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18 April 2024

Instagram baby-selling bust prompts call for 'cyber patrols'

By Reuters

Social media companies should step up oversight of their networks and cooperate more closely with authorities, Indonesian child rights advocates said after police busted a human trafficking ring offering babies for sale on Instagram.

Police arrested four people last week in the city of Surabaya who were connected to an account on the photo sharing application, according to local media reports.

Anti-trafficking experts say technology is fuelling modern-day slavery by enabling traffickers to ensnare more victims, expand their illicit empires and outfox law enforcement across the world.

"We have seen sex traffickers use Facebook to recruit victims before, but this is the first time we see babies being sold through Instagram," said Rita Pranawati, deputy head of the government-backed National Commission for Child Protection.

"Social media providers have to be more responsible, have more cyber patrol, and report to the authorities anything irregular so the government can take action," Pranawati told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Jakarta.

The Instagram account, which had over 700 followers before it was removed, shared photos of pregnant mothers and babies whose faces were blurred.

It was run under the guise of offering adoption services for mothers who had given birth to children out of wedlock, but police have said there was evidence of money transactions.

Instagram said it has "zero tolerance" toward child exploitation and - along with Facebook, its parent company - it plans to increase the number of content reviewers.

"Our policies clearly prohibit people from engaging in criminal activity and coordinating harm on our platform, which includes the sale of humans," an Instagram spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

Indonesia has 131 million Facebook users and 59 million Instagram users, according to the data provider Statista, making the country of 260 million people the third and fourth largest audience for the two social media giants, respectively.

"Traffickers are exploiting the popularity of social media to recruit their victims and clients," said Patar Sihotang of the Jakarta-based non-profit Human Trafficking Watch.

"People who face economic hardship or are in debt tend to fall victims to these online traps."