Counting what we cannot see! A collective effort to counter trafficking in persons in Nepal – the Data Commons

Anita Devkota and Anu Dongol

Apparently, “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist”. A part of the problem with Nepal’s counter trafficking efforts is that we have been working the way we did 20 years ago. “I cannot intervene based on assumptions. I need data and real-time information," reported Superintendent of Police Kiran Bajracharya, a TIP (Trafficking in Persons) Hero who is in charge of INTERPOL in Nepal, while discussing human trafficking with Local Interventions Group (LIG).

While efforts to combat human trafficking have had a number of successes today, the lack of coordination between various programmes has made such efforts less effective than they could be and at times these initiatives even compete with one another in a manner that hampers overall counter trafficking efforts. The work of the majority of civil society organisations is still hampered by lack of reliable data. In a survey done by LIG to lay the foundation to our counter trafficking innovations, we found that 100% of the surveyed organisations recognized data gaps, agreed that the existing data was not sufficient, not updated, potentially falsified and that there is significant overlap and incongruency between the data collected by other NGOs and authorities.

The most confounding evidence is that none of the organisations have taken actions to reduce this data redundancy, although they have realised inaccuracies in the data collected. 100% of the organisations cooperate with stakeholders in forming the joint strategies, yet, they have not been able to create sustainable and inclusive referral pathways for trafficking survivors.

The survey was conceived while working with the CIVICUS-DataShift team and was our first salvo; it helped us understand data gaps, identify solutions, and cement relationships with 10 leading counter trafficking agencies and collaborate for “Human Trafficking Data Commons” - a national data repository for the primary data and visualization on human trafficking that will be implemented together with Nepal Police/INTERPOL, the National Human Rights Commission(NHRC), and the Ministry of Women.

The mobile app Hamro Police that we built for Nepal Police is in the process of redesign and being updated too, adding a feature and a dedicated channel to generate data and reports from citizens – particularly cues, leads and tips on human trafficking and modern slavery.

Our initial success in coordinating so many actors to create the Data Commons was primarily because LIG is creating something that is “feasible and useful for everyone”. We have secured firm commitments from leaders in their fields – recipient of Hero Acting to End Modern Slavery Award 2011 and founder of Shakti Samuha Charimaya Tamang, founder of Maiti Nepal and CNN Hero Anuradha Koirala, and Superintendent of Police Kiran Bajracharya, a TIP Hero recognized by the US Government, have engaged in the Data Commons project thus far, to name a few.

The Data Commons, with broadest buy-in and ownership from stakeholder agencies towards standarised and harmonized data from various organizations using a unified scheme, will serve as a central repository. It will in the long term prevent the risk of duplication of data which is the root cause of most data reliability issues and it will facilitate sophisticated analysis through deployment of GIS mapping in identifying trafficking hotspots and trade corridors, informing policy and practice, and to be used as a decision support tool for a targeted allocation of government resources as well as stakeholder engagement.

The unprecedented Data Commons will facilitate a rare level of inter-agency analysis and cooperation, and provide the counter trafficking movement in Nepal and the region with a renewed vigour and dynamism. As traffickers increasingly trawl the murky waters and inaccessible hills in Nepal, something original is brewing, and we are making sure everyone is onboard.

Anita Devkota is Chief Operations Officer and Team Leader of Counter Trafficking Program, and Anu Dongol is Project Associate, both with Local Interventions Group in Nepal.

Local Interventions Group is an award winning civic innovations company with local flair and global frame of mind.  We conceive, design and implement future-ready growth interventions across policy sectors.

Local Interventions Group has been a partner with CIVICUS-DataShift Initiative to support civil society organisations to effectively produce and use citizen-generated data to monitor sustainable development progress, demand accountability and campaign for transformative change. 

CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world.