Driving into the port city of Hai Phong, Vietnam’s third most populous city, I was struck by how organised everything seemed. From the wide, clean, not-particularly-crowded roads, the industrial plants that did not seem to spewing poison out of tall chimneys, and the shiny, new cars following traffic rules to the neat rows of trees that dotted the sides of the road, everything looked picture perfect. It was a little difficult to believe that this province of Vietnam actually had some of the highest rates of human-trafficking, in the whole region.
ActionAid Vietnam runs a very successful programme in the Hai Phong province where we not only try to fight human trafficking but also try to help survivors of human-trafficking get back on their feet once they return home. In the three days that I was there, I met some wonderfully strong women who had survived trafficking.
Thin was only nineteen when she was introduced to a handsome Korean man by her village match maker. Thin was easily charmed by the handsome foreigner who also appeared to be rich and promised her the world. He also offered to take care of her poor, working family if she agreed to marry him. Being young and naive, Thin agreed to marry him. Her family spent a fortune on her wedding and on the paperwork required for her to travel to Korea with her new husband. She was a happy new bride and was excited about embarking on this new journey. But soon after she reached Seoul to join her new husband, she realised that she had fallen victim to a crime. Her new husband told her that he was not her ‘real’ husband but it was another man, a stranger that he then left her with.
I was shocked beyond belief. He left me with this strange man and told me that this was the man I had to serve as a wife. And then he took off. I didn’t know what to do.
The stranger she was left with turned out to be a depraved, abusive ‘monster’ who kept her locked up in a small room for two months and treated Thin like a ‘sex slave’.
‘He would beat me up and treat me like an animal. I would beg him to stop, to let me go, but he wouldn’t stop.’
For Thin, those were the longest two months of her life, until one day, she woke up to find that the man had forgotten to lock the door. She took this opportunity to just run out of the door, not really knowing where she was heading, but determined to save herself.
‘I just ran for my life. I knew he was hot on my tail. So as soon as I reached a public place, a bus station, I went and hid in the ladies bathroom because I knew he couldn’t come in there. I didn’t come out for almost two days because I was afraid he would still be there looking for me’.
Days later, with the help of a kind Vietnamese man she’d met at the bus station, Thin was able to come back home to Hai Phong, Vietnam. But on her return, instead of being greeted with sympathy, she was ostracised by the villagers.
‘They said that I had been trafficked and made to work as a sexworker in Korea. They said I was a bad girl. I did not know how to fight them.’
Thankfully, she was soon approached by Vietnamese Women’s Union, ActionAid’s local partner and was urged to participate in their weekly meetings.
At these meetings I met other women, some of whom had also been trafficked and we talked about our experiences and how we can improve our lives. I started feeling hope again.
She was then given $500 under an income-generation project funded by ActionAid to start up her own business. Thin now drives her own mobile-shoe-store, a motorcycle van fitted with a box of shoes she sells around the village.
Human Trafficking is a crime
Human trafficking is a crime involving the cheating or deceiving of people into sexual servitude or labour for the purpose of their exploitation. It affects individuals, families and entire communities, in almost all parts of the world. For twenty three year old Thin*, being trafficked changed her life.
But she was one of the more fortunate ones who was able to return and build her life back. But there are still many who are not able to return home. Some fear the stigma associated with being a trafficking ‘victim’.
ActionAid’s anti-trafficking programmes in Vietnam is helping raise awareness about this crime, to make sure that young people do not fall victim to unsafe migration. We are also helping people who have survived this crime get a new start in life.