Trafficking Fight Lacks Political Will

Vietnam cracks down on human trafficking, but critics say the government's efforts are insufficient.
2010-12-06
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RFA
Vietnam has stepped up a campaign against human trafficking, with nearly 5,000 mostly women victims identified over the last six years, but experts say political will is still lacking in the fight against the illicit trade.

Authorities said nearly 1,200 people were discovered to have been smuggled from the Southeast Asian state in “recent” months, mostly to China.

The problem remain serious despite agreements signed between Vietnam and China and other countries to combat it, according to nongovernmental groups.

Christina Arnold, founder of Prevent Human Trafficking, a U.S. nongovernmental organization, said the Vietnamese government has not made enough efforts to complement actions by local social groups tackling the crisis.

“I think, in some cases, there is a lack of political motivation from the government, but the Vietnam Women’s Union, indeed, has worked very well.  They build shelters and develop impressive training programs,” she said.

The Vietnam Women's Union is actively involved in highlighting problems of girls being trafficked from Vietnam’s southern delta and highland provinces into China for prostitution, domestic work, or marriage.

Arnold feels the Vietnamese authorities should adopt a “systematic way” of implementing anti-trafficking policies.

“As far as I know, the Vietnamese people do a very good job while the government doesn’t do much.”

Major General Do Kim Tuyen, deputy head of the Department for Crime Prevention, pointed to the government steps that have been taken so far, saying the results have been encouraging.

“Implementation of our methods for fighting and preventing human trafficking has obtained positive results,”  he was recently quoted by the An Ninh Thu Do newspaper as saying.

Action plan

According to the government’s Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Women, some 4,793 trafficking victims were identified from 2004 to 2010.

During the same period, only 12 of Vietnam’s 63 provinces had strategies linked to the national action plan, evidence that action against trafficking had not been given adequate attention by provincial leaders.

From 1998 to 2007, some 6,680 trafficking victims were reported.

Vietnam is primarily a source country for human trafficking, for both sexual and labor exploitation, in countries including China, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the Czech Republic.

According to local reports, 60 percent of the smuggled victims end up in neighboring China, with Cambodia accounting for 10 percent and Laos about six percent.

Watch List

In the U.S. State Department’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons report, which ranks countries worldwide, Vietnam was listed as a Tier 2 Watch List Country, a rank worse than its Tier 2 (non-Watch List) status in 2009.

A key reason for the downgrade is lack of efforts to fight labor exploitation.

“While trying to focus on prevention of the trading of women and children to become prostitutes, Vietnam has relatively ignored the fact that there are many men and women workers sent to work abroad who have been solicited for their labor,” Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador-at-large in the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons said.

The Vietnamese government criticized the report, saying it was not objective.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokeswoman said, “Vietnam considers human trafficking a crime, especially the trafficking of women and children, which are dangerous crimes."

“[These] crimes seriously damage their human rights and adversely affect the development of society. Therefore, Vietnam strongly acknowledges the special importance of prevention of human trafficking, and is determined to fight and seriously [address] these types of crimes.  We also have policies and measures to repel and eliminate human trafficking.”

NGO work

NGOs in Vietnam have led the way in combating human trafficking.

They sponsor educational campaigns on HIV/AIDS prevention, help improve activists’ skills in helping victims, and establish cooperation networks with each other and the government.  However, they do not receive much support from local governments.

On Prevent Human Trafficking’s experience in Vietnam, Arnold said, “We have never received any subsidies from the government.  They are not open to working with us.”

Vietnam is considering tightening human trafficking laws, but critics say the effort lacks clarity and does not protect or support victims.

The National Assembly of Vietnam recently held a debate on a draft law to prevent and fight trafficking.

Reported by Khanh An for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.