In New Delhi, India, the number of child disappearances is staggering: five youths have been reported missing in the Indian capital every day since 2010. Out of the 8,470 missing children, including 4,620 boys and 2,665 girls, around 1,800 are yet to be found.
The troubling explanation? Human traffickers — criminals who deal in the trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation — are abducting children.
To confront this issue, the Indian government, with the help of international agencies, has empowered law enforcement to aggressively combat sex traffickers. A team of Parsons School of Design students are taking a different approach: empowering would-be victims. Kate Wallace and Keiji Kimura, Design and Technology ’15, have designed a mobile game that teaches at-risk children in India survival skills to protect themselves against exploitation.
Funded, in part, through a grant from New Challenge, The New School’s social innovation competition, BeyondABC is designed for tablet devices that have the potential to reach large numbers of children in remote areas. The focus of the app, Wallace and Kimura say, is on prevention.
“The app is called BeyondABC because our target demographic needs an education beyond academics,” Wallace says. “They need to be equipped with the necessary life skills to protect themselves from dangerous situations.”
To get BeyondABC into the hands of young people, Wallace and Kimura partnered with DataWind, a company that designs tablets for kids without access to traditional schooling, as well as nonprofit organizations Sewing New Futures and The Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia. This collaborative approach, coupled with a commitment to socially engaged design, informed the creation of BeyondABC.
“The culture at The New School is very focused on social justice,” Wallace says. “Being in this environment has greatly inspired our work to make things that are not only delightful and engaging, but also make an impact on the world.”
“Social innovation has been a hallmark of my experience at Parsons,” Kimura adds. “As an aspiring game designer, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been taught by a faculty of professors that encourage the creation of experimental games, the likes of which have the potential to inform, educate, and ultimately empower generations of young people.”
The idea for BeyondABC emerged from Wallace’s experience as an India China Student Research Fellow in New Delhi, where she studied globalization and its effects on India. This led to her interest in the lack of educational access — especially education on human trafficking — in disadvantaged communities.
“Through my interviews, I discovered that certain demographics of Indian youth are lacking the basic safety skills they need to protect themselves from exploitive situations,” Wallace says. “These skills include things like who to call if they get into trouble, what to do if they get lost, and to never surrender their documents such as a passport to a stranger.”
When she returned to New York, Wallace tapped Kimura, a game designer, to turn her vision into a reality. By combining a passion for social engagement with cutting-edge technology, Wallace and Kimura are helping to confront a pressing social issue that affects thousands of children in New Delhi and millions of people globally.
“Evidence of human trafficking, child exploitation and lack of access to education is so prominent in India that you can’t go there and not doing anything,” Wallace says. “We have been trained to use design to address problems, and when faced with seeing poverty in India first hand it was impossible to not try and do something about it.”