Vietnamese Women Promised Jobs in China, Then Sold for a Few Thousand Dollars

By Wang Ruo Yao and Pan on November 21, 2013—
“Xiang Xiang came to China three years ago to seek a decent life, only to find that her destination was a brothel.

“I have no option but to stay. I don’t have a passport since I was smuggled here, and they are watching me,” said the 20-year-old Vietnamese woman who declined to reveal her real name.

Vietnam-China Human Trafficking on the Rise
Vietnamese Brides

By “they,” Xiang Xiang means the pimps she was sold to at the end of 2010 in Dongxing in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

She has been working as a prostitute in Dongxing, which borders Vietnam, since being trafficked and sold by her older female cousin, who is married to a Chinese man and living in the city.

Xiang Xiang started considering a move to China after her cousin returned home to visit relatives, flaunting her own “affluent and easy” life in China in front of the then-17-year-old village girl.

“She kept talking about her life — a life I had always dreamed of — and persuaded me to go with her. Her account sounded credible to me at the time, since she was dressed in Chinese top brands from head to foot and wore dazzling gold jewelry,” Xiang Xiang recalled.

Soon after, she followed her cousin to Dongxing, joining a vast number of Vietnamese women who are trafficked to China for prostitution or to be sold as brides to unwed men.

The plight of the vulnerable women came into the spotlight earlier this month as China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) vowed a crackdown on the purchase of Vietnamese brides, a trade that is not unusual in the country’s rural areas, saying the practice may involve abduction or marriage fraud.

Pampant Crime

Although trafficking of Vietnamese women to China is not new, there has been a rise in such cases in recent years, partly fueled by the launch of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area in 2010, which has boosted transnational people-to-people exchanges, said experts and anti-abduction officials.

Increasing exchanges have led the Greater Mekong Subregion to become one of the hardest-hit areas by human trafficking, according to Gary Lewis, an officer with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Chen Shiqu, director of the anti-trafficking office of the MPS, said that between 2009 and 2012, Chinese police rescued and returned more than 1,800 Vietnamese women who had been sold to Chinese in inner provinces.

The traffickers, who were acquaintances of the victims in most cases, promised to offer them jobs in China or help them find a Chinese husband before selling them for as much as 30,000 yuan (4,923 U.S. dollars), according to Chen.

The growing mobility has also posed a major challenge to border management, which is a thorny task due to a lack of natural barriers on the frontier.

Many traffickers choose to smuggle women through the border river of Peilum in Dongxing, according to a local police officer surnamed Chen. “The river is only 20 to 30 meters wide during its dry season, and one can easily wade it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chen said the city’s anti-trafficking efforts have been confronted with new challenges, as trafficking gangs today have grown more professional and employed sophisticated methods to escape from the police.

For example, the number of female traffickers has been on the rise, some of whom are trafficking victims themselves, said Sun Xiaoying, a researcher with the Research Institute of Southeast Asia at the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences.

Female traffickers can better conceal their identities to the police and win trust from their “prey” more easily compared with their male counterparts, Sun said.

Last March, police in Vietnam’s Nam Dinh Province arrested six people on charges of abducting 21 women and children to China for prostitution. The principal criminal, a Vietnamese woman named Ngo Thi Hung Trang, had been trafficked to China in 2008.

Sun noted that a root cause behind the thriving human trafficking market is the surging demand for Vietnamese wives as a result of China’s gender imbalance.

Statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics indicated that in 2012, the national sex ratio at birth in China was 117.7 boys for every 100 girls, while the normal ratio should range from 103 to 105.

Tougher Punishment

The ordeal of trafficked Vietnamese women highlights the dire need for harsher laws and more effective anti-trafficking cooperation, in addition to improved border management.

Sun called for legislation to deter buyers of trafficking victims. “Under the current Chinese law, traffickers are heavily punished, while purchasers are not held responsible,” he said.

Also, the governments in the two countries should improve public legal education, Chen said. “We have found both traffickers and victims lack basic knowledge of the law, since in many backward places, women and children are simply seen as commodities,” he said.

To tackle the crimes, China and Vietnam set up an anti-abduction cooperative mechanism as early as 2001. However, the escalating problem has highlighted the need to build a regional cooperative organization to further facilitate bilateral emergency responses, said Wu Guanghong, an associate law professor with Guangxi University for Nationalities.

For Xiang Xiang, not a day goes by without thinking about escaping, even if she knows the odds are very slim. “I am so tired. They don’t even give me a break during my period,” she said.

Xiang Xiang is at considerable risk for HIV infection, because most of her clients refuse to use condoms, and she said she is subjected to sexual torture.

“I will return home one day, whatever the cost,” she said.”

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