Authorities in northern Laos say they have agreed to cooperate with their counterparts in China to track down the whereabouts of a teenage girl who was trafficked across the border earlier this month.
The 14-year-old girl from northern Laos’ Luang Namtha province was sent across the border to China by her fiancé shortly after the two were engaged to be married, according to her parents, who informed provincial police shortly after her disappearance.
“We are going to provide the relevant information to Chinese authorities so they can help to rescue the 14-year-old girl,” a Lao official told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Her parents have told us she was lured into marrying a Chinese man who then trafficked her into China.”
According to the official, authorities in Luang Namtha, which straddles the border with southern China’s Yunnan province, recently arrested three Chinese citizens suspected of trafficking several Lao women into China.
The three had entered Luang Namtha to “lure women across the border,” the official said, adding that Lao authorities are currently investigating where the women had been taken.
Also in early March, Chinese authorities repatriated a Lao woman who had been trafficked across the border to police in Luang Namtha, who returned her to her family home in Luang Prabang province.
The official said the woman had been coaxed into marrying a Chinese man who had relocated her to an “entertainment venue” in China in 2014, before she was able to escape and seek the assistance of local police.
While it was unclear if the woman had been sold into sexual slavery, many female trafficking victims who end up in karaoke bars and similar venues in China are often forced to work in the sex industry. Victims include not only Southeast Asian women but also those from North Korea.
According to the official, the majority of Lao women trafficked into China from Luang Namtha and other northern provinces are lured across the border with promises of marriage or high-paying jobs.
He was unable to provide details of the number of Lao women who had been trafficked into China in recent years, adding that many had simply “disappeared” due to the difficulty in tracking victims down across the border.
Trafficking in Laos
According to the U.S. State Department, Lao trafficking victims often are migrants seeking work outside the country who encounter conditions of labor or sexual exploitation after arriving in destination countries, most often Thailand.
In its 2014 annual report, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons noted that “a small number of women and girls from Laos are sold as brides in China … and subsequently subjected to sex trafficking.”
Laos was downgraded to the report’s Tier 2 Watch List based on the government’s failure to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and its inability to demonstrate evidence of increasing efforts to do so last year.
Last month, Lao immigration officials told RFA they were working with their Thai counterparts to prevent underage girls from entering Thailand where they are subject to trafficking in the country’s sex industry.
At a checkpoint at the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge which spans the two nations’ Mekong River border, more than 100 Lao teenagers were turned away in the first two weeks of February as officials from both countries focused on unaccompanied females who appeared under the age of 18.
Reported by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.