Vietnam wakes up to its human trafficking problem

(IRIN News, September 2016)

Human trafficking is on the rise in Vietnam, although poor crime statistics means the government doesn’t know exactly by how much. Advocacy groups say victims are increasingly being lured on social media.

Between 2011 and 2014, the number of human trafficking cases rose by at least 11.6 percent over the previous four-year period, according to data released by the Ministry of Public Security at an anti-human trafficking conference in Hanoi on 14 July.

The true numbers are probably much higher, especially as traffickers capitalise on the growing use of social media among Vietnam’s young people, say NGOs.

“Our experience indicates that this is very common, although there is a lack of statistics to show how widespread it really is,” said Le Thi Huong Luong, legal coordinator for the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, an anti-trafficking NGO.

Southeast Asia ranks among the world’s worst regions for human trafficking, accounting for a third of all the women and children trafficked worldwide, said Paul Priest, of the International Organization for Migration’s office in Vietnam, at the 14 July event.

The issue has been well documented in other countries in the region – the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in a 2013 report that 26,400 people are trafficked to Thailand every year, many of whom are men from Myanmar and Cambodia forced to work on fishing boats, while 27,925 sex workers are victims of trafficking in Cambodia.

But Vietnamese authorities are only now waking up to the scope of the problem in their own country.

‘Modest progress’

In a push to raise public awareness, the government held its first National Day Against Trafficking in Persons on 30 July. Vietnam has also announced a 2016 to 2020 strategy to combat human trafficking, and the plan marked the first time authorities have acknowledged that men and boys are being trafficked.

The government in 2014 launched a database of trafficking cases, which the US State Department acknowledged in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report as a sign of “modest progress”. The IOM’s Priest urged the government to do more to track the problem.

“A crucial need exists to increase availability of statistics on this illegal phenomenon,” he told reporters on 14 July. “However, existing data highlights that the number of trafficked individuals continues to increase whilst the ages of those victimised by trafficking are increasingly younger.”

Some of those trafficked in Vietnam are women sold into marriage across the border in China where there are significantly more men than women. The UN’s Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons agency said in June that China is expected to have 30 to 40 million more men than women at a marriageable age by 2020.

Sold into marriage

Linh (not her real name) returned to Vietnam from China last year after the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation coordinated with police on both sides of the border to rescue her from a forced marriage and bring her home.

Linh became pregnant in 2014 and her boyfriend left her. Through the messaging app ZALO, she met another man who said he would support her, according to details of the case provided to IRIN by Blue Dragon.

Matt Friedman of the Mekong Club, which works to fight trafficking and slavery in the region, said the trafficker’s approach is becoming more common.

“All throughout Asia we are seeing increases in the use of social media to trap women and girls into prostitution, including Vietnam,” he told IRIN. “The predators search chat sites to find young girls who are feeling unloved and alienated by their family.”

Linh accepted the man’s invitation to visit his hometown, where he proposed a holiday to China. On the trip and three months into her pregnancy, she was sold as a bride to a Chinese man. She and her baby are now safely back home and the traffickers have been arrested, according to Blue Dragon, which will represent her during the upcoming court case.

Blue Dragon says it rescued 49 children in 2014, 133 the following year, and 56 so far this year.

Between 2011 and 2014, government authorities investigated more than 2,200 trafficking cases, arrested 3,300 offenders, and rescued about 5,500 victims, according to the MPS data.

The US State Department’s TIP report noted that human trafficking convictions fell from 413 in 2014 to 217 last year.

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(PHOTO: Linh and her baby cross the border back into Vietnam last year after being rescued from a forced marriage she was trafficked into in China. CREDIT: Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation)

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