Vietnam is a major source country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor within the country and abroad. Vietnam is a source country for men and women who migrate abroad for work independently or through state-owned, private, or joint-stock labor export recruitment companies. Some are subsequently subjected to forced labor in the construction, fishing, agriculture, mining, logging, manufacturing, and other sectors primarily in Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, Laos, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Japan, and to a lesser extent in China, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom (UK), the Czech Republic, Cyprus, France, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and elsewhere in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Vietnamese women and children are subjected to sex trafficking throughout Asia—particularly in China, Cambodia, and Malaysia—and in Russia. Vietnamese sex trafficking victims have also been identified in Ghana. Many victims are misled by fraudulent labor opportunities and sold to brothels on the borders of Cambodia, China, and Laos; some are subsequently sent to third countries, including Thailand and Malaysia. Some Vietnamese women who travel to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, or South Korea as part of internationally brokered marriages are subsequently subjected to domestic servitude, forced prostitution, or both. Debt bondage, passport confiscation, and threats of deportation are tactics commonly used to compel Vietnamese victims into servitude. Vietnamese and Chinese organized crime networks transport Vietnamese nationals, mostly children, to the UK and Denmark and subject them to forced labor on cannabis farms. Victims on the farms are lured with promises of lucrative jobs and compelled into servitude through debt bondage, threats of physical harm to themselves and their families, and fear of arrest by European authorities.
Vietnam’s labor export companies, many affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed intermediary brokers sometimes charge workers more than the fees allowed by law for the opportunity to work abroad. As a result, Vietnamese workers incur some of the highest debts among Asian expatriate workers, making them highly vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage. Upon arrival in destination countries, some workers find themselves compelled to work in substandard conditions for little or no pay, with large debts and no credible avenues of legal recourse. A 2013 NGO report found that migrant workers often were not given contracts or were compelled to sign contracts in languages they could not read. Recruitment companies are sometimes unresponsive to workers’ requests for assistance in situations of exploitation.
Vietnamese authorities and NGOs have documented Vietnamese men, women, and children subjected to forced labor within the country. Vietnamese boys and girls, many of whom are from rural areas and some of whom are as young as 12-years-old, are subjected to sex trafficking. NGOs and government officials report traffickers increasingly target victims in remote areas of the country where trafficking awareness remains low among both citizens and officials. Children are subjected to forced street hawking, forced begging, or forced labor in restaurants in major urban centers of Vietnam; some sources report the problem was less severe in 2013 than in years past. Some Vietnamese children are victims of forced and bonded labor in factories run in urban family houses, particularly in the informal garment sector near Ho Chi Minh City, and in privately-run rural gold mines and brick factories. NGOs report that traffickers’ increasing use of the internet to lure victims has led to a rising number of middle-class and urban-dwelling Vietnamese becoming victims. The most commonly reported tactic is for young men to lure young women and girls into online dating relationships; after gaining the victims’ trust, they persuade them to move to a new location where they are subsequently subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. NGOs report that the approximately 22,000 street children in Vietnam, as well as children with disabilities, are at an increased risk of trafficking. Victims are often recruited by relatives or acquaintances, and often with the knowledge, consent, or urging of close family members. The government continued to subject some drug users to forced labor in rehabilitation centers, though a 2013 law and 2014 decree, if implemented, would require that they only be placed in such centers on the basis of a court order. According to a 2012 UNICEF-funded survey on the commercial sexual exploitation of children, Vietnam is a destination for child sex tourism with perpetrators reportedly coming from Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, the UK, Australia, Europe, and the United States.
The Government of Vietnam does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. In July 2013, the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuracy, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of National Defense, and the Ministry of Justice issued a joint circular establishing criminal penalties for the trafficking crimes defined in Vietnam’s 2012 anti-trafficking law. The joint circular went into effect in September 2013, but no cases were prosecuted under the 2012 law during the reporting period. The government issued two additional circulars and one decree providing additional guidance for implementation of the anti-trafficking law’s protection and prevention provisions. Vietnamese authorities continued to prosecute and convict transnational sex trafficking offenders. Media sources reported the convictions of 20 individuals for their involvement in sex trafficking and forced labor in Tay Ninh province in December 2013. Many officials lacked an adequate understanding of the definition of trafficking, particularly labor trafficking, which often resulted in their failure to identify victims or pursue criminal investigations in cases. The Government of Vietnam did not provide adequate remedies to overseas workers who experienced debt bondage or other forms of forced labor.
