[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

VIETNAM (TIER 2)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

Vietnam is a source and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Women and children are trafficked to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Cambodia, Thailand, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Macau for sexual exploitation. Vietnam is a source country for men and women who migrate for work through informal networks and through state-owned and private labor export companies in the construction, fishing, or manufacturing sectors in Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, the PRC, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Western Europe, and the Middle East, but subsequently face conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Labor export companies may charge workers as much as $10,000 for the opportunity to work abroad, making them highly vulnerable to debt bondage. There are reports of Vietnamese children trafficked to the UK by Vietnamese organized crime gangs for forced labor on cannabis farms, and Vietnamese boys trafficked to China for forced labor in agriculture and factory settings. Traffickers are often residents or former residents of the victims’ communities. Some Vietnamese women going to the PRC, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and increasingly to the Republic of Korea for arranged marriages were victims of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. There were reports of women from Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta forced into prostitution after marrying overseas, as well as reports of ethnic Hmong girls and women lured to or abducted and transported to southern China and subsequently sold into marriage. Vietnam is a destination country for Cambodian children trafficked to urban centers for forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. Vietnamese and Cambodian children from rural areas are trafficked to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi for forced begging or the selling of flowers and lottery tickets, often part of organized crime rings. Vietnam has a significant internal trafficking problem with women and children from rural areas trafficked to urban centers for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. Vietnam is increasingly a destination for child sex tourism, with perpetrators from Japan, the Republic of Korea, the PRC, 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. While the government continued to prosecute sex trafficking offenders and made some efforts to protect victims of trafficking, it did not make sufficient efforts to criminally prosecute offenders of labor trafficking, or to protect victims of labor trafficking. While recent laws provide some recourse to victims of labor trafficking, bureaucratic inertia and a lack of resources for victims make this recourse difficult for trafficking victims to pursue. Although it took steps to combat cross-border sex trafficking by expanding investigations and prosecutions of traffickers, the Vietnamese government has not yet focused adequately on internal trafficking and needs to make more progress in the areas of law enforcement, victim protection, and prevention of labor trafficking and internal trafficking. The government’s initiatives to increase labor exports have not been complemented by adequate efforts to prevent labor trafficking and protect workers going abroad.

Recommendations for Vietnam: Institute criminal penalties for recruitment agencies and others involved in labor trafficking; criminally prosecute those involved in fraudulent labor recruitment or exploitation of labor; take steps to protect Vietnamese migrant workers from being subjected to practices that contribute to forced labor, such as the withholding of travel documents; ensure that state-licensed recruitment agencies do not engage in fraud or charge illegal “commissions” for overseas employment; extend proactive procedures to identify victims of internal trafficking and labor trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as repatriated Vietnamese migrant laborers; take measures to ensure that victims of labor trafficking are not threatened or otherwise punished for protesting or leaving an exploitative labor situation in Vietnam or abroad; assist Vietnamese workers returning from abroad in the resolution of labor contract disputes; and implement and support a visible anti-trafficking awareness campaign directed as clients of the sex trade.

The Vietnamese government demonstrated increased law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in persons for transnational sex trafficking, though it did not take adequate steps to combat labor trafficking. While statutes in the Penal Code prohibit trafficking, existing laws do not adequately cover all forms of trafficking, including labor trafficking and the recruiting and harboring of trafficking victims. The majority of traffickers are prosecuted under Articles 119 and 120 of the Penal Code, which can be used against some forms of trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation, but can also be used to prosecute a variety of related crimes. In October 2008, the government submitted proposed amendments to Articles 119 and 120 of the Penal Code to include the trafficking of men over the age of 16. Labor laws do not provide criminal penalties for labor trafficking. Contract disputes between workers and the Vietnam-based export labor recruiting company or the employing company overseas are left almost entirely to the export labor recruiting company. Workers must bring their cases to court if they feel they have been unjustly treated by the export labor recruiting company, though in practice, few have the resources to do so. Despite several reported cases of forced labor and debt bondage of Vietnamese workers abroad, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of offenders of labor trafficking during the reporting period. The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) reported that while some labor recruitment companies were fined or had activities restricted due to various violations, none had their licenses revoked for violations of the law. Vietnam’s National Steering Committee on trafficking in persons reported that in 2008, police investigated 330 cases and convicted 424 individuals for violations of Articles 119 and 120 of the Vietnamese Penal Code, which includes some forms of trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation, as well as a variety of related crimes. Trafficking-related corruption occurred at the local level, where officials at border crossings and checkpoints take bribes to look the other way, though the government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of officials for trafficking-related complicity.

