Sold, raped, enslaved: Human trafficking victims shared stories in 2019

By Staff reporters   December 24, 2019 | 07:30 pm GMT+7

Several trafficking victims survived horrific ordeals and returned home this year, but thoughts go to those who have not made it.

A straightforward fact: Vietnam is a human trafficking hotspot, and the trade nets annual profits worth tens of billions of U.S. dollars, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

The country has recorded over 3,400 victims of human trafficking since 2013, over 90 percent of them women, children and people from ethnic minority communities. Most victims are from rural communities or poor areas, who either work in agriculture, are uneducated or unemployed.

80 percent of victims end up in China, police data shows. Other destinations include other Asian countries like Cambodia, South Korea or Thailand, and European ones like the U.K., France or Germany.

Some of the women and children are tricked and sold to traffickers. Victims are lured by the simple wish to lead better lives and help their families, but many end up suffering abuse, being locked up, beaten, raped to beget children and treated as slaves, for all practical purposes.

Many are unable to find help or a way to contact their families, and several of the lucky few who do find a way and are rescued, continue to lead traumatized lives.

There are stories of people who fought their circumstances, of tearful reunions, of good Samaritans, and of heartbreaking outcomes.

Second effort

Son (L) hugs her mother as she returns to her hometown in Bac Lieu Province, July 30, 2019. Photo courtesy of Blue Dragon.

Son (L) hugs her mother as she returns to her hometown in Bac Lieu Province, July 30, 2019. Photo courtesy of Blue Dragon.

Son, 16, is a native of Bac Lieu Province in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Her mother became mentally unstable after her father abandoned them when she was a small child. Stuck in such a situation that was exacerbated by poverty, Son soon dropped out of school.

When she was 11, a woman in her neighborhood suggested that she goes to work in China and earn money to help herself and her mother. Son agreed without a second thought.

Little did she know that she was being trafficked to China, where she was sold to a much older Chinese man. She kept trying to escape, and once, when she succeeded, she fell into the arms of another trafficking ring and was sold to another Chinese man.

But she never gave up. Son managed to find a way to use a mobile phone and get in touch with a friend on social media. The friend made a call back to Son's family in Vietnam.

Her family then reported her plight to the local police. She was eventually rescued in July with the help of the Blue Dragon Children's foundation, a Hanoi-based nonprofit organization that rescues Vietnamese women and girls trafficked to China for the sex trade as well as forced labor.

Three-month escape plan

Nguyen with her daughter as she returns to Vietnam on July 30, 2019. Photo courtesy of Blue Dragon.

Nguyen with her daughter as she returns to Vietnam on July 30, 2019. Photo courtesy of Blue Dragon.

Nguyen became a single mother with two kids after her divorce several years ago. She took them back to her mother’s house in Vinh Long Province in the Mekong Delta.

Mired in poverty, Nguyen took the advice of several relatives and decided to leave her children for her mother to look after while she worked in a factory in China.

As soon as she set foot in China in October last year, Nguyen was sold to a Chinese man. He and his family took all of her personal papers and when she refused to obey them, she was repeatedly beaten and locked up.

While she was eventually allowed to work at a factory as she had been promised, all her earnings went into their pockets.

Like Son, she managed to use a mobile phone to contact her family in Vietnam and inform them of her situation.

A three-month operation, also by Blue Dragon, managed to rescue her in July by instructing her to gradually gain trust of the Chinese family, wait for them to let her go outside by herself, then escape.

A Facebook video goes a long way

Nguyen Thi Lan (below), who was trafficked to China, is seen in a screenshot from a video call with her mother in Nghe An Province, Vietnam. Photo by Vietnam News Agency.

Nguyen Thi Lan (below), who was trafficked to China, is seen in a screenshot of a video call with her mother in Nghe An Province, Vietnam. Photo by Vietnam News Agency.

Le Thi Lan, from the central province of Nghe An, was just 19 when she was tricked and sold to a Chinese man 24 years ago.

In 1995, Lan went to work in a district around 100 kilometers away from her home and stayed with her employer.

She was tricked by a neighbor and taken to neighboring Thanh Hoa Province before being transported to Guangxi Province in southern China and sold to a 65-year-old man for VND7 million ($300 now/$636 then).

She had four children with the man who constantly abused and beat her up. She tried to escape many times in vain, and would be locked up in a dark room after she was caught. She was even given drugs every day to make her forget her original family and home.

