Woman trafficked to China finds way back home after 30 years

By Le Lien   March 28, 2021 | 01:21 am PT
A 43-year-old trafficking victim has reunited with her family and spent the past one year relearning Vietnamese and taking care of her elderly parents.

For a year now the family Ha Van Hoat, 69, in the northern Phu Tho Province has seen the most laughter and joy in 30 years. His daughter, Ha Thi Chien, returned home more than 30 years after being tricked and sold in China.

Hoat's family is poor. He walks with a limp due to a disability in his right leg while his wife has been lying in bed for years after suffering from a paralytic stroke.

After feeding the family’s geese, Chien returns to their hilltop stilt house, which was built with support from the government, approaches her mother’s bed and cares for her.

Despite the poverty, she says she is happier than in China.

She recalls that when she was 12 she was tricked by an acquaintance who invited her to China and promptly sold her to a family as soon as they crossed the border.

Ha Thi Chien in her house in Phu Tho Province. Photo by VnExpress/Le Lien.

Ha Thi Chien in her house in northern Phu Tho Province. Photo by VnExpress/Le Lien.

"They forced me be a sex worker at night. It was very humiliating. I tried to escape multiple times but failed since it was strictly guarded. They tortured me with whips after getting caught and I was deeply in pain."

She shudders even now thinking about her time there.

She says 10-20 years passed in the blink of an eye, and her dream of returning home seemed unattainable.

But in early 2020, taking advantage of the Covid-19 outbreak in China, she was able to escape from her captors and return home.

"At the beginning of last year I and a person from Ninh Binh Province who had just got sold there found a way to escape. I was scared at first, but that girl encouraged me, saying 'We will die no matter what, and I'd rather die trying to find my way back home.' I gathered courage, and we fled that place together. We managed to get back to Vietnam after five days and nights crossing through a forest."

Chien reunites with her father after more than 30 years. Photo by VnExpress/Le Lien.

Chien reunites with her father after more than 30 years. Photo by VnExpress/Le Lien.

When Chien reached Vietnam, border guards gave her food and some money and took her to a bus station so she could return to Phu Tho. But after being away for more than 30 years, she had forgotten her mother tongue and was lost in Quang Nam Province.

Luckily for her the Quang Nam police were able to verify her time of entry, and contacted the Phu Tho Province police, enabling her to return home.

Although informed in advance by the police and local authorities, Hoat still could not believe his eyes when he saw her, and choked in emotion amid the tears and happiness of their relatives.

Chien says dreams about the degradation in China still haunt her in her sleep.

Hoan says it still feels like a dream one year after she returned.

"When the police told me that my daughter has returned, I laughed and thought it was just a dream until the police officers brought her right in front of my eyes. I held her hands and tears started to pour down from my eyes, and I thought it could only be a dream.

"At this age, I never expected to see her again and embrace her like this. I want to thank all the border guards and officers who helped bring her back to my family."

Since Chien had forgotten, she could not say anything to her father when she arrived, and could only kneel down in front of him. It was an intensely touching moment for everyone gathered there.

Chien relearns Vietnamese at home. Photo by VnExpress/Le Lien.

Chien relearns Vietnamese at home. Photo by VnExpress/Le Lien.

Hoat's neighbors came over to greet him and the villagers called it a miraculous reunion.

"It is a real miracle. I had intended to put up a small tomb for her at the end of 2020 if there was no news," he says.

Over the past year Chien has been learning Vietnamese from her nephew who is in fourth grade, staying at home to take care of her parents and raising chickens and two buffaloes.

She plans to go out and find a job to support her parents when she can write well again.

Hundreds of thousands of women from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar have been trafficked to China to marry men there, activists say. Some end up happily married, but many others suffer violence and forced labor.

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