Two Lao teenagers trafficked to China in March to be wed to Chinese men returned home last week, an anti-human trafficking police officer in northwestern Laos’ Oudomxay province said, amid increased efforts by authorities in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation to curb the crime.
Chinese police handed over the two girls, whose names were withheld by authorities because they are minors, to provincial police officials at the Phou Lakkham border checkpoint between Oudomxay and southwestern China’s Yunnan province on July 16, said the officer who declined to give his name.
“Those two girls — one is 14 years old and the other 15 — were lured to marry Chinese men,” he told RFA’s Lao Service on July 25. “At first, they were told in Laos that they would get good jobs that paid high wages.”
The 14-year-old is from Khong Ja village in Nam Bak district of Luang Prabang province, and the 15-year-old is an ethnic Hmong from Xay district in Oudomxay province, according to information from Chinese police.
Chinese authorities arrested the pair in March and detained them for more than four months for not having any identification documents, the Lao officer said.
“One of the girls was arrested by police one day after she entered China on her way to her future husband’s home and was put in a police car,” he said.
“Likewise, the second girl was arrested and detained after having been in China for four days,” he said. “She was also arrested while traveling by bus to her future husband’s home.”
Chinese police investigated and interrogated the girls, and worked with police authorities in Laos, he added.
Information from Chinese police indicated that in February the two girls decided to go to work for a Lao man in northern Laos’ Bokeo province with the consent of their parents,” the officer said.
But once they had arrived, the middle-aged man convinced the girls to go to China to marry Chinese men in order to have good jobs.
Many Lao women and girls, most of them uneducated, have been lured to China by traffickers on false promises of getting well-paying jobs, only to be forcibly married off to Chinese men.
Lao authorities have provided instruction to the two girls about how to avoid becoming human trafficking victims again, and they are now back at home with their parents, the officer said.
RFA was unable to reach the girls for comment.
'Couldn't endure it'
Meanwhile, a 40-year-old Lao woman who went to China and married a Chinese man three years ago recently escaped and was rescued by authorities, the same anti-human trafficking police officer in Oudomxay Province told RFA.
“She couldn’t endure it any longer,” he said. “She was used to raise pigs, chicken, fish, cows, and buffaloes and look after a banana farm. She worked very hard — 10 hours a day and without pay. She believed she was going to be sold to another [Chinese] man.”
To get away, she lied to her husband, telling him that she wanted to visit her father who was sick in Laos, the officer said. She then stole 500 yuan (U.S. $70) from her husband and traveled to Oudomxay province where she went straight to police and asked for help.
“The woman was reeducated, trained, and fined U.S. $120 for entering the country illegally,” he said. “In China, the police are investigating the incident and are charging her husband with human trafficking.”
RFA was unable to contact the woman for comment.
As many as 3,000 Lao women and girls have been trafficked to China, with about 600 rescued during the last decade, according to a Lao official who spoke at an anti-trafficking conference in the Lao capital Vientiane in March.
Lao authorities told RFA in June that they had recently increased surveillance at border crossings with China and other neighboring countries in an effort to stop the trafficking of Lao women and girls for sexual exploitation.
Officials have launched information campaigns at all border crossings to help human trafficking targets and have created safe houses where rescued victims can live for several months and receive work training to enable them to support themselves and their families.
Nevertheless, traffickers have managed to evade some of the controls, and have been recruiting women and girls more openly in Laos by posting leaflets calling for wives for Chinese men in public areas of border towns and other places.
The U.S. State Department placed Laos on the Tier 2 Watch List in its 2019 “Trafficking in Persons Report” for not fully meeting minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, though the report noted the country was making significant efforts to do so.
Laos was upgraded from its Tier 3 ranking last year for providing restitution to some trafficking victims through the criminal justice process, directly providing services to trafficking victims, issuing a decree to form anti-trafficking steering committees at the provincial and local levels, and conducting increased training and awareness-raising at the local level to help implement the decree, the report said.
The annual report ranks countries around the world as Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, or Tier 3, in descending order based on whether they meet the minimum standards to combat trafficking set by U.S. law.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.