Vietnam is a source and, to a lesser extent, a destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Vietnam is a source country for men and women who migrate abroad for work either on their own or through state-owned, private, and joint-stock labor export recruitment companies. Vietnamese men and women also migrate through informal labor recruitment companies in the construction, fishing, agriculture, mining, logging, and manufacturing sectors primarily to Taiwan, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Laos, the United Arab Emirates, and Japan, and also to a lesser extent to China, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, France, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Russia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa. Some of these workers subsequently face conditions of forced labor. Vietnamese women and children subjected to sex trafficking throughout Asia are often misled by fraudulent labor opportunities and sold to brothels on the borders of Cambodia, China, and Laos, with some eventually sent to third countries, including Thailand and Malaysia. Some Vietnamese women and children are forced into prostitution in South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Russia.
Vietnam’s labor export companies, most of which are affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed intermediary brokers have been known to charge workers in excess of 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. Studies have found that many Vietnamese migrants who go abroad for work face high recruitment fees that put them in a state of debt bondage for years; the majority of those who return to Vietnam early—after one to two years—are unable to earn enough to pay off those debts. Upon arrival in destination countries, some workers find themselves compelled to work in substandard conditions for little or no pay despite large debts and with no credible avenues of legal recourse. Some recruitment companies reportedly did not allow workers to read their contracts until the day before they were scheduled to depart the country, and workers also reportedly signed contracts in languages they could not read. There also have been documented cases of recruitment companies being unresponsive to workers’ requests for assistance in situations of exploitation.
Vietnamese and Chinese organized crime groups are involved in the forced labor of Vietnamese children on cannabis farms in the UK, where they are subject to debts up to the equivalent of approximately $32,000 each. Reports indicate that many of these Vietnamese victims fly with an agent to Russia and then are transported via trucks through Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, and France before arriving in the UK. There are also reports of some Vietnamese men, women, and children subjected to forced labor within Vietnam as well as abroad. Most northern and central trafficking victims are trafficked to China for sexual exploitation or forced labor; victims in southern Vietnam are primarily trafficked to Cambodia and forced into prostitution, sometimes subsequently sent to third countries in Southeast Asia. In both sex and labor trafficking, debt bondage, confiscation of identity and travel documents, and threats of deportation are commonly used to intimidate victims. Some Vietnamese women moving to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and South Korea as part of internationally brokered marriages are subsequently subjected to conditions of forced labor (including as domestic servants), forced prostitution, or both. There are reports of trafficking of Vietnamese people, particularly women and girls, from poor, rural provinces to urban areas, including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and newly developed urban zones such as Binh Duong. While some individuals migrate willingly, they may subsequently be sold into forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.
Vietnamese children from rural areas are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. Children also are subjected to forced street hawking, forced begging, or forced labor in restaurants in major urban centers of Vietnam, though some sources report the problem is less severe than in years past. Some Vietnamese children are victims of forced and bonded labor in factories run in urban family houses and in privately run rural gold mines. 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 falling prey to human trafficking. 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. During 2012, the government used existing laws to criminally prosecute some labor trafficking offenses; in many cases prosecutors relied on Article 139, “Appropriating Properties Through Swindling.” Additionally, two separate decrees were issued during the reporting period on victim identification and victim shelters. Rehabilitation centers for drug users and people in prostitution, run by the Vietnamese government, continued to subject residents to forced labor in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing despite continued international criticism. The Government of Vietnam failed to provide adequate remedies to overseas workers who experienced debt bondage or other forms of forced labor.
Recommendations for Vietnam: Issue necessary decrees or other official guidance to fully implement the new anti-trafficking law, including through the application of stringent criminal penalties for all forms of trafficking; train front-line officers and judicial officials on the provisions of the anti-trafficking law, with a specific focus on recognizing victim exploitation as the essential element of trafficking crimes; criminally prosecute those involved in forced labor, the recruitment of persons for the purpose of forced labor, or fraudulent labor recruitment, and apply stringent penalties to convicted offenders; immediately cease the practice of forcing Vietnamese citizens into commercial labor in government-run drug rehabilitation centers; adopt policies for the proactive identification of victims among vulnerable groups, such as Vietnamese migrant workers who have been subjected to forced labor, and ensure they are provided with victim services; develop formal procedures for identification, using internationally recognized indicators of forced labor such as the confiscation of travel documents by employers or labor brokers, and train relevant officials in the use of such procedures; continue efforts to protect Vietnamese workers going abroad through memoranda of understanding and agreements with additional destination countries; take measures to protect victims of labor trafficking to ensure workers are not threatened or otherwise punished for protesting labor conditions or for leaving their place of employment; 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; promote primary and secondary school education for youth populations at risk of trafficking; 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 its law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in 2012. Despite Vietnam’s comprehensive anti-trafficking law, which went into effect in January 2012, criminal penalties have not yet been established; this has to be done by the issuance of guidance by the Supreme People’s Court. The expanded definition of trafficking in persons in the new law was not applied during the reporting period because the government has not yet issued necessary guidance to law enforcement personnel.
