Vietnamese woman enslaved in China returns after 20 years

By Anh Quan    January 12, 2019 | 05:48 pm PT
Vietnamese woman enslaved in China returns after 20 years
Ho Thi Hoa (R) is by her sister Ho Thi Dao after the reunion. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Quan
A social media post helped Ho Thi Hoa return home after 20 years in China with a horror story.

To call Hoa’s story tragic would be an understatement.

A few weeks ago, Hoa, 50, returned to her family in the central province of Nghe An.

Her sister’s house in Hoang Mai Town greeted her with welcoming words and visits from concerned and sympathetic neighbors.

Hoa used to live in the town, but when her marriage broke after a very short while, she was broke and penniless. She had neither a house nor a job. She took her two kids to stay in her sister’s house, and made a living by collecting scrap and hiring out her labor whenever she could.

One day in 1998, an acquaintance coaxed Hoa into a trip to neighboring Thanh Hoa Province with the promise of a good, highly paid job.

Hoa left after asking her relatives to take care of her kids.

Ho Thi Dao, Hoa’s sister, recalled being happy that Hoa was being helped by kind people. It was much later did she find out that her sister had been trafficked to China. The family’s attempts to find her proved futile.

Hoa was sold to a Chinese man in a remote area. She tried to fight against it, not eating in protest, but was violently subdued.

"Later I gave birth to five children, but the husband and his family only allowed me to see them rarely. They did not let me speak in Vietnamese, but I could not speak Chinese," said Hoa with deep sadness.

After eighteen years in China, Hoa started falling sick frequently and the Chinese man kicked her out of the house. Without any money, acquaintance or clue about her hometown, she wandered around the Vietnam-China border, eking out a living from collecting scrap. At night, she would make herself some shelter or sleep under a bridge.

On a 2018 winter day, Hoa fainted in the freezing cold. This proved to be a turning point as Hai, one of the people who helped her that day, uploaded her picture and story on Facebook.

The piece of information was circulated until it reached Quach Huu Thuan, Hoa’s son.

"The picture of that tired woman struck me. I sent it to my aunt Dao," Thuan said. Once it was confirmed that the picture was that of his mother, Thuan called Hai, the person who posted the information.

Then he and his relatives went to the Tan Thanh border gate area in the northern province of Lang Son to find and meet Hoa.

It was a tearful reunion. "I was torn between sadness and happiness. I am glad to see mom again after 20 years, and sad because of her miserable condition," said an emotional Thuan.

Thuan has since left for the south to resume his work. This Tet, or Lunar New Year, he will bring his wife and children home to meet his mother. "I want the whole family to reunite and have a chance to make up for my mother," he said.

Hoa is still in poor health and depressed. She has emotional swings and is forgetful. Dao is always by her sister’s side, reminding her of the warm memories of the family.

Hoa is one of many Vietnamese female victims of cross-border sex and labor trafficking. 

75 percent of trafficked victims are transported to China, Nguyen Van Pha, Vice chairman of Judicial Committee said at a meeting last August.

According to Mimi Vu with the Pacific Links Foundation, a Vietnamese woman is typically sold over Chinese border for a paltry VND1 million ($45).

Citizens of the Asia Pacific region have twice the chance of becoming enslaved compared to a developed country, according to a report by the International Labor Organization.

Vietnam is considered a major source of cross-border sex and labor trafficking. The majority of trafficked victims are women, children from ethnic minorities or rural areas with poor economic conditions and lack of skills, according to Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security. Female victims are often forced to become commercial sex workers or married to older foreign men.

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