The sad reality of child trafficking in Vietnam

Last week, I met with the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation and talked to Trịnh Thanh Hiếu, who told me a lot about the problem of children’s and women’s trafficking in Vietnam.

The issue of child traffic seems to be twofold in Vietnam. Children are being trafficked into child labour, working in various sectors of the Vietnamese industry. Another angle are young women that are kidnapped and sold into marriage or brothels in China.

Child labour in Vietnam

Even though child labour is prohibited in Vietnam, it remains an issue in the entire country. Many children are being sent away with the consent of their parents and finish working numerous hours in factories, restaurants or as vendors on the street.

Traffickers target poor families and convince parents that they will take care of their children. The parents of families with low income often work a lot and do not have much time to take care of the kids. They are vulnerable to listen to traffickers’ promises to provide vocational education, food and shelter, and a little bit of money for their children. The children are sent into different cities and sold into, at least that what it sounds to me like, slavery. They work shift of up to 17 hours per day and night, earn very little with the money often kept by the owner.

The parents often do not realise into which conditions they have sent their children. Traffickers make sure that the family receives happy pictures and good news.

According to Hiếu, many children are taken from the Central Vietnam and sold to Ho Chi Minh City, but child labour also exists in other areas of the country. Recently Blue Dragon rescued two boys of the age of 15 and 17 from a gold mine in Northern Vietnam. The boys are part of one of the ethnic minorities in Northern Vietnam and were forced to work in the mine. They had to buy their food with the gold they find, which means in return that if they did not find any, they were not fed.

Blue Dragon has rescued over 380 children from child labour and returned them, if possible, to their parents. The foundation closely works with the local authorities and organises workshops on anti-trafficking in order to create awareness about child labour and slavery.

Women’s trafficking into China

I have heart from several Vietnamese that the trafficking of women into China is a huge issue in the parts of Vietnam close to the border. So far, I have been sceptical about the stories, and was concerned that they are part of a general anti-Chinese resentment here in Vietnam.

However, Hiếu confirmed that young Vietnamese women are sold into marriage with Chinese men or end up in brothels in China. According to Hiếu, one reason for this is the one-child policy in China, which has led to an imbalance in gender.

I was shocked to learn that, in some cases, the women are trafficked by people they know, like friends, classmates or boyfriends. Blue Dragon recently rescued two young Vietnamese women from a brothel in China. The women were hold against their will and were forced to sell themselves. They had no access to smartphones or other ways of communication and could not alert the authorities or their families about their situation.

In the rescue of kidnapped women, Blue Dragon also cooperates closely with Vietnamese and Chinese authorities. The women were rescued, have returned to their families and continue to be closely followed by Blue Dragon.

*The pictures of this article have been provided by the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation

 

Phuket – Between slums and five star resorts

Many of the NGOs on Phuket work with children and women. We have met with Roelien Muller from the Asia Center Foundation, who gave us insight into the humanitarian situation on Phuket.

Read our article about the Asia Center Foundation here.

Phuket is one of the favourite tourist destination of many foreigners that come to Thailand. Beautiful beaches, good food, cheap prices and a pulsing night life are why many “get hooked” on Phuket. But Phuket also has its dark sides. While cruising around the island, Lesly and I came across the poorer neighbourhoods on Phuket. Dirty apartment towers and slums co-exist with five star hotels and beautiful villas, drawing a contrasting picture of Phuket.

Roelien told us that when she arrived in Phuket, there was one big slum close to the Patrong area. However, a road has been built through the slum, destroying the accommodations and forcing the families to find a new place to life. Today, there is not one big slum on Phuket anymore, but several smaller ones that are dispatched around the Patong and Katu area. On the spot of the former big slum is now a shopping mall.

After the slum has been destroyed, efforts have been made to build low-cost accommodation for the poor. However, the apartments are relatively expensive, with three to four thousand Baht per month, according to Roelien, which is seventy to one hundred euros. The apartments are not maintained and have started to rot away years ago. Some families don’t even have a bathroom!

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Many of the families living in Phuket’s slums are not originally from Phuket, but come from Myanmar or other, poorer regions of Thailand, like the North-East. The situation of the Burmese in Thailand is a difficult, complex and important topic, which will be treated in a different article.

Many of the Thai migrants that come to Phuket are unskilled. Phuket is an expensive island to live on, compared to the rest of Thailand, and many families struggle to make ends meet. Sometimes the women start working in bars, out of lack of alternatives. From there on its “downhill,” like Roelien said, meaning prostitution. Some parents also recycle garbage to gain money, are motorbike taxi drivers, cleaning ladies, have laundry services or fruit cars. However, the income remains very low.

Further, drug addiction is a big problem in Phuket’s slums. Whether the drug addiction leads to living in the slum, or whether the living and working conditions, as well as the low income and life quality lead to drug addiction is not important. Many people living in the slums struggle with addiction to alcohol or other drugs.

The life in slums is especially hard for children. Often they are neglected because they parents work all day or are drug addicted and cannot take care of their children. Even though school is mandatory in Thailand until age 15, a lot of the slum’s children drop out of school when they are old enough to do small jobs and earn money. Or the parents do not care if the children go to school, or they take their kids out of school on purpose for them to work.

