Last Updated: Tuesday, 02 September 2014, 13:10 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Vietnam

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Vietnam, 27 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12ee37c.html [accessed 2 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Vietnam (Tier 2 Watch List)

Vietnam is a source and, to a lesser extent, a destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and conditions of forced labor. Vietnam is a source country for men and women who migrate abroad for work through predominantly state-affiliated and private labor export companies in the construction, fishing, agriculture, mining, logging, and manufacturing sectors, primarily in Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea,Laos, the United Arab Emirates, and Japan, as well as in China, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Russia, and elsewhere in the Middle East, and some of these workers subsequently face conditions of forced labor. Vietnamese women and children subjected to forced prostitution 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 are forced into prostitution in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and in Europe.

Vietnam's labor export companies, most of which are affiliated with the state, as well as unlicensed middlemen brokers, may charge workers in excess of the fees allowed by law, sometimes as much as $10,000, for the opportunity to work abroad. This forces them to incur some of the highest debts among Asian expatriate workers, making them highly vulnerable to debt bondage and forced labor. Upon arrival in destination countries, some workers find themselves compelled to work in substandard conditions for little or no pay despite large debts and no credible avenues of legal recourse. Some of Vietnam's recruitment companies reportedly did not allow workers to read their contracts until the day before they were scheduled to depart the country, after the workers had already paid significant recruitment fees, often incurring debt. Some workers even reported signing 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 United Kingdom, where they were subject to debts of up to $32,000. According to a UK government report released during the year, many of these Vietnamese victims flew with an agent to Russia, transported via trucks through the Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, and then to the UK. During the year, 15 Vietnamese men who were victims of forced labor on a Taiwan-owned fishing vessel were freed in Costa Rica, and Vietnamese women in Thailand were reportedly forced to be surrogate birth mothers for foreigners. There are also reports of some Vietnamese children trafficked within the country as well as abroad for forced labor. In both sex trafficking and labor trafficking, debt bondage, confiscation of identity and travel documents, and threats of deportation are commonly utilized to intimidate victims. Some Vietnamese women moving to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and increasingly to 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, 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 be subsequently 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 and forced begging in the 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 urban family-run house factories and gold mines. There continued to be evidence of forced labor in drug treatment centers in which drug offenders, sentenced administratively, are required to perform low-skilled labor, though this practice is reportedly declining. While the number of persons sent to such centers is approximately one-third of what it was three years ago, there are reports that individuals who failed to meet work quotas were punished through beatings and other physical abuse. Vietnam is a destination for child sex tourism with perpetrators reportedly coming from Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Australia, Europe, and the United States, though the problem is not believed to be widespread.

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 the year, the government passed new anti-trafficking legislation and a new five-year national action plan on trafficking. Nevertheless, while a number of structural reforms were carried out during the year, there remained a lack of tangible progress in the prosecution of trafficking offenders and protection of trafficking victims during the reporting period. In March 2011, the government passed an Anti-Trafficking Statute that provides a comprehensive list of prohibited acts, including some forms of trafficking not previously prohibited by other statutes, and also provides for trafficking prevention efforts. While the government states that most trafficking acts, including labor trafficking, are already covered under Vietnam's Criminal Code, other acts of trafficking require additional legislation and implementing regulations before Vietnam's laws have criminal penalties for all forms of trafficking. The government did not provide information to substantiate reports that authorities criminally prosecuted and criminally punished labor trafficking offenders during the year. Vietnam, therefore, is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a second consecutive year. Vietnam continued to promote increased labor exports as a way of addressing unemployment and alleviating poverty through foreign exchange remittances, though further measures are required to protect the rights of Vietnamese migrant workers and to prevent new incidents of labor trafficking, such as the implementation of adequate laws to regulate labor recruitment companies. The government also did not take steps to increase its efforts to address the problem of internal trafficking in Vietnam.

Recommendations for Vietnam: Supplement Vietnam's new anti-trafficking law with additional legislation, implementing regulations, or other appropriate mechanism to ensure that the criminal code prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons and prescribes stringent criminal penalties for these prohibited acts; criminally prosecute those involved in forced labor, the recruitment of persons for the purpose of forced labor, or fraudulent labor recruitment; identify Vietnamese migrant workers who have been subjected to forced labor and ensure that they are provided with victim services; develop formal procedures to this end, and train relevant officials in the use of such procedures, including internationally recognized indicators of forced labor such as the confiscation of travel documents by employers or labor brokers; increase efforts to protect Vietnamese workers going abroad through memoranda of understanding and agreements with destination countries that include measures to protect Vietnamese workers; criminally prosecute and punish state-licensed recruitment agencies and unlicensed brokers that engage in fraud or charge illegal commissions for overseas employment; take measures to protect victims of labor trafficking to ensure that workers are not threatened or otherwise punished for protesting labor conditions or for leaving their place of employment; increase efforts to assist male victims of trafficking and victims of labor trafficking; increase the ability of workers to have effective legal redress from labor trafficking; report on greater efforts to work closely with destination governments to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, including in particular labor trafficking cases; improve interagency cooperation on anti-trafficking efforts; improve data collection and data sharing on trafficking prosecutions, particularly labor-related prosecutions; and implement and support a visible anti-trafficking awareness campaign directed at clients of the sex trade.

