The United Nations Human Rights Office said in a new report on Tuesday that criminal syndicates in Southeast Asia are forcing hundreds of thousands of individuals into online criminal activity, including operating fraudulent investment schemes and facilitating unlawful gambling.
While the scale of internet-based fraud in Southeast Asia is difficult to estimate, the report offers concrete figures to substantiate its claims. It says that in Myanmar, where the country’s 2021 coup and ongoing conflict have made it nigh-impossible to curb online fraud, over 120,000 individuals have been forced into perpetuating cybercrime. Similarly, the report states 1oo,000 have been forced in Cambodia. This form of trafficking is also present in Thailand, the Philippines and Laos, albeit on a smaller scale.
The report says some trafficking victims were offered seemingly legitimate jobs but were then forced into illegal activity, for minimal pay, through physical coercion. Some have been subjected to acts of sexual violence, confinement in inhumane conditions, physical abuse and an array of other human rights violations.
Völker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for states to tackle corruption in order to address the problem, saying anti-corruption efforts “must be as much a part of the response to these scams as a robust criminal justice response.”
The report notes the impact of COVID-19 on the proliferation of online fraud, as public health measures pushed entrepreneurs to move their businesses abroad to countries with weaker regulations. While some research entities had previously hinted at the correlation between the pandemic and heightened rates of online fraud in the region, the UN acknowledged the trend for the first time in its report.