Vietnam

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Tier 2

VIETNAM: Tier 2

The Government of Vietnam does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Vietnam remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by identifying more victims; expanding anti-trafficking training and awareness campaigns for law enforcement, local government officials, and members of vulnerable communities; and issuing guidelines to relevant ministries and provincial authorities on the national anti-trafficking action plan. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Anti-trafficking efforts were impeded by a lack of interagency coordination, unfamiliarity among provincial officials with anti-trafficking legislation and victim identification procedures, and underdeveloped data collection. Implementation of the amended 2015 Penal Code, including new anti-trafficking articles, continued to be delayed, leaving deficiencies in the law that hindered interagency coordination and law enforcement efforts. Victim protection services remained under-resourced and poorly integrated into referral mechanisms; authorities did not actively screen for trafficking among vulnerable groups or systematically refer victims to care. In addition, authorities deported a large number of foreign victims without referring them to protection services.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR VIETNAM

Fully enact and implement articles 150 and 151 of the new penal code; vigorously prosecute all forms of trafficking and convict and punish traffickers, especially in cases involving forced labor or complicit officials; strengthen efforts to monitor labor recruitment companies and enforce regulations prohibiting the imposition of recruitment fees; align and implement policies to identify and assist victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers, individuals in prostitution, and child laborers, and train relevant officials on these procedures; finalize and conduct the national victims survey in order to improve victim referral mechanisms and services; improve interagency cooperation to effectively implement the anti-trafficking national plan of action, including by clarifying the roles of national and provincial-level government entities, fully integrating trafficking data collection into law enforcement efforts, and ensuring sufficient resources are dedicated to the national plan of action; strengthen efforts to train officials on implementation of penal code amendments, with a focus on identifying and investigating forced labor and internal trafficking cases; allow independent verification that Vietnamese drug users are no longer subjected to forced labor in government-run rehabilitation centers; expand training for consular officials on worker rights and international labor standards; develop programs that reduce stigma and promote reintegration of trafficking returnees; and fully implement the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained modest law enforcement efforts. The 2012 anti-trafficking law expanded articles 119 and 120 of the penal code to define and criminalize sex and labor trafficking; however, these laws do not prohibit all forms of trafficking, and no one has ever been prosecuted under the labor trafficking provisions of the 2012 anti-trafficking law. In 2015, the National Assembly passed a new penal code that included amendments strengthening and clarifying some insufficient provisions of articles 119 and 120; however, these amendments were not in effect at the end of the reporting period due to a decision by the National Assembly to forestall the original July 2016 implementation date. Articles 119 and 120 prescribe punishments ranging from two to 20 years and three years to life imprisonment, respectively, and impose fines on traffickers ranging between five and 50 million Vietnamese dong ($220-$2,196); these punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Starting in 2014, the government maintained a nationwide computer database to track trafficking cases; however, the extent to which it employed this system during the reporting period was unclear, as disparate government bodies continued to report discrepant, overlapping, or incomplete data on anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim identification. The Police and Border Guards reported investigating 234 cases and arresting 308 suspects, but did not report how many of these individuals were prosecuted. The government conducted initial judicial proceedings against 355 trafficking suspects under articles 119 and 120 of the penal code. Of these, the court system reported initiating the prosecution of 295 defendants for trafficking offenses, leading to 275 convictions, compared to 217 convictions in 2015 and 413 convictions in 2014; sentences ranged from two to 20 years imprisonment. Authorities did not disaggregate trafficking offenses from possible smuggling cases.

The government sent interagency delegations to participate in joint investigations on an ad hoc basis in Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, and the United Kingdom, and more routinely in China, Cambodia, and Laos for law enforcement rescue operations. During the reporting period, the government revised its bilateral agreements with China, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos to strengthen counter-trafficking cooperation.

Law enforcement efforts suffered from a lack of coordination across provincial-level agencies, persistent budgetary constraints, local officials’ poor understanding of anti-trafficking legislation, and confusion about individual provinces’ roles and responsibilities in the context of the national action plan. Provincial authorities often did not replicate central government coordination mechanisms and activities in accordance with the national action plan, and there was no mechanism for the Ministry of Public Security (MPS)—which leads interagency anti-trafficking efforts—to transfer necessary funds to other government bodies to implement anti-trafficking activities. These obstacles resulted in uneven anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts.

