The fight to end human trafficking is like trying to catch a shadow.
You know it’s there. You can hear the voices of its victims; feel the pain that it causes. But it remains intangible, something that you can never fully define or pin down.
Two weeks ago, the Blue Dragon blog shared the story of Nhat. At age 14, Nhat was trafficked from Vietnam to China where she was sold as a bride. The man who enslaved her tortured her to the point that her return to Vietnam was in a wheelchair.
Blue Dragon took Nhat from the border crossing to a hospital for emergency treatment. Several days later we took her home to her parents’ house high up in the mountains. Now that her period of COVID quarantine is over, on Friday we accompanied Nhat and her family back to the hospital for further assessment.
Despite all this, there is much we don’t know about what happened to Nhat. Barely able to communicate, she has not told the story of what happened during her 2 years away.
We know the barest details of how she was trafficked or what she experienced at the hands of her abuser. What we do know is that her family lives in extreme poverty. Their house has a dirt floor and little furniture – not even a proper bed. Since returning home, Nhat has barely slept because of her pain and discomfort. Only now that she is back in hospital has she been able to sleep for more than a few hours at a time.
Even her medical condition is something of a mystery. It is now becoming clear that in addition to her physical injuries she is in the advanced stages of cancer. So far the doctors are saying that her cancer is too widely spread to treat. They can only reduce her pain.
This raises so many questions – when did her cancer begin? Did she know, while in China, that she was sick? How and why did someone torture her when she was clearly already in pain?
The truth is, we may never know the answers.
Much of Blue Dragon’s work is like this.
Every night we are on the streets talking to children, mostly boys, who have come to the city to escape trouble at home. Some kids open up immediately and tell us about abuse or harm that has been done to them. Others bury their secrets in shame or distrust.
Quan was one of those boys who was in a terrible situation but wouldn’t let anyone help him. Just 14 years old, he was sleeping on the pylon of a bridge across Hanoi’s Red River in the day and begging on the streets at night.
Within a week of arriving in the city, a pimp approached Quan. The man first abused him and then began selling him to others. Quan hated every moment of it but refused help from social workers for almost a year. Nobody knew the full extent of what he had suffered for a very long time.
Today he’s safe and stable; he is 18 now and has a job that he loves. But even after all this time, he carries with him the darkness of what happened out on the streets.
We are commonly asked how many street children are in Hanoi, or how many people are trafficked each year. We don’t know the answer to either of those seemingly basic questions. Nobody does. There are estimates, and we have a sense of the enormity of the problem, but it remains uncertain and unclear.
Like trying to catch a shadow.
It might sound impossible to achieve any real progress. Can we really heal a wound when we know so little about the symptoms or the cause?
While this seems like an extraordinary problem, the past two years have been like this for the whole world. The COVID pandemic has taught us how little control we really have of our own lives; how little we really know about what’s coming next.
Each of us, no matter who we are, has been living with the same unpredictability. We have all had to make decisions and choices knowing that events tomorrow might change everything.
It’s frustrating and often creates real hardship, but we can do it.
Blue Dragon’s work of fighting human trafficking may seem an impossible task. How can we make a lasting change in the face of such vast uncertainty?
Nhat and Quan are victims of circumstances. They didn’t ask to suffer through the terrible events that have overtaken their lives. The poverty that they were born into set them on this path to suffering and exploitation. And they cannot wait for us to fully understand their problems before we help.
Human trafficking is elusive and destructive, so we must keep working to bring a light to this darkness. We owe it to children like Nhat and Quan.