Task force curbing traffic of newborns to China

By Duc Hung   November 22, 2023 | 03:42 pm PT
Officials and police in a remote central Vietnamese district are working to prevent pregnant women from crossing the border and selling their newborns to Chinese buyers.

A day in mid-November, Cut Van Thuan, 43, a village head in Huu Kiem Commune, Ky Son District, Nghe An Province came to visit several pregnant women in the neighborhood.

He was joined by four police officers and several officials in the commune.

Their purpose was to keep a close eye on the women to prevent them from going to China to give birth and sell their newborns.

Ông Cụt Văn Thuận (áo đen, đi đầu) cùng cán bộ công an, hội phụ nữ xã Hữu Kiệm đến nhà người dân ở bản Đỉnh Sơn 2, tuyên truyền không bán bào thai. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung

Cut Van Thuan (in black) joins a policeman and local officials to visit the home of a pregnant woman in Huu Kiem Commune, Ky Son District, Nghe An Province, November 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung

Located in the middle mountainous forests, villages in Huu Kiem Commune are home to a large community of Kho Mu people.

Most of them earn a living farming and selling forest products.

In 2018 and 2019, the three villages – Dinh Son 1, Dinh Son 2, and Huoi Tho – emerged as hotspots for baby harvesting and the systematic sale of newborns.

In those two years, 21 Kho Mu women crossed the border and sold their newborn children to Chinese families. Most of them come from poor families and do not go to school.

Thanks to Covid-19 restrictions, the border areas were put under stricter monitoring in 2020 and 2021.

Bản Đỉnh Sơn 2, xã Hữu Kiệm, từng là điểm nóng của nạn buôn bán bào thai năm 2018-2019. Ảnh:Đức Hùng

Dinh Son 2 Village in Huu Kiem Commune in Ky Son District, Nghe An Province. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung

In early 2022, Huu Kiem Commune decided to act to prevent the practice before it began.

A task force made up of 10 officials and police officers from the commune was formed with the mission of educating locals on the dangers of human trafficking and illegal migration.

Every week, they come to monitor pregnant women and urge their families to sign a commitment to "not sell babies."

Thuan said it was challenging at first because no one wanted to work with the task force, arguing that it is their right to keep or give away their own child.

"Some people even asked me for compensation. They said they were poor and that selling their newborns could earn them VND70-80 million (US$3,000-3,020). Now if they keep the babies, they have no idea how they can afford to raise them," he said.

In more than a few cases, the mothers called Thuan on the phone after giving birth, requesting him to buy clothes and milk powder for their babies as they were completely broke.

In one particular case, Thuan learned of a case in which a woman had been pregnant for over a month.

He rushed to her home and checked on her to make sure she and the baby would be safe. As he seemed to care too much, the woman’s husband doubted his intentions and in turn scolded Thuan, accusing him of having an affair with his wife.

Early last year, Thuan was informed that a pregnant woman was leaving the commune for China to meet with a broker to sell her baby. He immediately drove his motorbike tens of kilometers to the border and asked the woman to return home.

The woman initially struggled and it was not until Thuan threatened to report her to higher authorities, who would then cut a subsidy of 5 kg of rice per month for her family, that she agreed to return to the village.

Ever since the task force was formed, it has prevented four pregnant women from escaping, but Thuan himself had to pay a price to keep the babies in Vietnam.

As he intervened to keep the women from performing a deal they had agreed to, the deal brokers took revenge by attacking his family's cattle.

Thuan said even his worried wife had tried to talk him out of the job.

"But some couples have come to thank me after giving birth to their children. As the head of the village, it’s my responsibility to look out for them," he said.

Captain Tran Danh Hoa, head of the Huu Kiem Commune Police Department, said some women made it clear that they had no valuables to sell and thus must sell their babies to make money.

Some of them simply thought that "they should just earn money first and have another baby later."

He said that aside from convincing pregnant women and their families, the task force also keeps an eye on any strangers behaving suspiciously in the area, as they could be brokers who work for human trafficking rings.

Tổ canh bào thai của xã Hữu Kiệm đang nói chuyện với chị Lữ Thị Mùi (thứ hai, góc trái), về phòng, chống mua bán người.

Lu Thi Mui (2nd, R) talks to officials and police at her home in November 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung

Lu Thi Mui, 24, who is currently in her ninth month of pregnancy, said she felt annoyed and uncomfortable at first when the task force came to her, but now she understands why they have to do so.

"This is my flesh and blood, how could I sell it away?" she said.

The central province of Nghe An, around 300 km (190 miles) south of Hanoi, has been put on high alert for human trafficking in recent years.

The mothers, mostly uneducated tribal women, easily fell into the traps of brokers who promised handsome payments for giving birth in China.

China, the world’s most populous country, suffers from one of the worst gender imbalance rates in the world due to the one-child policy and the illegal abortion of female fetuses. This has been a major factor behind the trafficking of Vietnamese women and girls across the border, and now, newborns.

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