Police included a trafficking module in its training for new recruits, and the MPS organized trainings for local police in several cities. The government also worked with international organizations to convene two training courses for 38 prosecutors working at the provincial level, a seminar of 25 prosecutors on anti-trafficking best practices, and a training-of-trainers course for 15 supervisory prosecutors. A government-affiliated women’s union conducted trainings on victim identification, as well as on the use of its hotline, for over 10,000 local government staff. The Border Guard Command also completed a new standard operating procedure to investigate trafficking cases in its jurisdiction, but it was not under implementation by the end of the reporting period. Some complicit officials, primarily at commune and village levels, accepted bribes from traffickers, overlooked trafficking indicators, and extorted profit in exchange for reuniting victims with their families. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in trafficking offenses.

PROTECTION

The government maintained mixed efforts to protect victims. In 2016, authorities reported identifying 1,128 victims—an increase from 1,000 in 2015 and 1,031 in 2014—but did not provide statistics disaggregating identified cases by type of trafficking, victim age or gender, source, or destination. Informally, MPS officials estimated 85 percent of identified cases involved transnational trafficking. The government adopted common victim identification criteria as part of the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Human Trafficking (COMMIT) and maintained its own formal procedure for victim identification, but did not proactively or widely employ either mechanism among such vulnerable groups as women arrested for prostitution, migrant workers returning from abroad, and child laborers. It funded and conducted a national survey on victim repatriation and reintegration to better inform its victim support procedures, but the survey remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government did not systematically refer victims to protective services due to inadequacies in its formal referral process, including some border guards’ unfamiliarity with trafficking crimes, a lack of interjurisdictional cooperation, and incomplete data collection processes. In addition, authorities deported a large number of victims without referring them to services, including as many as 218 Cambodian victims—152 of whom were children. Some officials continued to conflate trafficking with smuggling, which precluded the identification of victims who voluntarily migrated abroad.

In 2016, the government reported assisting approximately 600 victims—a slight decrease from 650 in 2015 and 668 in 2014. Victims could request initial psychological counseling, healthcare consultations, and legal and financial assistance; the government reported providing many victims with vocational training, employment opportunities, and lines of credit at a reduced interest rate. The Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) and a government-affiliated women’s union often referred victims to NGOs depending on their individual needs. However, due to insufficient recordkeeping, it was unclear how many of the aforementioned identified victims benefitted from government or NGO protection services. Authorities did not report how many victims received the one-time government cash subsidy of up to 21.5 million dong ($944). MOLISA continued operating 400 social protection centers through local authorities to provide services to a wide range of vulnerable groups, including trafficking victims; these centers were unevenly staffed, under-resourced, and lacked appropriately trained personnel to assist victims. NGOs reported psycho-social services for victims remained underdeveloped, and provincial-level government officials relied too heavily on poverty reduction in lieu of other more robust victim protection services.

A government-affiliated women’s union, in partnership with NGOs and with foreign donor funding, continued to operate three shelters in urban cities, including one dedicated to trafficking victims. The union reported assisting 25 victims in 2016, including 18 newcomers and seven who had arrived during the previous reporting period, and helped to repatriate 42 Vietnamese women and children subjected to trafficking overseas. There were no shelters designated exclusively for male or child victims, although existing shelters provided assistance to all victims as needed.

The government maintained labor representatives at diplomatic missions in countries with large numbers of documented Vietnamese migrant workers, but reduced the number of such missions from nine to six during the reporting period. These missions could provide basic provisions, transportation, and healthcare to Vietnamese citizens subjected to trafficking abroad. However, some diplomatic personnel reportedly lacked sufficient training to adequately assist victims, and NGOs report some overseas missions were unresponsive to foreign countries’ attempts to connect them with Vietnamese victims. The government reported 106 requests for victim identification at its diplomatic missions, culminating in 102 repatriations with government support; however, the total number of victims received by local authorities was likely higher. The government encouraged trafficking victims to assist in judicial proceedings against traffickers and offered them some protection and compensation; however, the extent to which these measures were applied remained unknown. The law protects victims from prosecution for crimes committed as a result of having been subjected to trafficking, but NGOs reported victims were less likely to come forward about their abuses in a judicial setting due to fears that they may face arrest or deportation. Endemic social stigma associated with victimhood and concerns over retribution in their local communities likely further discouraged many victims from seeking or benefitting from protection services. The government did not offer foreign victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face retribution or hardship.