As the new law had not yet been implemented, the majority of traffickers were prosecuted under pre-existing articles of the penal code, which are vague in scope but could potentially be used to prosecute some forms of trafficking. Article 119 of the penal code criminalizes trafficking in women but does not appear to define “trafficking.” Article 120 prohibits “trading in, appropriating, or exchanging children,” which are also not defined. These articles prescribe sufficiently stringent punishments of two to seven years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Judicial officials have interpreted these provisions to apply only to cases that involve a third-party exchange of payment. Other cases were administratively punished under the country’s labor laws, which do not provide criminal penalties.
Vietnam’s central data collection systems remained inadequate to provide law enforcement statistics on trafficking prosecutions and convictions during the year segregated by type of trafficking. Statistics provided on prosecution, convictions, and victims identified did not correspond between the Supreme People’s Procuracy and the Supreme People’s Court. The Supreme People’s Procuracy reported that authorities prosecuted 232 cases of trafficking and related offenses in 2012 under Articles 119 and 120. The government reported that in calendar year 2012 the Supreme People’s Court brought to trial, convicted, and sentenced 490 defendants. Of these, seven defendants received sentences between 20 and 30 years in jail, 38 between 15 and 20 years, 137 between seven and 15 years, 265 less than seven years’, 48 defendants were put on probation, and one was fined. Three hundred and ninety-one defendants were tried under Article 119 and 85 under Article 120. The government continued to pursue prosecutions primarily in transnational sex trafficking cases, and overall law enforcement efforts were inadequate to address all forms of human trafficking in Vietnam. The government began sending Ministry of Public Security (MPS) officials on short-term assignments to Cambodia, China, and Laos to lead Vietnam’s cooperation efforts in joint trafficking investigations. Although Vietnam does not track the number of cooperative international investigations on trafficking in which it participated, it was reported that there were several instances of MPS officials traveling to China for rescue operations of trafficking victims that led to the arrest of over 200 traffickers and the rescue of 216 trafficking victims in China.
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; thus, in practice, workers are left without reasonable legal recourse in such cases. Through a regular inspection program, the government monitored and punished fraudulent labor recruiters for not adhering to labor recruiting regulations, including offenses considered to be contributing factors to human trafficking.
Many NGOs indicated that trafficking-related corruption continued to occur at the local level, including 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 reported two cases of public officials’ complicity in human trafficking during the reporting period that led to convictions. In December 2012, the appellate court in Ho Chi Minh City upheld the life sentence given to a Can Tho City Department of justice official for receiving a total of more than approximately the equivalent of $195,000 in bribes between May 2009 and October 2010 to conduct marriage registrations involving foreigners that facilitated trafficking. The second conviction was in January 2013; the Nghe An Supreme People’s Court sentenced a former deputy chief of Bao Thang commune police to three years in prison for trafficking adults and six years for trafficking children.
The Vietnamese government made some progress in its efforts to protect victims, primarily those subjected to transnational sex trafficking, but it did not make efforts to adequately identify victims among vulnerable populations or protect victims of labor trafficking or trafficking that occurred wholly within the country. Two decrees drafted to guide the implementation of the trafficking in persons law concerning victim protection were completed and issued during the reporting year: Decree No. 62/2012/ND-CP on the grounds for victim identification and protection of victims and their relatives and Decree No. 09/2013/ND-CP detailing the implementation of articles in the trafficking in persons law regarding victim support facilities, mechanisms, procedures, and proceedings. The government did not develop or employ systematic nationwide procedures to proactively and effectively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, such as women arrested for prostitution and migrant workers returning from abroad, and victim identification efforts remained poor across all identified migration and trafficking streams.
MPS reported that 883 Vietnamese trafficking victims were identified by authorities between January and December 2012. During this period, border guards coordinated with other government agencies to rescue and receive 201 victims of trafficking; of these victims, 119 were identified and repatriated by foreign governments or NGOs and 38 self-identified. There were no specific protections from deportation in Vietnam’s law and no provisions for granting residency status for foreign nationals who are victims of trafficking. When Vietnam is a transit or destination country for foreign victims, the government liaises with the sending country for the victims’ safe return to Vietnam.
