Last year an ostensibly friendly woman asked Nguyen Thi Ha* if the 23-year-old felt like leaving Vietnam to work in China.
Nguyen Thi Ha was intrigued by promises she could earn 6-7 times more selling clothes there than the US$50 per month she was making at home. She never thought the woman, a relative of a friend, would attempt to sell her and two other Vietnamese women into commercial sex work.
“If I had known that, I wouldn’t have gone,” Nguyen, whom Vietnamese police later rescued from China, told IRIN.
Between 2004 and 2009, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) reported nearly 3,000 Vietnamese victims of human trafficking, which is criminalized under Vietnamese law.
Most are sent to countries in Asia, Western Europe and the Middle East for sexual exploitation, or forced to work in factories or elsewhere, according to 2010 data from the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP).
The traffickers are often relatives or acquaintances of victims, UNIAP says.
Nearly three-quarters of traffickers are women, but in some cases, men are involved. The Vietnamese government estimates that about 10 percent of women lured into arranged marriages with Chinese men may have become trafficking victims.
“In Vietnam everything is about relationships, so the traffickers present a very friendly face,” said Michael Brosowski, founder and CEO of Hanoi NGO Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which Vietnamese police consulted before rescuing Nguyen and others from China.
“Traffickers have all of sorts of tricks, and the victims seem to be easily fooled,” he said.
Rescue and re-entry
When Nguyen and two fellow Vietnamese women arrived in a Chinese city and realized they were being sold into sex work, they escaped from the house where they were being held. Luckily, a Vietnamese man took them in and called the Vietnamese police.
About a month later, Vietnamese police arrived and brought the women to a victims’ shelter in Hanoi.
“My mother was so happy, and my family cried a lot,” Nguyen recalled of her homecoming. “It was as if I had died and been reborn.”
Florian Forster, chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Vietnam, said the government should be commended for its efforts in combating human trafficking, noting Hanoi had signed bilateral anti-trafficking agreements with several countries in the region, including neighbouring Cambodia (2005), as well as Laos and China (2010).
“There’s a public realization that [human trafficking] is a more diverse and complex problem that doesn’t just involve women and children,” Forster said.
“The MPS is very willing to address it and there’s a lot of public debate in the media and in workshops,” he said.
According to Hanoi-based NGO leader Brosowski, human trafficking is a major source of concern for Vietnamese authorities. He noted, however, that MPS walks a “fine line” between raising public awareness about human trafficking and “presenting a good face that they are in control… I suspect that if they were more comfortable acknowledging the problem, they could actually get more support from the international community.”
Trafficking too narrowly defined?
A June 2010 trafficking in persons report by the US Department of State downgraded Vietnam from a “Tier Two” to a “Tier 2 Watchlist” country, saying Vietnam had not done enough to show “evidence of progress” in protecting trafficking victims or prosecuting labour traffickers.
Vietnam has received the “Tier Two” designation eight of the last 10 years.
Vietnamese women and children are often sold to brothels along the Cambodian, Lao and China borders, the US report said.
In June, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga called the report inaccurate and “politically motivated”.
Vietnam actively collaborates with international organizations to combat trafficking, particularly of women and children, Nguyen said.
But according to Pau Khan Khup Hangzo, associate research fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies in Singapore, Vietnam focuses too narrowly on stopping trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation.
Moreover, despite bilateral anti-trafficking agreements Hanoi had signed with other countries, Vietnam has yet to pass a comprehensive anti-trafficking law. Such laws have already been enacted in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries, Hangzo said.
A comprehensive Vietnamese anti-trafficking law should address trafficking of men, women and children for labour exploitation, he said.
*Not her real name
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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