How The Transgender Of Pakistan Help Save Kids

One child at a time
One child at a time
Shadi Khan Saif
Shadi Khan Saif

KARACHI – Begging and sex work are what transgender people in Pakistan too often end up doing. But this also means that they are more likely to have information about the dark world of child sex trafficking.

Bindya Rana had the idea of tapping into this connection to find missing children.

"We are provided with pictures of the missing child, which we pass on to the transgender people in the areas where they beg and live," Rana explains, noting that some 2,000 transgender are on the case. "We direct them to search, and if they get any information to let us know."

According to rights groups, 40,000 children go missing every year in Karachi. Many are kidnapped and sold in the sex industry. This year alone, the transgender activists have recovered more than 40 kidnapped or missing children in the city.

Rana says it's a very rewarding work. "A transgender who helped discover a missing child started crying when the mother of that child hugged and kissed her. She wasn't crying for fear of the kidnappers, but was overwhelmed by the love and respect she got for the first time in her life."

Her team works in partnership with the Roshni Foundation, a non-government group that helps find missing children. Program officer Muhammad Ali says it's a success.

"One of our transgender volunteers informed us that a kidnapped girl was being kept at a brothel where she was being exploited," Ali recalled. "The transgender person asked us to protect her and not reveal her identity. We went to that place with the police and found not only that girl but three more girls aged between 12 and 14 who were being kept at the brothel."

Careful eyes

But such success stories are rare. Fewer than 20% of children who went missing were found last year.

The government says poverty and large families are part of the problem. Local Minister for Social Welfare Rubina Qaimkhani wants to see parents take better care of their children. "Parents must have vigilant eyes for their children," she said. "If we work together we can solve this problem."

But there are also many children who don't have parents around to watch them, including those who have ended up at Edhi shelter for homeless children, one of the largest such shelters in Pakistan.

Doctor Rehana, who runs Edhi, is impressed with the unlikely program for transgender people get involved in finding missing children. "It's a positive idea," he said. "If we Pakistanis use our mind for such positive ideas we can change a lot, but if we stayed on the negative path than nothing is going to change here."

Rana says the transgender activists in the program work on a purely volunteer basis – they ask only for respect in return for their efforts.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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