The Law on Administrative Sanctions was adopted in June 2012 and will come into effect July 1, 2013. This new law will ensure that drug users are not automatically referred to a detention facility where they have in the past routinely been subjected to forced labor. Media reports during the reporting period indicated, however, that the government continued to perpetrate forced labor of drug users under current regulations. Authorities have formal procedures for receiving trafficking victims and referring them to care, although the referral system has some significant deficiencies, such as failing to identify victims who do not return via official border crossings or who do not want to be identified by authorities due to social stigma or other reasons. The government did not provide adequate legal protection from forced labor or assistance to victims in Vietnam or abroad. In September 2012, the media reported that a Vietnamese-owned factory in Russia had kept Vietnamese workers in slave-like conditions and that Vietnamese diplomats had visited the site and failed to offer assistance. Vietnam maintains labor attachés in the nine countries receiving the largest number of documented Vietnamese migrant workers; however, it does not maintain embassies in some countries to which there are reports of Vietnamese nationals having been trafficked. In some places where there are embassies, diplomatic personnel responded inadequately to protect migrant workers, and the government acknowledged that its diplomats lacked sufficient training and oversight. The government did not publish data about individual cases in which diplomatic or consular officials identified or assisted Vietnamese workers subjected to forced labor abroad. Government regulations do not prohibit private employers from withholding the passports of workers in destination countries, and Vietnamese companies withheld workers’ travel documents, a known indicator of trafficking. Although workers have the right in principle to sue labor export companies, there has been no indication of victims receiving legal redress in Vietnamese courts for such claims.
The government’s Vietnamese Women’s Union (VWU), in partnership with NGOs and with foreign donor funding, continued to operate three trafficking shelters in Vietnam’s largest urban areas; the shelters provided counseling and vocational training to female sex trafficking victims. The VWU and border guards also operate smaller shelters that provide temporary assistance to migrants in need at some of the most heavily used crossing points. At times victims were housed in Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) social protection centers that provide services to a wide range of vulnerable groups, although officials acknowledged that victims were better served in trafficking-specific shelters. In many areas shelters are rudimentary, underfunded, and lack appropriately trained personnel. There are no shelters or services specifically dedicated to assisting male victims, child victims, or victims of labor trafficking, although existing shelters reportedly provided services to some male and child victims. NGOs report some victims opt not to stay at a victim support facility or receive social services due to a fear of social stigma from identifying as a trafficking victim. Trafficking victims are eligible for a cash subsidy up to the equivalent of approximately $50, paid through local authorities; the government did not provide statistics on the number of victims who received this benefit. The government continued to provide contributions of office space and personnel to international organizations conducting anti-trafficking projects.
The government reportedly encourages victims to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers, although the Vietnamese government generally does not provide police-assisted witness protection to victims of crime. Victims were often reluctant to participate in investigations or trials due to social stigma particularly as it relates to prostitution, fear of retribution in their local communities, and lack of incentives for participation. Vietnamese law protects trafficking victims from facing criminal charges for actions taken as a direct consequence of being trafficked; however, inadequate efforts to identify victims among vulnerable populations may have led to some victims being treated as law violators. The government did not offer foreign victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they faced retribution or hardship.
The Government of Vietnam made some efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. Under the prime minister’s Decree 1427, the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) and VWU maintained anti-trafficking campaigns through online media, community based anti-trafficking posters, workshops, billboards, art performances, pamphlets, school programs, and neighborhood meetings. Of the two decrees issued during the reporting year, the first, Decree No 62/2012/ND-CP provided guidance in victim identification under the trafficking in persons law. The decree provides a formal legal procedure for victim identification but does not specify its proactive application to high-risk populations. In addition, the decree states that in the absence of conclusive documentation or evidence of a victim’s exploitation or trafficking, identification can be made based upon a victim’s discovery or known overlapping presence with other identified victims, physical and psychological traits showing signs of sexual abuse or forced labor, reports made by relatives made to the authorities, or other information contributing to a reasonable belief the person may be a victim of trafficking. A key change in the identification procedures under the trafficking in persons law is the expansion in the number of government agencies authorized to verify the status of a trafficking victim.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintained its online migration website providing prospective migrants with access to information about the legal guidelines governing recruitment companies; however, the government did not increase efforts to enforce these regulations, and overall efforts to regulate recruitment companies and marriage brokers remained weak. With assistance and cooperation from international organizations, governments, NGOs, and foreign donors, the Vietnamese government increased efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. In September 2012, the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments agreed to implement a memorandum of understanding on combating trafficking for the period 2013-2015. The government has a five year national action plan on human trafficking active until 2015 and has allocated the equivalent of approximately $15 million to implement the plan, which covers all forms of trafficking and coordinates the government’s anti-trafficking responses through the National Steering Committee on Human Trafficking chaired by the deputy prime minister.