It also happens that the children are abandoned or raised by relatives. Some parents are in prison, others run away because they cannot deal with the pressure. Roelien also talked about a high suicide rate. According to the WHO, in 2002, nearly 5,000 people killed themselves in Thailand. I have, so far, not heard that suicide is a big problem in Thailand and will inquire on this topic.

Conclusion

While Phuket is a holiday island of cheap fun for some, it also is the hard reality for others. There is nothing wrong with enjoying yourself, but keep in mind that you are lucky and try to do something for the less fortunate while you are here. If you want to make a donation to the Asia Center Foundation, click here.

Women empowerment at Wildflower Home

We had an amazing visit at the Wildflower Home, thirty minutes East from Chiang Mai. Wildflower is a “Good Shepherd” run foundation which offers women in need and their children a place to stay. Wildflower currently hosts nine women and seven children with a maximal capacity of hosting twelve women.

Violence against women remains a severe problem in Thailand, especially because many do not talk about it. We met with Sister Siripawn who told us that many women do not come from the Chiang Mai area itself. It would be embarrassing for the women if their friends and family learn that they feel the need to move out from home into a women community. Most women come to Wildflower by themselves, but sometimes Wildflower is contacted by hospitals.

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We were amazed by Wildflower in so many ways. One main goal of Wildflower is to make women strong and independent. Community is an important point, too. The women work and life together, share daily tasks and look after each other’s children. For women who come from an unstable background this environment helps them to build new self-confidence.

Wildflower is also a farm. The women grow vegetables and fruits. There are pigs, ducks, chicken and fish. The whole farming process is all organic and no chemical products are used. Wildflower is not only good for women, but also for the environment. The institution is pretty much autonomous and can even sell some farming goods.

 

The women learn how to farm vegetables and livestock, but Wildflower also puts a focus on the creative side of the women. The women make embroideries, had bags, create handmade cards and paint. Thus, they learn that they can do something and earn money with it. One volunteer at Wildflower told us however that the marketing process can be improved.

Wildflower further teaches the women English, administrative skills, problem solving, business management and the legal situation of women in Thailand. This gives the women self-confidence and the strength to deal with problems once they have left Wildflower.

Wildflower has a small kindergarten and school. Starting in high school the children can go to the local school in Bor Sang.

Usually the women stay between three month and one year in order to get back on their feet. Sometimes they can go back to their home villages, but sometimes they start a whole new life. Siripawn told us about a woman who lived with Wildflower and has now a chicken farm with 50 animals.

The women have learned about organic farming, recycling and law. When living on their own again they keep these good habits and can even spread the word among the rural population. The environmental impact of farming in Thailand is really bad as there are hardly restrictions on chemicals and no awareness within the population.

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We wondered beforehand if Wildflower, as a Catholic institution, only takes in women with the same believe. Siripawn assured us that religion is no point of criteria for Wildflower. There are currently Catholic, Buddhist and Muslim women living with Wildflower. Everybody can life their believes and is free to pray to their god and celebrate their rituals.

From our visit, we can only say that Wildflower makes a very good job in empowering women. Community and strength are promoted. They offer volunteer positions if you are interested.

We will keep in touch with Wildflower and maybe can support one or more of the women in their future projects.

Meeting with FFAC in Chiang Mai

As intended we have visited the office of the Foundation Friends For All Children in Chiang Mai. We were warmly welcomed by Gwan and her team.

FFAC currently takes care of five girls: four with mental and/or physical disabilities and one healthy three year old girl which has been adopted by a Belgium couple and which will soon leave FFAC. Gwan and her team take wonderful care of the girls and we were surprised, how good FFAC works on the children’s disabilities in daily life.

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Anong cannot talk, but she can understand everything. In order to facilitate communication in daily life, FFAC has printed pictures of the most important words which Anong can use to communicate. If Anong, for example, wants to drink, she can show the picture of a water glass. Further, Anong has learned to eat by herself and even to do the dishes.

 

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Duanphen has a physical handicap and cannot use her legs, because they are too weak. She is, however, the probably happiest little girl we have ever seen. When we were playing with the girls, Gwan and her team have tried to make Duanphen stretch and use her legs.

 

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The right side of Boonsri’s body is weak, because of an innate brain damage. For Boonsri, too, Gwan and her team has tried to make her use her right arm instead of her left arm.

 

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Hathai is already thirteen and cannot move any part of her body. She needs a wheelchair, is fed and cleaned. When we were playing with the other girls, the team has taken Hathai with us and even though she could not participate in the games, one could see how happy she was about the company.

 

FFAC has a “deal” with one of Chiang Mai’s hospitals and the girls get free therapy twice a week. We could accompany Anong, but we could not make any pictures; only of the facilities. Two young nurses took care of Anong for one hour and tried to encourage her motor functions through playful exercises.

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If you want to learn more about the work of FFAC, you can read our article about FFAC in Bangkok, or visit FFAC’s website.

PS. FFAC is always happy about volunteers which play with the girls, feed and clean them.

 

The names of the children have been changed in this article.