By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A tablet-based application that helps to identify some of the poorest girls in eastern India has the potential to prevent human trafficking, early marriage and child labor, according to a charity which has developed the app.
The GPower, or Girl Power, app developed by Accenture Labs and the charity Child in Need Institute (CINI), has been used to track more than 6,000 families in 20 villages in West Bengal.
The application sets out a series of questions on health, nutrition, protection and education to determine the vulnerability of the respondent.
"The technology helps us identify the most vulnerable of the girls in minutes," CINI's assistant director Indrani Bhattacharya told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"So we can plan our intervention and bring immediate solutions to prevent the occurrence (of trafficking, child marriage and child labor), rather than trying to do something after the fact."
The questionnaire take about 30 minutes to complete and the analysis takes minutes. Based on the information collected, a community worker decides whether girls are candidates for government welfare schemes, counseling or vocational training, Bhattacharya said.
West Bengal is both a source and a transit state for women and children trafficked into the sex trade. The state accounted for about a fifth of India's 5,466 cases of human trafficking reported in 2014, according to official data.
Many of the victims are from rural areas in the state or from neighboring Bangladesh, lured by the promise of good jobs or marriage. Instead, they end up sold into prostitution in cities such as Mumbai and New Delhi.
GPower is particularly suited for rural India, where mobile connectivity is patchy and electricity supply is irregular, said Sanjay Podder, managing director at Accenture Labs in Bengaluru.
"It can easily be scaled up to include other parameters or to address other social problems in the country," he said.
India is the world's second-biggest market for mobile phones, with more than 1 billion users. Mobile applications for services ranging from weather reports to commodity prices and health services are gaining popularity among rural users.
"The problem in India is one of scale - there is only so much that an NGO can do in terms of reach," Podder said.
"To address social problems, technology is not just nice to have, it is necessary," he said.
(Reporting by Rina Chandran, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)