In addition to producing the ICT4D project guide, Plan also is running a number of it’s own projects to promote child rights through participation and media in Africa. One interesting example of this is Plan’s program to increase the reporting of child abuse in Benin. In Benin, reporting violence generally goes against the cultural norm and many feel that they either don’t have access to communication with authorities or that the authorities won’t act on the information. To address this issue, plan has partnered with Ushahidi to produce crowdsourced maps on incidences of violence.
The system allows victims or witnesses to send text messages to a special number through an application called Frontline SMS to report the abuse. The website is carefully monitored and all reported cases are verified. Children can also email their stories or send audio or video testimonials. This allows the project to gain a deeper more personal understanding of the accounts. Once the stories have been verified, they appear on an Ushahidi map. This both allows locals to be aware of incidents of violence and alerts the authorities. Plan can also try to match children and their families to the appropriate support service.
While mapping cases of violence is a valuable tool for raising awareness and changing the culture against silence, privacy is still a top concern. Linda Raftree, one of the project coordinators, describes the challenge in the Plan report as such, “‘“Can we capture all the information that comes in, yet scrub it before publication on Ushahidi so that it doesn’t identify the victim or alleged perpetrators, yet keep it in a file for the local authorities to follow up and respond? And a second challenge: If everyone knows everything that happens in the community,how can we ensure privacy and confidentiality for those who report?”’ These are all quite important to consider since the backlash from perpetrators can be severe. However, I think that crowdsourced mapping is a great wait to begin to expose acts of violence without revealing too much about the victim.
As with most ICT4D projects, this technology presents a number of other challenges and limitations that have to do with the digital divide. Of course, if a person doesn’t have access to a cell phone or computer, than this technology is useless. There are also issues with illiteracy. Many people who are illiterate would prefer to call instead of text or email but the system is not set up for this. This would require phone operators and make the system more like a hotline. Also, sending text messages is not free so some people don’t have enough phone credit to text in a report. PlanBenin says that they are working with the government to try to set up a charge free number.
Because of all of these problems, this project is not the ultimate solution to child abuse. However, it is beginning a discussion and working to change a culture of silence and abuse. I’m not sure how effective this technology will be right now for bringing individuals to justice but it does work at the root of the problem so I think it definitely has merit and is worth expanding.