Satellite Captures Hidden Slavery


Researchers in England are hoping to help root out modern day slavery in northern India by using detailed satellite imagery to locate brick kilns. These sites are especially known for using millions of slaves, including children. A team of geospatial experts at the University of Nottingham use Google Maps and dozens of volunteers to identify potential sites of exploitation and report them to the authorities. “The key thing at the moment is to get those statistics right and to get the locations of the brick kilns sorted,” said Dr Doreen Boyd, a co-researcher on the ‘Slavery from Space’ project. “There are certainly activists on the ground that will help us in terms of getting the statistics and the locations of these brick kilns to (government) officials.” Anti-slavery activists say that the project will be useful in identifying remote kilns or mines that would otherwise escape public or official scrutiny.

It is believed that millions of people in India re living in slavery. Despite a 1976 ban on bonded labour, the practice remains persistent at brick kilns, rice mills and brothels among many others. The majority of victims of slavery belong to low-income families or marginalized castes like the Dalits or ‘untouchables’. The ‘Slavery from Space’ project relies on ‘citizen science’ or ‘crowdsourcing’ — a process where volunteers sift through thousands of satellite images to identify possible locations of kilns. Each image is shown to volunteers who mark kilns independently. The team is currently focused on an area of 2,600 square km in the desert state of Rajasthan, which is stocked with brick-making sites with plans to scale up the project in the coming years. Researchers are now in talks with satellite companies to get access to more detailed images, rather than having to rely on publicly available Google Maps.

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