Recommendations for Vietnam:
Using provisions of the new anti-trafficking law, vigorously prosecute all forms of trafficking and convict and punish traffickers—especially in cases involving forced labor; actively monitor labor recruitment companies and enforce regulations against practices that contribute to trafficking, including the imposition of excess fees; significantly increase training for officials on provisions of the anti-trafficking law, with a specific focus on identifying and investigating cases of forced labor and cases occurring wholly within Vietnam; immediately cease the practice of forcing Vietnamese drug users into commercial labor in government-run drug rehabilitation centers; adopt policies for the proactive identification and provision of assistance to victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers, individuals in prostitution, and child laborers, and train relevant officials in the use of such procedures; support efforts of international organizations or other stakeholders to research and report on trafficking trends in Vietnam, including the public release of research findings; improve interagency cooperation on anti-trafficking efforts in order to monitor and evaluate efforts in the implementation of the national plan of action; improve data collection and data sharing at the national level on trafficking prosecutions, particularly labor-related prosecutions; support awareness-raising programs that reduce stigma and promote reintegration of trafficking returnees; and implement and support a visible anti-trafficking awareness campaign directed at those who solicit adults and children in the sex trade.
The Government of Vietnam sustained law enforcement efforts to combat the transnational sex trafficking of Vietnamese women and girls but made minimal progress in prosecuting labor trafficking offenses. Vietnam’s 2012 anti-trafficking law expanded Articles 119 and 120 of the country’s penal code to specifically define and prohibit sex and labor trafficking. In July 2013, the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuracy, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of National Defense, and the Ministry of Justice issued a joint circular establishing criminal penalties for the trafficking crimes prohibited in this law, though no cases were prosecuted using the expanded definition of trafficking in the 2012 law. With the issuance of the circular, the law now prescribes punishments of two to seven years’ and three to 10 years’ imprisonment, respectively, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape.
Vietnam’s central data collection systems remained inadequate, resulting in inconsistencies in anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim identification statistics among relevant agencies. The government reported that 697 suspected traffickers were arrested, 512 defendants were prosecuted under pre-existing articles of the penal code, and 420 offenders were convicted and sentenced in 2013, a decrease from 490 offenders convicted in 2012. All convicted offenders received sentences of at least three years’ imprisonment. Despite the provisions of the 2012 anti-trafficking law, the Government of Vietnam primarily pursued labor trafficking cases as administrative violations under the country’s labor laws, which do not provide criminal penalties. The government did not provide information on the number of labor trafficking cases it prosecuted. In December 2013, media sources reported that 20 individuals were convicted for their involvement in forcing 40 women to work in a karaoke bar in Tay Ninh province, though it is not known whether any of the convictions were for forced labor. Media sources also reported officials participated in joint investigations and rescue operations in China, Cambodia, and Laos, and officials reported such cooperation led to arrests of four traffickers in Vietnam from information provided by the Chinese government; however, NGOs reported that international law enforcement cooperation remained weak. NGOs also reported many officials were not adequately trained to identify and address cases of human trafficking, particularly labor trafficking, and that provincial officials at times chose not to pursue trafficking prosecutions due to budgetary constraints. A lack of coordination among provinces and across enforcement agencies working on trafficking hampered overall law enforcement progress. Contract disputes between Vietnamese workers and their Vietnam-based labor recruitment companies or companies overseas—including for fraudulent recruitment and conditions indicative of forced labor—were left largely to the companies to resolve. Although workers have the legal right to take cases to court, in practice few have the resources to do so, and there is no known record of a Vietnamese labor trafficking victim successfully achieving compensation in court.
NGOs report trafficking-related corruption continued to occur, primarily at the local level, with corrupt officials at border crossings and checkpoints accepting bribes from traffickers and officials opting not to intervene on victims’ behalf when family relationships existed between traffickers and victims. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.
The Vietnamese government continued efforts to protect victims subjected to transnational sex trafficking, but efforts to identify, and provide protection to, labor trafficking victims or domestic victims remained inadequate. The government had a formal procedure for victim identification, but it did not employ that procedure to proactively identify victims among at-risk groups, such as women arrested for prostitution, migrant workers returning from abroad, and child laborers; victim identification efforts remained poor throughout the country. Police, border guard officials, marine police, and Vietnamese personnel in overseas diplomatic posts have the authority to certify victims. Officials at times conflated trafficking with smuggling, resulting in a failure to identify victims who willingly migrated abroad. The government certified 982 victims of trafficking in 2013, 871 of whom were identified abroad and repatriated to Vietnam.
The Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) provided services and reintegration support to 300 trafficking victims, and 349 victims received assistance from NGOs. The government continued to act as a perpetrator of forced labor, subjecting some drug users to forced labor in rehabilitation centers. In July 2013, the Law on Administrative Sanctions came into effect, outlining provisions for placing drug users in rehabilitation facilities as a result of judicial processes. Nonetheless, during the year, the government continued to forcibly refer drug users to detention facilities in which some were subjected to forced labor. Authorities have formal procedures for receiving trafficking victims identified within Vietnam or in other countries and referring them to care, though in practice this system did not always work effectively, and some victims did not have access to services.
The government did not provide adequate legal protection or assistance to victims of forced labor in Vietnam or abroad. Vietnam maintained labor attachés at their embassies in nine countries receiving large numbers of documented Vietnamese migrant workers; however, Vietnamese diplomatic personnel lacked sufficient training and oversight to address instances of trafficking. There have been reports in past years that some embassy officials failed to protect Vietnamese trafficking victims abroad. Vietnam lacked diplomatic representation or bilateral agreements with some countries where Vietnamese citizens were subjected to trafficking, leaving victims in these countries without access to government assistance. The government did not provide data about individual cases in which diplomatic or consular officials identified or assisted Vietnamese workers subjected to trafficking abroad. Although workers have the right in principle to sue labor export companies, there has been no indication of victims filing such claims in Vietnamese courts.
The Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU), in partnership with NGOs and with foreign donor funding, continued to operate three shelters, one of which was trafficking-specific, in urban areas; the shelters provided counseling and vocational training to women and girls who were sex trafficking victims. Local officials operated four assessment centers that receive and refer victims. At times, victims were housed in MOLISA social protection centers that provide services to a wide range of vulnerable groups, although in many areas these centers are underfunded and lack appropriately trained personnel to assist trafficking victims. There are no shelters or services specifically dedicated to assisting male victims or child victims of any form of trafficking, and there are no shelters or services specifically for victims of labor trafficking. Existing shelters reportedly provided services to some male and child victims. During the year, the government issued two inter-ministerial circulars increasing protections to victims; one established roles and responsibilities for border guards and marine police to address trafficking and one increased the maximum one-time government cash subsidy to trafficking victims to the equivalent of approximately $70. The government did not provide statistics on the number of victims who received this benefit.
The government reportedly encouraged victims to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers, although victims were often reluctant to participate in investigations or trials due to the social stigma attached to being a trafficking victim—particularly if they had been in prostitution—as well as fear of retribution in their local communities, fear of punishment for illegal acts committed in the course of being trafficked, and a lack of incentives for participation. Vietnamese law protects trafficking victims from being prosecuted for actions taken as a direct consequence of being trafficked; however, lack of awareness of this prohibition on the part of some officers and inadequate efforts to proactively identify victims may have led to the treatment of some victims as criminals. The government did not offer foreign victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they faced retribution or hardship.
The Government of Vietnam continued some efforts to prevent human trafficking, but it took other actions that interfered with the ability of public and private stakeholders to combat trafficking, particularly labor trafficking. During the year, the government suppressed the release of a report of an international organization’s research, which assesses the scope of labor trafficking in the country and of Vietnamese citizens abroad—an area in which lack of data impedes anti-trafficking progress. The government has a five-year national action plan on trafficking, active until 2015, and with a budget allotment the equivalent of approximately $15 million; in January 2013, the National Steering Committee on Human Trafficking, which led implementation of the plan, was subsumed into the newly-established Steering Board for Crime Prevention and Control, chaired by the deputy prime minister. The government conducted anti-trafficking awareness campaigns through online media, community based anti-trafficking posters, government-sponsored radio and television programs, workshops, billboards, pamphlets, school programs, and neighborhood meetings. The government suspended the licenses of two recruitment companies and fined eight additional companies for violations of regulations related to sending workers overseas. It issued a decree providing guidance for refusal of marriage registrations where elements of trafficking or fraud are suspected. However, its overall efforts to regulate recruitment companies and marriage brokers remained weak. In December 2013, MOLISA introduced regulations setting a minimum and maximum pre-departure fee and deposit system for Vietnamese workers departing the country for work abroad, ranging from the equivalent of approximately $300 to $3,000. If enforced, the fee ceiling could decrease the debt burden experienced by some workers; however, the mandatory fee and deposit scheme also increases overseas workers vulnerability to debt bondage. The government conducted a media campaign against prostitution, targeting potential consumers of commercial sex acts. It did not make efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.