Prosecution

While the Vietnamese government demonstrated some efforts in addressing transnational sex trafficking, it demonstrated overall inadequate law enforcement efforts to combat all forms of human trafficking during the reporting period, including in particular labor trafficking. Authorities did not report any investigations or prosecutions of cases of internal trafficking and did not provide information to substantiate reports that it had prosecuted 14 cases of labor trafficking. In March 2011, the National Assembly passed a new Anti-Trafficking Statute, which provided further definitions on trafficking in persons, as well as victim care and trafficking prevention, but did not assign criminal penalties to the additional prohibited trafficking offenses enumerated in the law. The government acknowledged that there must be further implementing regulations, agency guidelines, or amendments to the Criminal Code to ensure that perpetrators are held criminally accountable for all trafficking crimes. During the year, the government reported that the majority of traffickers were prosecuted under Articles 119 and 120 of the Penal Code, which can be used to prosecute a variety of trafficking and related crimes. Authorities reported that Article 119 can be used to prosecute some forms of trafficking, including labor trafficking, and prescribes punishments of two to seven years' imprisonment, which is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. It does not cover, however, all forms of trafficking, including some provisions enumerated in the new Anti-Trafficking Statute. Vietnamese law still does not include provisions that would specifically punish attempts to commit a trafficking offense. During the year, the government reported that it prosecuted most labor trafficking cases not under Article 119, but rather under criminal fraud statutes and under Vietnamese labor laws, the latter of which do not provide criminal penalties for labor trafficking.

Contract disputes between Vietnamese workers and their Vietnam-based export labor recruitment companies or companies overseas – including for fraudulent recruitment and conditions that are indicative of forced labor – are left largely to the export labor recruiting company 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. Vietnam's National Supreme Court reported that between January and December of 2010, authorities prosecuted 153 cases of sex trafficking and convicted 274 individuals for sex trafficking offenses; however, these statistics were based on Articles 119 and 120 of the Vietnamese Penal Code, which include crimes other than trafficking, such as human smuggling and child abduction for adoption, and thus cannot be disaggregated. Most individuals convicted were sentenced to prison terms ranging from seven to 15 years' imprisonment. The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of internal trafficking in Vietnam. The government continued to work with international organizations during the year to train law enforcement officials, border guard officials, and social workers on trafficking.

Many NGOs suggested trafficking-related corruption continued to occur at the local level, where officials at border crossings and checkpoints took bribes to look the other way. During the reporting period, police arrested a local official in Can Tho for accepting bribes to help register marriages between Vietnamese women and foreign men, though it is unclear whether these women had been trafficked. The government did not report any criminal prosecutions or convictions of officials for trafficking-related complicity during the year. Government and NGO sources report that lack of financial resources, inadequately trained personnel, cumbersome mechanisms for interagency cooperation, poorly coordinated enforcement of existing legal instruments across the country, and the current legal structure that is ill-suited to supporting the identification and prosecution of trafficking cases remain obstacles to greater progress in the country's anti-trafficking efforts.

Protection

The Vietnamese government sustained some efforts to protect victims of transnational sex trafficking and outlined additional victim protection plans in its new anti-trafficking law, though it did not make sufficient efforts during the year to identify or protect victims of labor trafficking or internal trafficking. The government has yet to employ systematic procedures nationwide 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. Border guards and police at the district and provincial levels received limited training about identification of trafficking victims and handling of cases, which in some cases improved some officers' ability to monitor and investigate trafficking cases, but the lack of adequate training reportedly led to poor investigations and techniques that were harmful to some victims. Vietnam's National Steering Committee on Trafficking in Persons reported that 250 Vietnamese trafficking victims were identified by Vietnamese and foreign police, and 500 victims were identified and repatriated by foreign governments, 100 of whom were trafficked to South Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore. Vietnamese statistics, however, include some cases in which children were abducted and sold for adoption; it is not clear if any of these cases constituted trafficking. While authorities have formal procedures for receiving victims and referring them to care, there is wide recognition that the referral system has significant deficiencies and remains inadequate, including because of challenges of identifying victims who do not return via official border crossings and victims who do not want to be identified by authorities due to social stigma and other reasons.

