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Human Trafficking in Vietnam

Globalization of Trafficking in Persons (TIP)

The Department of State calls trafficking in persons, or TIP, “modern-day slavery, involving victims who are forced, defrauded or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation.”
The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) reported in 2005 that currently up to 900,000 people are being bought and sold across international borders every year, and millions are trafficked within their own countries.  Pacific News Service in July 2005 wrote, “According to sources from UNICEF and Vietnam’s Ministry of Justice as well as other groups, as many as 400,000 Vietnamese women and children have been trafficked overseas, most since the end of the Cold War.  That’s around 10 percent of trafficked women and children worldwide.”    
Among them, the majority are female teenagers and many are children, as young as five.  They are entrapped by false promises of adoption, job opportunities, or marriages in foreign countries.  NCSC also reported that human trafficking was the second-largest, fastest-growing criminal industry, accounting for a more than $20 billion a year business worldwide, exceeded only by drug dealing.      
Human trafficking impacts on victims’ human rights and freedoms, causes physical and emotional suffering, and undermines the security of all nations involved.  It is closely connected with drug trafficking, money laundering and document forgery.  Many governments are unable to combat trafficking because of lack of financial and human resources.  Moreover, bribes paid to law enforcement, immigration, and judicial officials prevent many governments from battling corruption from within government ranks.
The reasons for trafficking on the supply side include poverty, lack of employment opportunities, organized crime, violence and discrimination against women and children, political instability and armed conflict.  The demand factors include the sex industry and the growing desire for cheap and exploitable labor.  
Sex tourism and child pornography facilitated by the Internet have created a vast market of consumers for instant and undetectable worldwide transactions.  UNICEF’s Kul Gautun told an International Symposium on Trafficking of Children in Tokyo in 2003, “In Asia and the Pacific alone, more than 30 million children have been traded over the last three decades.”
On the health level, forced substance abuse, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS (71,500 cases reported in Vietnam in 2005 by USAID), and isolation and domination by traffickers leave permanent psychological and physical scars on victims.  According to the most recent State Department report on the  subject, field research in nine countries concluded that 60 to 75 percent of women in prostitution were raped, 70 to 95 percent were physically assaulted, and 68 percent met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Recovery takes years, even decades – often, the damage can never be undone.
Lack of education and productive personal development reduce these victims’ future economic opportunities and increase their tendency to remain in poverty.  They find themselves stigmatized and ostracized after their recovery and their return to their communities.  Loss of family and community support networks contributes to the breakdown of social structures.  A brutal feature of this slave trade is that the victims are frequently bought and sold many times over, often initially by family members.

Export of Workers from Vietnam

The Inter-Press Service says that in 2000 Vietnam’s unemployment rate was 7.4 percent while the under-employment rate was 38.8% for a population of 80 million people, 70 percent of whom lived in rural areas.  At that point, the labor force of 38.6 million (between the ages of 15 and 60) was equally male (19.46%) and female (19.19%).  Two out of three Vietnamese were under 35.  
Per capita income had reached $400 by 2000, and monthly minimum wages ranged from $19 in state-owned companies as opposed to $45 in foreign-owned industries.  The poverty rate was 18.3% in urban areas and 44.9% in rural areas.  Large-scale, unplanned migration from the countryside to the cities was rising.  In the same period, the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that 995,500 children under 18 were economically active, and UNICEF said that there were 50,000 street children (no shelter or jobs) in Vietnam.  
Hanoi has responded to the high and growing rate of unemployment by exporting labor to wealthier parts of the world.  Destinations include Laos, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Libya, with many more sent to Germany and the Middle East.  One reason for this policy seems to be the remittances that workers send back to Vietnam.  Another may be the government’s desire to lower the number of unemployed at homẹ  
Vietnam’s practice of exporting labor has brought with it abuses, both in the areas of domestic violence and of human trafficking.  Young and unskilled people have been sent abroad to work in construction, sea transport, seafood processing, health care, agriculture, textiles, and as domestic laborers.  An article in the Asia Times in June 2000 claimed that the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) aims to export half-a-million laborers in 2005, a number it wants to increase to one million in ten years.  
Currently, as many as 200,000 Vietnamese men and women are reportedly working in Taiwan.  According to a knowledgeable observer, they are forced to work overtime and to endure accidents in the work place without knowing their labor rights  in a country in which they do not speak the language.  Most Vietnamese “brides” sold to Taiwanese men end up working  without pay as domestic servants, and many are sold as prostitutes.
Vietnamese wanting to work in a foreign country must be licenced by the government, and 130 state-owned labor export brokers exist for that purpose.  They charge each person $3,500 in health-clearance and police fees plus a 10 percent value-added tax on earnings overseas.  In addition, the brokers receive a fixed 12 percent of the value of the contracts.  These brokers have reportedly overcharged and misled applicants while exposing them to overwork, beatings and sexual abuse.