The Vietnamese government demonstrated some efforts at protecting cross-border sex trafficking victims in 2008. While the government took action to further protect workers by implementing the labor export assistance fund and providing stricter regulations on brokerage fees for labor export it does not provide adequate legal protection or assistance to the estimated 500,000 Vietnamese workers abroad from conditions of forced labor and debt bondage. Agreements signed with governments of labor-demand countries did not appear to have adequate provisions to prevent human trafficking and protect victims of trafficking from conditions of forced labor and debt bondage. Although the government says the practice of passport confiscation is unacceptable, MOLISA authorized recruitment companies to illegally withhold workers’ travel documents during the reporting period; Vietnamese embassies abroad reportedly do issue travel documents when employers refuse to return them. The Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU), with the assistance of NGOs, continued to run four shelters which provide psycho-social counseling and vocational training for female victims of sex trafficking. There are no shelters designated specifically for victims of labor trafficking; however, these victims have access to the same “social protection centers” that many female sex trafficking victims can turn to for assistance. Sex trafficking victims were encouraged to assist in the investigation and prosecution process, but there was no data on the number of victims involved in prosecutions during the reporting period. Repatriated Vietnamese trafficking victims were not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. In March 2009, Vietnamese officials repatriated a Vietnamese minor identified in Laos as a sex trafficking victim before she could access necessary medical treatment in Laos. The government established some procedures to identify cross-border sex trafficking victims and trained 150 officials on the procedures with assistance from an international organization, but has not yet developed a comprehensive system to identify victims of internal trafficking or labor trafficking from among vulnerable groups. Since May 2008, the government reported that it officially identified 410 victims, compared to 450 for all of 2007. In May 2008, the government, with NGO assistance, established procedures for referring victims to appropriate care, and began to implement the referral system for women and girls identified as trafficking victims. The government does not exhibit adequate efforts to identify trafficking victims among women arrested for prostitution; as a result, sex trafficking victims may be vulnerable to being penalized for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.

In February 2008, a group of 176 Vietnamese women recruited by Vietnamese state-owned labor agencies for work in Jordan were allegedly subjected to conditions of fraudulent recruitment, contract switching, debt bondage, unlawful confiscation of travel documents, confinement, and manipulation of employment terms – all indications of possible trafficking for forced labor. These conditions led to a worker strike and subsequently, altercations among workers and with the Jordanian police. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent an inter-ministerial team to Jordan to address the situation and attempt to convince the workers to go back to work. Several workers reported that officials attempted to intimidate them and refused workers’ requests to intervene to get their back pay and pressure the employer to honor their contracts. Some reports stated that the workers faced threats of retaliation by Vietnamese government officials and employment agency representatives if they did not return to work. After labor negotiations failed, the Vietnamese government repatriated 157 of the workers; the other 19 workers elected to stay in Jordan. Although the government fined the three state-owned labor companies involved and restricted them from sending workers to Jordan in the future, it did not criminally prosecute labor agency officials for trafficking-related offenses. The government does not consider the workers possible victims of trafficking and has not assisted the repatriated workers in retrieving their back pay or recruitment fees. In another reported case of labor trafficking, four Vietnamese women were recruited by a state-owned recruitment company to work as domestic workers in Malaysia. The workers report that their passports and contracts were confiscated upon arrival, and the women were imprisoned in their employers’ home where they were forced to work 18 hours a day with no pay. The women were able to escape and return to Vietnam, but the government reportedly did not assist the victims in obtaining compensation for their unpaid work in Malaysia and the high recruitment fees they reportedly paid.

The Vietnamese government continued efforts to prevent trafficking through public awareness. The VWU and the Vietnam Youth Union continued to conduct nationwide anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns. The VWU also continued to cooperate with its South Korean counterpart in a program of pre-marriage counseling centers in Vietnam, in an effort to prevent trafficking through international marriages of Vietnamese women. In March 2008, the Vietnamese government signed an anti-trafficking Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Thailand, though some NGOs question the feasibility of the agreement’s implementation. Despite Vietnam’s efforts to engage in dialogue and enhance law enforcement cooperation with Malaysia and other Asian destination countries for Vietnamese trafficking victims, regional cooperation remains a challenge. The government recognizes that Vietnam is becoming an increasingly attractive destination for international child sex tourism. Vietnam works with foreign governments where foreign pedophiles are wanted for child sex tourism, though it declined to share information on cases handled. There were no measures undertaken by the government to reduce demand for commercial sex acts. In April 2008, the Vietnamese government completed an investigation of a series of export labor-related fraud cases, 80 percent of which involved Vietnamese laborers recruited by unlicensed brokers to go to the Republic of Korea. Reports indicate that over 100 perpetrators were convicted for at least 70 cases of fraud involving 3,000 victims of fraud in the 2006-2007 timeframe. Vietnam has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.