The government did not provide adequate legal protection or assistance in Vietnam or abroad from conditions of forced labor. During the year, more than 85,000 Vietnamese workers travelled abroad to work, and the total number of Vietnamese working overseas in 40 countries and territories is estimated to be around 500,000. Though no new agreements were signed during the reporting period, the government continued to seek agreements with countries to facilitate the employment of Vietnamese laborers abroad; it is unclear whether agreements signed with governments of demand countries had provisions to prevent human trafficking and protect trafficking victims. Vietnam maintains labor attaches in nine countries receiving the largest number of Vietnamese migrant workers, but it does not maintain embassies in some countries where there are reports of trafficking and in some cases responded weakly to protect migrant workers. Diplomats were reportedly unresponsive to complaints of exploitation, abuse, and trafficking by migrant workers in some cases. One Vietnamese embassy abroad reportedly intervened in an identified labor trafficking case to support the Vietnamese labor export company involved in the trafficking of Vietnamese workers. Government regulations also do not prohibit labor export companies from withholding the passports of workers in destination countries and companies were known to withhold workers' travel documents, a known contributor to trafficking. The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) announced increased efforts to monitor labor conditions for Vietnamese workers in destination countries and to look for signs of trafficking, though the government did not publish data about individual cases where it identified or assisted Vietnamese migrant workers subjected to forced labor. Vietnamese workers do not have adequate legal recourse to file complaints in court against labor recruitment companies in cases where they may have been the victim of trafficking. Although workers have the right in principle to sue labor export companies, the cost of pursuing legal action in civil cases remains in effect prohibitively expensive, and there has been no indication of victims receiving legal redress in Vietnamese courts.

The government's Vietnamese Women's Union (VWU), in partnership with NGOs, continued to operate three trafficking shelters in Vietnam's largest urban areas, which 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 of assistance at some of the most heavily used crossing points. The government, however, lacks the resources and technical expertise to adequately support shelters, and as a result, in many areas shelters are rudimentary, underfunded, and lack appropriately trained personnel. Trafficking victims also are inappropriately housed at times in MOLISA shelters co-located with those of drug users' rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals leaving prostitution. There are no shelters or services specifically dedicated to assisting male victims of trafficking or victims of labor trafficking. The government reportedly encourages victims to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers, though Vietnam generally does not provide police-assisted witness protection to victims of crime. There were no data on the number of victims involved in prosecutions during the reporting period. Victims are 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 does have provisions to protect trafficking victims from facing criminal charges for actions taken as a direct consequence of being trafficked. There are no legal alternatives for the removal of foreign victims to countries where they face retribution or hardship.

Prevention

With assistance and cooperation from international organizations, NGOs, and foreign donors, the Vietnamese government continued some efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. In April 2011, the government passed a new five-year National Plan of Action on Human Trafficking, which at the time of publication was awaiting final approval from the prime minister. However, as the government continued to support an increased number of laborers going overseas to work, including travel to countries where abuses of migrant workers are rife, the Vietnamese government has not made sufficient efforts to prevent labor trafficking by requiring destination governments to provide adequate safeguards against forced labor of its migrant workers. Government regulations of labor and marriage brokers remained in general weakly enforced. MOLISA reported that in 2010, the government investigated 34 labor recruitment companies, issued fines to nine companies for insufficient pre-departure trainings, charging excessive recruiting fees, failing to properly register work contracts, and sending abroad more workers than were officially reported to MOLISA, and suspended two companies' operations for six months for underreporting the number of workers sent abroad and failing to follow regulations governing employee contracts. These two firms were fined $1,250 and $4,750, respectively, but were not criminally prosecuted.

The Vietnamese Women's Union and the Youth Union continued anti-trafficking education campaigns, including in border areas, on the dangers of sex trafficking, and the VWU began public awareness efforts on safe migration. The VWU continued to cooperate with its South Korean counterpart in pre-marriage counseling to prevent trafficking of Vietnamese women through international marriage. The government distributed leaflets aimed at both foreign and domestic tourists to combat child sex tourism. Authorities did not report any other efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. During the year, the government signed memoranda of understanding to cooperate on human trafficking with China and Laos. In July 2010, MOLISA promulgated an optional code of conduct for labor export companies, developed with the assistance of an international organization, and reported that 96 of 171 licensed labor recruiting companies have signed the agreement. During the year, authorities worked to evacuate over 10,000 Vietnamese workers, some of whom may have been trafficking victims, displaced by the conflict in Libya. Each returnee was provided with safe passage home and $95 towards short-term resettlement expenses, and the government is working to connect returnees with new employment opportunities in Vietnam and abroad. Nevertheless, the government has yet to reach adequate agreements with all destination governments on safeguards against forced labor. Vietnam is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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