Prostitution of Vietnamese Women     

Furthermore, cases documented and reported by the Vietnamese and international press reveals that Vietnamese women were sold as mail-order brides and forced into prostitution in China.  In 1991, the number was reportedly 10,000, increasing to 15,000 in recent years.  In addition, male children have been sold for adoption to Chinese families with no sons.  
In 1998, Deutsche Press-Agentur wrote that as many as two-thirds of Vietnamese officials were known buyers of women in prostitution, their activities being financed through government agency “slush funds.”
In 2000, it was estimated that there were 300,000 to 600,000 Vietnamese prostitutes in Vietnam.  In 2003, young Vietnamese women were posted on eBay Taiwan’s website for auction, with a “starting price” of $5,400. Last year, some Vietnamese women were displayed as models sitting in windows to be sold to passers-by at a Trade Fair in Singapore.  Various sources claim that 5,000 Vietnamese women and children have also been trafficked in Cambodia.  In the view of international observers, trafficking in Vietnam is a growing problem.

The State Department Report on Trafficking in Persons

In June of this year, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the release of the fifth annual State Department Trafficking in Persons Report.  The aim of the 150-country report is to raise global awareness and spur countries to take effective action to counter trafficking in persons.  
The report said that Vietnam remained a source and destination of trafficking.  Vietnamese women and girls are trafficked to Cambodia, China, HongKong, Macau, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Czech Republic for commercial sexual exploitation.  Vietnam is also a destination country for Cambodian children who are forced to work as beggars.  There is also internal trafficking from rural to urban areas.
The State Department report stems from the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which requires the State Department to report to Congress each year on international trafficking.  The Act created an inter-agency task force to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts and mandates sanctions for countries that tolerate the practice.  Domestically, the legislation stipulates a 20-year sentence for those who entice victims into sexual slavery. 
In 2003, the State Department designated Vietnam a “Tier 2 government, which is a source, transit and, to a lesser extent, destination country for forced labor and sexual exploitation.”  Tier-2 countries are those whose governments do not fully comply with the Act’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into  compliance.  The Department’s minimum standards are generally based on the “three Ps”   – prosecution, protection, and prevention.  
This year’s report says that Vietnam has made progress in combating trafficking.   Vietnam, it says, has engaged neighboring governments in cooperating to repatriate victims.  The government also reported 142 prosecutions and 110 convictions related to trafficking, but there were no prosecutions of officials for complicity in trafficking.  The Report also claimed that Vietnam does not effectively control its long and porous borders. 
In terms of protection, the Report said that Vietnam had strengthened protection for Vietnamese workers sent abroad by labor export companies.  For example, the government sent labor attaches in the nine top labor-receiving countries to resolve workplace disputes, and revised the labor code provisions that labor export companies must follow in cases of fraud or abuse.  However, no precise statistics on these actions were provided.  The government also routinely sends women who engage in prostitution to rehabilitation detention centers.  
Concerning prevention, the government did not implement specific anti-trafficking awareness campaigns, according to the State Department.  It did, however, cooperate with the Chinese government and UNICEF on a mass communications effort to educate the public and local government leaders on trafficking.  The year-long campaign included workshops on local laws and training in how to counsel trafficking victims.  


Vietnam should be taking steps in the following areas, some of which were highlighted in the State Department’s 2005 anti-trafficking report:

  • Government and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) should coordinate local, regional and national programs to alert communities to the dangers of trafficking.  They should also improve and expand educational and economic opportunities for vulnerable groups. Vietnamese victims must be rescued, repatriated, rehabilitated, and reintegrated into their families and communities.
  • The Ministry of Justice and law enforcement agencies must vigorously prosecute traffickers, fight public corruption, identify and interdict traffickers, and train personnel to identify and direct victims to appropriate care.
  • International organizations and other nations should cooperate more closely with Vietnam to deny traffickers legal sanctuary and facilitate their extradition for prosecution.  
  • In the schools, children and teenagers, especially girls, should be informed about human trafficking.  They should also be encouraged to graduate from high school so they can seek decent employment.
  • The Vietnamese media should not only educate the public on the victimization of those who fall into traffickers’ hands, but also disseminate more information on the perpetrators and the corrupt systems within which they operate.
  • Victims should receive treatment that will help them regain their dignity and resume their place in society.  They should not be treated as law-breakers.
© 2019 Jackie Bong Wright. Designed and Developed by Đỗ Mạnh Hùng.