use to notify authorities of incidents or request for assistance," said Porametee Vimolsiri, the ministry's permanent secretary.
Thailand is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking.
The U.S. State Department last year in its annual flagship report ranking nations on their anti-trafficking efforts criticised Thailand for not doing enough to tackle the problem.
Porametee said the app, which has been available to download since June last year but officially launched on Wednesday, was developed in response to a different report on trafficking produced by the United States in 2018.
That report recommended Thailand increase the number of channels for victims to report risks or incidents of human trafficking.
"Most users use the application to read information regarding victim rights, which is available in seven languages and has been read 1,201 times," said Ratchapon Maneelek, a director at Thailand's anti-trafficking department, which falls under the social ministry.
About 87% of the 1,807 trafficking victims rescued in Thailand last year were migrants - mostly from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos - according to government figures.
The ministry has plans to develop Burmese, Khmer and Lao versions of the app.
Aside from the rights information contained on the app, it currently only uses the Thai-language and has been downloaded by just 260 users over the last six months, said Ratchapon.
This lack of languages and trust in the government are the main reasons why the app has not been used more widely, said Patchareeboon Sakulpitakphon, a Thai-based expert in human trafficking.
"Most victims of human trafficking are afraid of government officials, and if this app is operated by the government, then they are likely to be too afraid to use it," she said.
When trafficking victims need help, they usually seek out someone they trust, other workers, or non-governmental organizations, said Patchareeboon, adding that the government should link up with an independent group to operate the app.
A 2019 study by the United Nations found that migrants are predominately using their mobile phones for social networking and often find rights-related information or support services from their peers.
"Harnessing social networking to promote those apps appears to be the best way to ensure that they are widely used," said Rebecca Napier-Moore, a programme technical officer at the ILO.
(Reporting by Nanchanok Wongsamuth @nanchanokw; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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