Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November 2014, 14:08 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Vietnam

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Vietnam, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30c83c.html [accessed 26 November 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)

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 either on their own or through predominantly state-affiliated labor export companies in the construction, fishing, agriculture, mining, logging, and manufacturing sectors, primarily in Taiwan, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Laos, the United Arab Emirates, and Japan, as well as in China, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom (UK), the Czech Republic, Cyprus, 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 are forced into prostitution in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and in Europe.

Vietnam's labor export companies, most of which are affiliated with state-owned enterprises, as well as unlicensed middlemen brokers, have been known to charge workers in excess of the fees allowed by law for the opportunity to work abroad. This forces Vietnamese workers to incur some of the highest debts among Asian expatriate workers, making them highly vulnerable to debt bondage and forced labor. A study on migration trends conducted in 2010 of 1,265 Vietnamese migrants from three northern districts who had gone abroad for work found that nearly all faced high recruitment fees that put them in a state of debt bondage for years; the majority of those that had to return to Vietnam early – after one to two years – were not able 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 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 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 UK, where they were subject to debts of up to $32,000. Reports indicate that many of these Vietnamese victims flew with an agent to Russia, were transported via trucks through the Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, and then arrived in the UK. In 2011, a number of Vietnamese women were trafficked to Thailand to act as surrogate birth mothers for foreigners. There are also reports of some Vietnamese men, women, and children subjected to forced labor within the country as well as abroad. In both sex 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 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 the major urban centers of Vietnam, although 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 rural privately-run 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 to fall prey to human trafficking. 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 UK, Australia, Europe, and the United States, although this 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 issued a decree laying out responsibilities for drafting circulars and decrees on protection, prevention and prosecution to fully implement Vietnam's new, comprehensive anti-trafficking law, which was adopted in March 2011 and took effect in January 2012. During 2011, the government used existing laws to criminally prosecute some labor trafficking offenses; in many cases prosecutors relied on Article 139, "Appropriating Properties Through Swindling." Rehabilitation centers for drug users and people in prostitution, run by the Vietnamese government, continued to subject residents to forced agricultural, construction, and manufacturing labor – a form of human trafficking – despite international criticism. The Government of Vietnam failed to provide adequate remedies to overseas workers who experienced debt bondage or other forms of forced labor. During the reporting period, the government drafted new victim identification procedures. In 2011, the government finalized and disseminated a five year (2011-2015) national action plan on human trafficking and announced the allocation of the equivalent of $15 million to implement this 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 Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. Although police officials acknowledged that internal trafficking and trafficking of men may constitute significant segments of the country's trafficking problem, the government took no discernible actions to increase efforts to address these particular forms of trafficking during the year.

Recommendations for Vietnam: Issue required 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 that they are provided with victim services; develop formal procedures to this end, 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, including internationally recognized indicators of forced labor such as the confiscation of travel documents by employers or labor brokers; continue efforts to protect Vietnamese workers going abroad through memoranda of understanding and agreements with additional destination countries that include measures to protect Vietnamese workers; 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; improve interagency cooperation on anti-trafficking efforts; in order to monitor and evaluate efforts to implement the national plan of action, improve data collection and data sharing at the national level 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

The Government of Vietnam continued its law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking. In March 2011, the National Assembly passed a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, which expands the definition of trafficking in persons to include forms of trafficking not prohibited in the penal code under articles 119 and 120 and includes provisions for victim care and trafficking prevention. This law went into effect in January 2012, although criminal penalties for the newly enumerated trafficking offenses have not yet been established. In order to hold perpetrators criminally accountable for trafficking crimes prohibited under the anti-trafficking law, the Supreme People's Court must issue detailed guidance establishing the criminal penalties for the new crimes. The law's expansion of the definition of trafficking in persons was not applied during the reporting period despite the law's coming into effect in January 2012 because the government has yet to issue the necessary guidance.

The government reported the majority of traffickers were prosecuted under articles 119 and 120 of the penal code, which can be used to prosecute some forms of trafficking, including labor trafficking. These articles prescribe sufficiently stringent punishments of two to seven years' imprisonment, which are commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Judicial officials have interpreted the penal code provisions on human trafficking to apply only to cases that involve a third-party exchange of payment, and this led to some trafficking cases being criminally prosecuted as human smuggling. Other cases were administratively punished under the country's labor laws, which do not provide criminal penalties for labor trafficking. These penal code provisions, unlike the new law, do not criminalize an attempt to commit a trafficking offense.

In September 2011, authorities rescued 23 children in bonded labor in a small privately-owned garment workshop; because recruitment and exploitation of the children was performed by the same individual, authorities reported the case could not be prosecuted under articles 119 or 120 and instead chose to adjudicate this trafficking case as a labor violation with an administrative fine and an official warning. In December 2011, the court sentenced two individuals, convicted for transporting 33 victims to China and attempting to exploit them, to 30 and 36 months' probation human smuggling for a offense under the penal code. Authorities reported this cases could not be prosecuted under articles 119 and 120 because the traffickers had not succeeded in receiving payment for the victims in China, thus highlighting the drawback to reliance on these penal code provisions.

