After 16 years of tears, woman gets back daughter trafficked to China

By Viet Dung   February 9, 2019 | 06:35 pm PT
During Tet, the Lunar New Year holiday, the makeshift home of Khoi in Hai Phong City, 121 km east of Hanoi, is overflowing with joy.

She brings out photos and the identity card of Lan, her daughter, who went missing 16 years ago, and starts to lovingly go through them, tears rolling down her cheek.

She says, choking: "I never imagined she would come back to me. It is a miracle."

In 2002, Khoi sold everything she owned, cycled hundreds of kilometers to the Chinese border looking for her 15-year-old daughter.

The old mother narrates the story of how she found her daughter, a victim of human trafficking, after 16 years.

The old mother narrates the story of how she found her daughter, a victim of human trafficking, after 16 years.

Khoi’s husband died young in 2001, leaving their three children and his mother in her care. When Khoi finished working in the rice field, she would do any other work villagers needed to support her family.

Lan is her second daughter. Khoi has one older son while her youngest child was 14 months old when Lan went missing at the age of 15.

The son was working in a brick manufacturing facility to support the family, while Lan stayed at home looking after the infant and doing housework. Neither of the older children got proper schooling.

On the evening of September 9, 2002, Khoi was working late and Lan asked her for permission to hang out with her friends to catch fireflies.

Khoi recalls: "She would usually come home at 9 p.m, but I kept waiting and waiting and there was no sign of her. I feared something bad."

Khoi went all around the village looking for her daughter, but everyone shook their heads, saying they did not know where she was. Fearful she might have fallen into a pond, she got her brothers and relatives to help search using bamboo poles.

She hired a man with a motorbike for a small sum money to search for her daughter, but to no avail.

"My mother-in-law was too old and bedridden, I had to leave my youngest child with my neighbor. I was looking for Lan for nine days not even bothering to drink or eat anything. I lost a lot of weight. I neglected my work in the field."

She reported to the police, but there was no response from them. Over the next several years she went all over northern Vietnam hoping to find Lan.

"I sold every gram of rice, every cooking vessel, family meal tray, bicycled hundreds of kilometers..." she recalls tearfully.

Fearful that Lan had been tricked and sold, she cycled all the way to border gates in Quang Ninh, Lang Son and Lao Cai provinces hundreds of kilometers away.

A few years ago a relative said he dreamed of Lan coming back in white clothes, implying she was a ghost in his dream.

The despairing mother thought Lan was dead and paid ritual respect to her every year, burning incense and votive gold.

Sixteen years passed by in despair and she ran out of tears, Khoi said. Her son got married, her other daughter got through the university entrance examination but had to drop out since they could not afford her education. Khoi still ached thinking about Lan.

On November 16 last year she received news about a girl rescued by the Lang Son border gate police who resembled her daughter. Khoi borrowed some money, caught a taxi and reached Lang Son, 220km to the north, at 3 a.m. the next day.

The minute the skinny woman saw Khoi, she burst into tears and called out, "Mom."

Lan had changed a lot, but Khoi recognized her instantly. On the first day she took her daughter for breakfast Lan ate two bowls of pho noodles, saying, "I didn’t get to eat breakfast for 16 years."

Lan told the police a couple had asked her to sell clothes in Quang Ninh Province but sold her to a brothel in China.

For 16 years she was forced to be a sex worker. If she refused, she would be starved, beaten and locked up in a dark room. She tried to escape three times but did not succeed.

Every time her escape was foiled, they would torment her physically and mentally. They also gave her drugs to ensure she followed orders and served visitors.

In early November last year the Chinese police raided brothels and took Lan and some other Vietnamese women for medical examination and treatment. She fled from the medical treatment center, reached the Lang Son border and was rescued by Vietnamese authorities.

During Tet her entire family gathered and spoke to Lan to help her gradually recover her memory. She was treated for knee injuries which had been caused by a hammer.

Khoi’s family’s biggest desire now is that the evil couple who had tricked Lan is punished.

The An Lao District police chief said authorities had detained a suspect allegedly related to child trafficking.

Human trafficking is a huge global industry worth $150 billion that coerces over 40 million women, children and men into forced labor and sexually exploits them.

People in the Asia Pacific are twice as likely to be enslaved as those in a developed country, according to the International Labor Organization.

Vietnam is a major source of cross-border sex and labor trafficking. However, according to the Pacific Links Foundation, 60 percent of all traffickers arrested in Vietnam are former victims themselves.

According to Mimi Vu of the foundation, a Vietnamese woman is likely to be fetch over VND1 million ($45) in China.

*The victim's name has been changed.

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