Big Story 10

Moldova eyes blockchain to end child trafficking

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, is looking to use blockchain, the digital tool behind the cryptocurrency bitcoin, to stamp out child trafficking with help from United Nations experts, a government official said on Wednesday.

Digital identification experts from the U.N. Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and other agencies were in Chisinau this week to discuss possible ways of using the technology to protect children from exploitation.

Every year, hundreds of women and girls as young as 13 are trafficked from Moldova to Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and other nations, mainly to work as sex slaves, according to international watchdogs.

“This is a pressing issue and we are eager to find efficient solutions to help us address it,” Mihail Beregoi, state secretary for the Moldova’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via email.

Moldova was put on the United States’ watch list of countries that are not doing enough to fight human trafficking earlier this year.

Children living in rural areas are particularly at risk of trafficking as they often hold no identification, something that makes them invisible to authorities and easier for traffickers to smuggle across borders on fake documents, experts say.

Blockchain could be used to give them paperless identification documents based on biometric data, such as fingerprints or facial scans, which would be impossible to fake, said Yoshiyuki Yamamoto, UNOPS special adviser for blockchain.

“If we want to set up a reliable identity management system it has to be based on something immutable,” he said by phone from New York ahead of traveling to Chisinau.

An estimated 40 million people were trapped as slaves last year - mostly women and girls - in forced labor and forced marriages, according to anti-slavery groups.

UNOPS this month announced it had teamed up with the World Identity Network (WIN), a campaign group, and other U.N. agencies to launch a pilot using blockchain to fight the crime.

Moldova was the first country to show a concrete interest in the project, said Mariana Dahan, chief executive of WIN, who hoped to start the pilot soon.

Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, borders EU member Romania, with which it has close linguistic and cultural ties, but remains heavily reliant on Russian energy supplies.

Blockchain, which first emerged as the system underpinning bitcoin, is a digital shared record of transactions maintained by a network of computers on the internet without a centralized authority that is hard to tamper with.

Dahan said securing children’s identities on a blockchain-based platform would allow for their identification at all times and also allow for trafficking attempts to be recorded.

“Of course technology is not a silver bullet that can solve all these problems but it can be the catalyst,” Dahan said.