After several years, the family sold her to another Chinese man, with whom she lived for two years. The new man, 43, treated her well and even gave her permission and money to find her way back home.

In July, she met a Vietnamese woman working in Guangxi who offered to shoot a video of her telling her story and the names and addresses of her parents in Vietnam. She posted the video on Facebook, which was widely shared and eventually seen by Lan's sister-in-law, Thao.

Lan's Vietnamese had gone rusty after years of living in China and not using the language. Nevertheless, she stayed in touch with her family through video calls before finally reuniting with them the same month.

A neighbor in need

Nguyen Thi Bien (L) sits with her father in their house in Bac Giang Province, northern Vietnam, after 28 years being trafficked to China. Photo by Vietnam News Agency.

Nguyen Thi Bien (L) sits with her father in their house in Bac Giang Province, northern Vietnam, after 28 years being trafficked to China. Photo by Vietnam News Agency.

Nguyen Thi Bien was born into a poor family and was not able to finish her elementary school. She began working in the fields at a young age and occasionally as a baby sitter in her hometown in Hiep Hoa District, Bac Giang Province.

In 1991, when she was 23, she befriended a man she remembers only as Quang. He said he would help her go to China where she could easily find jobs, and she agreed.

She left with him for China without informing her family.

After they crossed the border, Quang sold her to a Chinese man and disappeared. She was taken to a house in a remote area and treated like a prisoner. Without any knowledge of China or its language, she could not think of how to get out or escape and find her way back home.

She was made to work and spent most of the time on farms. Except to work or eat, she was never let out of the house.

Gradually, she even forgot how to write Vietnamese.

This February, she was found by local police who raided several houses at the time. They detained her for two weeks to investigate, before taking her to the border along Vietnam’s Lang Son Province and send her home. Along with her were seven other northern Vietnamese women who had also been tricked and sold in China. Together they walked around 10 kilometers through a forest to reach Lang Son's capital town before splitting up.

In Lang Son, she accidentally met Tran Van Huynh, a trader from her native Hiep Hoa District. Huynh posted her photos and information on social media along with the names of her parents and address in Vietnam, and the information finally reached Bien’s family. On August 2, Huynh took her back to Bac Giang with him and she was eventually reunited with her family, 28 years after she was trafficked.

Bien has been given a job affixing company labels on bags produced by a garment factory in the northern Bac Giang Province. She gets less than VND100,000 ($4.32) a day.

Her time in China has severely affected her mental state. She constantly switches between coherence and saying random things; her memory is jumbled.

"Sometimes she still thinks she's in her 20s, sometimes she thinks I kicked her out of the house," her father says.

A father who never gave up

60-year-old Thang remembers in detail the 15 trips he made to China over a year to find his daughter who was trafficked in 2007. He told the story to the media in May this year.

A photo of Thang. Photo by VnExpress/Hien Trinh.

A photo of Thang. Photo by VnExpress/Hien Trinh.

His daughter, Luong, asked him to get a cell phone to help with her studies. But she fell prey to sugary text messages from a stranger, agreed to hang out and was tricked and sold in Guangxi, China.

Thang’s family searched for her far and wide, going through 11 northern provinces with a fine toothcomb. He travelled to every place she could have possibly gone, looked in every Internet cafe, bus station, massage and karaoke parlor, but in vain. Not even the police could find a clue.

Thang then suspected that his daughter had been trafficked to China. In November 2007, he took a train to Pingxiang, Guangxi all on his own, not knowing a single word of Chinese. His love of his daughter would not allow him to give up.

Despite getting help from several good Samaritans along the way, the search proved fruitless. By the third trip, he realized the search could last several years. So he enrolled for a Chinese course in Hanoi, sold a piece of his land to fund the trips and carried thousands of leaflets announcing a reward of VND50 million ($2,146) for anyone who could provide information about his daughter.

He estimates that he travelled a total distance of around 30,000 km.

The search eventually bore fruit in 2008, his 15th trip. One of his daughters received a message from her missing sister with the name of the town she was in. She was indeed in China.

Choosing a moment when her guards were distracted, she had managed to sneak out and send a short message home.

Thang dropped everything and hurriedly left for China. He eventually found his daughter in a brothel, and she was eventually reunited with her family.

She resumed her studies and now has a happy family with two children and an understanding husband.

 
 
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