PREVENTION

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. During the reporting period, it issued guidelines to relevant ministries and provincial authorities on the 2016-2020 national anti-trafficking action plan to address forced labor, improve victim services, and implement the revised anti-trafficking penal code; however, it did not allocate sufficient funding to carry out the plan for a second year, and lack of inter-ministerial cooperation generally hampered effective implementation. It continued to develop its national database on trafficking statistics for the third year, but it was unclear if it made any demonstrable progress on bringing it closer to integration with law enforcement efforts or judicial proceedings. The government conducted workshops and hosted community dialogues on vulnerabilities to labor trafficking, targeting areas with a high prevalence of agricultural labor, construction, and foreign contract labor recruitment—especially of women. Public awareness-raising activities included advertisements, interventions at schools in high-risk geographic areas, and broadcast media campaigns. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Information and Communications directed state-run media to air more than 1,300 documentaries and news stories to raise public awareness, compared to 570 radio and television programs in 2015.

During the year, the government ratified the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, revised its memoranda of understanding with four primary destination countries, and signed several additional bilateral agreements that included anti-trafficking cooperative provisions. NGOs report pre-departure fee and deposit requirements for Vietnamese migrant workers—ranging from 6.5 to 65 million dong ($285 to $2,855)—increased their vulnerability to debt bondage overseas. The government made tangible efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the reporting year by conducting raids at establishments notorious for prostitution and prostitution brokering and imposing fines on individuals purchasing sex. The ongoing Prostitution Prevention and Combating Program (2016-2020) aimed to reduce demand through educational campaigns targeting consumers of commercial sex and income generation programs for persons in prostitution, but its impact was unclear, and statistics about related activities were unavailable at the end of the reporting period. The government required anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel prior to their departure to overseas posts.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported for the last five years, Vietnam is a source and, to a lesser extent, a destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Vietnamese men and women migrate abroad for work independently or through state-owned, private, or joint-stock labor recruitment companies. Some recruitment companies are unresponsive to workers’ requests for assistance in situations of exploitation, and some charge excessive fees that make workers more vulnerable to debt bondage. Some victims are subjected to forced labor in construction, fishing, agriculture, mining, logging, and manufacturing, primarily in Taiwan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Laos, Angola, United Arab Emirates, and Japan; there are increasing reports of Vietnamese labor trafficking victims in the United Kingdom, continental Europe, and the Middle East. Vietnamese women and children are subjected to sex trafficking abroad; many are misled by fraudulent employment opportunities and sold to brothel operators on the borders of China, Cambodia, and Laos, and elsewhere in Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. Some Vietnamese women who travel abroad for internationally brokered marriages or jobs in restaurants, massage parlors, and karaoke bars—mostly to China, Malaysia, and Singapore—are subjected to domestic servitude or forced prostitution. False advertising, debt bondage, passport confiscation, and threats of deportation are tactics commonly used to compel Vietnamese victims into servitude. Traffickers increasingly use the internet, gaming sites, and particularly social media to lure potential victims into vulnerable situations; for example, men entice young women and girls with online dating relationships and persuade them to move abroad, then subject them to forced labor or sex trafficking. Vietnamese organized crime networks recruit Vietnamese adults and children under pretenses of lucrative job opportunities and transport them to Europe—particularly the United Kingdom—and subject them to forced labor on cannabis farms.

Within the country, Vietnamese men, women, and children—including street children and children with disabilities—are subjected to forced labor, although little information is available on these cases. Children are subjected to forced street hawking and begging in major urban centers. Some children are subjected to forced and bonded labor in informal garment and brick factories, in urban family homes, and in privately-run rural mines. Many children from impoverished rural areas, and a rising number from middle class and urban settings, are subjected to sex trafficking. Child sex tourists, reportedly from elsewhere in Asia, the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States, exploit children in Vietnam. A 2014 legal provision requires a judicial proceeding before detention of drug users in compulsory drug rehabilitation centers and restricts detainees’ maximum work day to four hours. Although the government reports that it no longer subjects drug users to forced labor in rehabilitation centers, there has been no independent verification of these claims, and international organizations report that authorities continue the practice. Complicit Vietnamese officials, primarily at commune and village levels, facilitate trafficking or exploit victims by accepting bribes from traffickers, overlooking trafficking indicators, and extorting profit in exchange for reuniting victims with their families.