Viet Nam and China: joint effort to fight cross-border trafficking of women
Nguyen Thi Anh Dung, Communication Section, UNICEF Viet Nam
The township of Mong Cai in Quang Ninh province, Viet Nam, is located on the banks of the beautiful Ka Long River and shares a 33-kilometre border with the huge Chinese province of Guangxi. Following the border hostilities between China and Viet Nam in 1979, the township was destroyed, but since relations between the two countries were normalized in 1991, trade at the border has flourished. The busy Mong Cai market sells many Chinese goods such as specialty fabrics, ready-made clothes, sandals, mosquito nets, electronics, toys, candies and fruits. Vietnamese goods sold to China are mainly seafood, tea, coffee and sesame.
Accompanying the economic boom, has been an increase in a more sinister and exploitative industry - cross-border trafficking of women and children. According to the Vietnamese authorities, in the last ten years, around 22,000 women and children have been trafficked to China for forced marriage or other purposes. However, it is acknowledged that these figures are likely to be underestimated because of the illegal nature of the activity. The targets are usually poor, single women, often with little education and a general lack of knowledge about the conditions in China. Eager to escape poverty and insecurity, they become easy prey to promises of well paid jobs or marriages to a Chinese man and willingly accept the services offered by traffickers.
China is now a major receiving country of trafficked women. Due to the shortage of women in China, Chinese men have turned to the practice of finding a Vietnamese wife. Many women are treated as mere “child-bearing machines” and report rape and abuse by their husbands and in-laws. In some cases, they are "re-sold" or passed on to other men.
Pham Thi Lan*, 34, from Mong Cai town, has experienced this at first hand. Lan was married at 17 but a year later her husband was stabbed to death in a quarrel. After the husband had passed away, her parents-in-law treated her very badly. They asked her to leave the house with her one year old son because they wanted to take over the house which they had given to their son following his marriage to Lan.
Lan took her son back to her own family. One day, the sister-in-law asked Lan to go to China with her to sell goods. On the way, the sister-in-law sold her to two Chinese men. These two men took her to Guangxi and sold her again to a 41-year old Chinese man. She was 21 years old. They could hardly communicate because Lan did not speak Chinese. She cried everyday and missed her son in Viet Nam dearly. She begged the man and his family to let her go back home, but they said she could go only after she had had a baby with him. Lan tried to escape four times but did not succeed. Desperately wanting to return home, Lan decided to have a baby with the Chinese man. After the baby was born, the family did not lock her up anymore. She had saved some money that the family gave her to spend on food and when the baby was one year old, she hired a Vietnamese woman in the neighbourhood who was also married to a Chinese man, to take her home.
The first few months following Lan’s return were very difficult for her. She did not want to go out because she felt ashamed of what had happened to her. She missed her other son and there was a time when she wanted to go back to China. Luckily, Lan could overcome this difficult time thanks to the people in her commune. Her parents and her son were very loving and warm to her, the neighbours and the local Women’s Union were very supportive to her. Slowly, Lan gained her confidence and began to live a normal life.
Lan lives with her first son and her parents in Mong Cai town now, but her second son is still in China. ‘I miss my son very much, Lan said, but I don’t know where he is now’. Lan never met her sister-in-law again as the woman decided to stay in China. Lan is now a local communicator on trafficking prevention and takes part in a monthly gathering of the club ‘Prevention of Trafficking in Women and Children’. At the gatherings women learn what to do when faced with a trafficking situation and how to protect themselves.
‘I joined this club because I want to tell other women my story and hopefully it won’t happen to anyone else. From my own experience, I think that a micro-credit scheme or job creation activities would help returned trafficked women to re-integrate in the community’.
Lan is one of many women who have benefited from the training workshops organized by UNICEF Viet Nam for former trafficked victims, women at risk as well as community workers.
* To protect the individual, name has been changed in this story.
Press Release: Campaign to Stop Trafficking in Women and Children Between Viet Nam and China - “United Against Trafficking. For a Better Future”.