by Thu Huong Le
HA GIANG — Thirty-year-old Vang Thi My remembers clearly how she was abducted by four men three years ago while she was collecting wood not far from her home in the village of Ma Le.
|Giang Thi Pa, a 38-year-old Mong from Thai Phin Tung Village, was abducted in 2009 while carrying vegetables to sell at Dong Van market. At least 34 women from Dong Van District in Ha Giang Province were trafficked to China between 2009-11. — VNS Photo Viet Thanh
It was the beginning of an ordeal that lasted for a year and five months.
"The men hid me in a forest and the next morning, I was transported on a van for two days until we reached a big Chinese market. Another person took me after that."
"I had no idea what part of China it was," My said in her Mong language and through an interpreter.
She was later sold as a wife to a Chinese man in Yunnan Province.
Eventually, with the help of a relative living in China, she escaped and, in a three-day trek through rugged hills and mountains, returned home.
My's story illustrates a problem that has been plaguing Dong Van District of the province for years, the abduction and trafficking of women and children to China as wives, forced labourers and sex workers.
The district, nearly 500km from Ha Noi along twisting mountain roads, has a population of about 65,000 people, mostly Mong, Tay and Nung ethnic groups.
Most women here can't speak fluent Vietnamese, are illiterate and live in villages that can only be accessible after at least half an hour on foot.
According to Vang Thi Cau, vice chairwoman of the district's Women's Union, at least 34 women were trafficked to China between 2009 to 2011. So far, 19 have managed to return and received assistance from local authorities and international agencies to integrate back into their communities.
According to a report on the trafficking of women and children from Viet Nam in 2011 released by the British Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in association with the British Embassy in Ha Noi, between 2005 and 2009, approximately 6,000 women and children were identified as being trafficked from Viet Nam, citing official statistics from Programme 30.
Some 3,190 were sold in China, mostly from northern and central provinces. About 40,000 women and children are recorded as missing and unaccounted for during the period 2005-09, according to the report, 60 per cent escape from their captors, including 25 per cent rescued by the police.
As roads improve throughout the district in recent years, Cau said the problem seemed to be less prevalent. Still, the women here are quite vulnerable to predators and even acquaintances, who buy their trust with the promise of better jobs and lives in China.
The district's Women's Union has been actively organising workshops to teach women how to avoid traffickers. This includes travelling in a group when working in distant fields and forests.
The advice is also presented in theatrical format at highland markets, which are popular gathering places. So far, it has reached 5,300 members of the women's union in the district's 19 villages.
"We have to overcome major language barriers in our work to increase the women's awareness of human trafficking," Cau said. "We often tell them not to believe they can easily earn higher incomes elsewhere."
Lu Thi May, another official of the district's Women's Union, said some women could not overcome the temptation to escape from poverty and in some cases, domestic violence. Those who have managed to return have been used to tell other women that life can be more difficult on the other side of the border. Most escapees say the villagers are quite welcoming when they return, despite knowing their past.
Giang Thi Pa, a 38-year-old Mong from Thai Phin Tung village, was abducted in 2009 while carrying vegetables to sell at Dong Van market. "I was sold to work on picking corns in the field and do other heavy chores," she also said through an interpreter. "It was much more difficult than here."
The women's union, in partnership with OXFAM, has also supported the women who returned to buy a breeding ox. They also receive knowledge of farming techniques and other assistance to restart their lives.
Cau from the district Women's Union agreed more work must be done to assist the women to stabilise their livelihoods even though the district has benefited a great deal from government poverty-reduction programmes.
"The temptation to seek jobs outside their villages is still there," she said. "It's important that they feel life can get better right here, in their home towns." — VNS