Protecting young women from human trafficking in Viet Nam
By Steve Nettleton
LANG SON, Viet Nam, 7 December 2006 – Nguyen Thi Phuong cherishes her new role as a mother. At 45, she’s older than most Vietnamese women raising their first child, but that hardly matters. She is happy to have her own family, now that she is no longer a prisoner in someone else’s.
In 1991, Phuong was lured to the border by traffickers and taken against her will to China, where she was dragged to a house in a small town and sold to become an older man’s wife.
“I didn’t know how old he was or the name of the place we lived,” she said. “I lost my freedom. I had to go everywhere with his family or else I was locked in a room. I had to work hard. When I was tired or sick, they didn’t let me stop working.”
Captive for years
Phuong remained captive for more than two years. Then one night, the family forgot to lock her door. She escaped and found her way back across the border to Viet Nam.
She is one of tens of thousands of Vietnamese women who have been trafficked to neighbouring China and Cambodia, or further to Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea. Many are forced into marriage or the sex trade, while some become bonded labourers and domestic servants.
UNICEF is working with the governments of Viet Nam and China in a joint programme to crack down on the trafficking of women and children.
“We have been involved in analyzing law and policy, to make concrete recommendations to the government on how to better protect victims of trafficking,” said UNICEF Child Protection Officer Lo Hong Loan.
UNICEF also supports a community-based approach to the problem, including the establishment of women’s clubs that give comfort to former victims of trafficking and raise awareness to prevent future cases. The Cao Loc Women’s Union is one such club.
“We include many women who are the victims of trafficking,” said the chairwoman of the Cao Loc club. “These women share with us the situation of many who are still in China. We also go to these women’s homes and talk with their family and encourage them, so they feel more integrated into the society.”
Warning to others
Phuong is an active member the Cao Loc Women’s Club. She often shares her story as a warning to others.
“With what I learned from my experience, I can talk to young women in the community,” she said. “I tell them that if you are poor, the traffickers will take advantage of your situation and sell you, and you won’t even know you were sold.”
Words that may help save other women from a similar or even worse fate.