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During the pandemic, more people can be vulnerable to human traffickers, experts warn

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the subsequent lockdown in Pakistan, more people could become vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers, warn experts.

After the outbreak of the virus, more than a third of the planet’s population is under different forms of lockdown or restrictions.

Recently, Pakistan’s minister for planning and development Asad Umar said that between 20 million to 70 million people in the country could fall below the poverty line, according to calculations by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics.

These massive economic effects of COVID-19 could fuel up a dangerous situation of cyberbullying, cybersex trafficking and human trafficking, fear experts.

Social distancing rules have kept more people, especially children, at home with access to the Internet – a factor criminals capitalise on.

“Children with low self-esteem can easily be manipulated by predators through the Internet,” said Dr Lakesh Khatri, a psychologist in Sindh. “Social distancing has put us in a situation where more and more people are seeking consolation and companionship online.”

This desperation, the doctor added, was dangerous as it exposed people to manipulation by predators and traffickers, especial children.

Traffickers are skilled in luring young men by promising them better prospects of employment outside the country. Women are usually coerced into forced marriages, prostitution or sexual slavery.

“Children, as they are easily influenced, can be the most vulnerable to being entrapped,” Riaz Janjua from the Anti-Human Trafficking cell of the Federal Investigation Agency in Sindh, told Geo.tv.

Last year the FIA arrested thousands of human traffickers and registered more than 4,500 cases of human trafficking in Pakistan. Most of the victims were women and girls, aged between two years to 50 years.

“Since the lockdown, there has been a rise in reported cases of intimate images being leaked and blackmailing through emails,” explained Nighat Dad, the executive director of the not-for-profit organisation Digital Rights Foundation. “We are unable to report them to the cybercrime cell as during the lockdown it is not operational.”

Dad further added that not only social media but Internet games were also exposing young people to traffickers.

“[Video] games have weak security,” she said, “And now games are being played with voice overs. The person on the other side could be anyone, a friend, a friend of a friend, a distant relative, an acquaintances” or a stranger.

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