Vietnam's central data collection systems remained inadequate to provide law enforcement statistics, such as trafficking prosecutions and convictions during the year segregated by type of trafficking. The Supreme People's Procuracy reported that between December 1, 2010 and November 30, 2011, authorities prosecuted 153 cases of trafficking and related offenses, the same number of cases reported during the previous year. Exact numbers of convictions were not available, but National Steering Committee 130, the government's anti-trafficking coordinating body, estimated the government convicted more than 350 offenders under articles 119 and 120 of the country's penal code, compared with 274 convictions in the previous year. The government reported convicting seven offenders and sentencing them to prison terms ranging from four to 18 years under these articles for labor trafficking during the year; as in the past, however, the government did not provide details of the nature of these cases to substantiate the claim that they constituted labor trafficking. The government continued primarily to pursue prosecutions in international sex trafficking cases, and overall law enforcement efforts were inadequate to address all forms of human trafficking in Vietnam.

Contract disputes between Vietnamese workers and their Vietnam-based labor recruitment companies or companies overseas – including for fraudulent recruitment and conditions that are indicative of forced labor – are left largely to the labor export 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 in such cases. 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 indicated that trafficking-related corruption continued to occur at the local level, where officials at border crossings and checkpoints accepted bribes from traffickers, and, where at times, officials opted not to intervene on victims' behalf when family relationships existed between traffickers and victims. Since October 2010, the government reported two convictions of public officials for trafficking related offenses under Article 120 of the penal code; however, due to design of the Supreme Court's database, it could not be determined whether these convictions were obtained during the current reporting year, nor were details on the convictions available. Investigation was ongoing in a case against a local official, initiated during the previous reporting period, suspected of accepting bribes to illegally register marriages between foreign men and Vietnamese women, some of whom may have been trafficking victims.

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 made sustained 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 internal trafficking. Victim protection plans outlined in the anti-trafficking law have not yet been implemented. 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.

Credible figures for the number of trafficking victims identified during the year were not available, but Vietnam's National Steering Committee on Trafficking in Persons reported that 430 Vietnamese trafficking victims were identified by Vietnamese authorities, 250 victims were identified and repatriated by foreign governments or NGOs, and 120 victims self-identified. These estimated statistics include some cases in which children were abducted and sold for adoption. The majority of identified victims were women and children, although the border guard reported rescuing and assisting at least eight adult male trafficking victims. An NGO reported all 27 victims it assisted in repatriating to Vietnam during the year had been exploited in Malaysia or Thailand, but information about additional repatriated victims – such as countries they had been exploited in – was unavailable; this included details for the 48 victims the government reported assisting in 2011 at embassies overseas. At a minimum, Vietnamese embassies provided documentation for the victims to be repatriated. Support for the victims was provided on a case-by-case basis and varied from temporary shelter to financial and administrative support based upon their needs. Financial assistance was provided through the Fund for Assisting Overseas Vietnamese.

The government continued to act as a perpetrator of forced labor, subjecting drug users and persons formerly in prostitution to forced labor in treatment centers. During the year, an international NGO documented a limited number of cases in which individuals in such shelters who failed to meet work quotas were punished through beatings and other physical abuse. The government reported stopping the construction of new centers, but current regulations mandate the use of "therapeutic labor" for residents within these existing government-run centers. While authorities have formal procedures for receiving victims and referring them to care, the referral system is recognized to have significant deficiencies, failing to identify victims who do not return via official border crossings and victims 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. During the year, more than 88,000 Vietnamese workers traveled abroad to work through official contracts, and the total number of Vietnamese migrant workers in 40 countries and territories is estimated to be approximately 500,000. In November 2011, Vietnam signed a bilateral agreement with the Belarusian government to facilitate the employment of Vietnamese workers in Belarus and is reportedly in the process of drafting a similar agreement with Israel; it is unclear whether agreements signed with governments of labor demand countries had provisions to prevent human trafficking and protect trafficking victims. Vietnam maintains labor attaches in the nine countries receiving the largest number of Vietnamese migrant workers; however, it does not maintain embassies in some countries where there are reports of trafficking. In some places where there are embassies, diplomatic personnel responded weakly to protect migrant workers; the government acknowledged that its diplomats lacked sufficient training and oversight. Government regulations do not prohibit private employers from withholding the passports of workers in destination countries, and Vietnamese companies were known to withhold workers' travel documents, a known contributor to trafficking. The government did not publish data about individual cases where consular or other officials identified or assisted Vietnamese workers subjected to forced labor abroad. 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. The government has allocated the equivalent $1,600,000 over five years for victim protection efforts; in February 2012, it issued guidelines for the use and management of these funds, but it is not known whether any funds were distributed. In 2011, the government took preliminary action to implement a set of National Minimum Standards for service provision to trafficking victims. MOLISA trained staff in 13 provinces on these standards; however, formal nationwide implementation of the guidelines remains on hold pending issuance of the relevant decrees and circulars governing victim protection in the anti-trafficking law. 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 of up to the equivalent of $50, paid through local authorities; the government did not provide statistics on the number of victims who received this benefit, but it estimated approximately 60 percent of identified victims received the subsidy. 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. NGOs reported that 44 victims participated in criminal proceedings in 2011. 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. Victims sometimes received modest compensation from traffickers, but no data were available to determine how often this occurred. 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. There were no legal alternatives to 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 increased efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. In August 2011, the prime minister gave final approval to a five-year national plan of action on human trafficking passed earlier in the year. In December 2011, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) launched an 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. MOLISA reported that in 2011, the government investigated 38 labor recruiting companies and issued minimal fines ranging from the equivalent of $750 to $2,000 to 15 companies for a number of administrative violations; some violations, such as charging excessive recruitment fees, were indicative of human trafficking, but no trafficking cases were identified from these efforts and no criminal prosecutions were initiated against labor recruitment companies. The government organized two training workshops for tourism operators to raise awareness of child sex tourism. Authorities did not report any other efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. Vietnam is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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