Na was 16 when she was sold.
She lived by the river in a simple hut. Her father, Cong, is a fisherman. Although he works all day the money he brings home doesn’t go very far. Most of their family income was from Na’s brother, who worked as a chef in Ho Chi Minh City until COVID came and the restaurant closed.
So Na did what countless girls, boys and young adults around Vietnam did. She decided to leave school and get a job. She wanted to help and she knew that by earning some money her family would get through these difficult times.
Her betrayal was at the hand of someone she thought was a friend. Na could never have imagined the horrors that would unfold – or that she would be sold to a man thousands of miles from home.
Na’s father Cong couldn’t understand the terror that his daughter was going through, but he knew something was wrong. He reported to the police everything he knew – but he wanted to do more.
Seeking help from a neighbor, he took to social media to implore the world to help. He would sell his fishing boat and his house to pay a reward for anyone who could bring Na home safely.
Cong’s public pleas for help swiftly attracted a response. A young man rang just days later with a promise. He had seen Na being taken into China. He had some friends in the area who could help. But it would be costly. The young man asked for $5000.
Never in his life had Cong seen so much money, but if it meant that Na could return home, he would find a way. He approached the local money lenders, whose interest rates were up to 5% per day, and soon had the unbelievable sum of cash in his hand.
Na was gone, but Cong now had a reason to hope.
But once that money was transferred, Cong’s phone fell silent. The young man had disappeared.
It was fully a week before Cong accepted that he had been robbed. He lay awake all night, hating himself for being such a fool. Hating himself for making it even less likely that Na would ever be found. He wondered if ending his own life would in any way make up for what had happened to his only daughter.
And later, he would learn the bitter news that he had given money to the very person who had trafficked his daughter.
Blue Dragon found Na three months after she was taken. We organised a rescue operation and got her back to Vietnam where – after two weeks in COVID quarantine – she could finally get home to her father’s loving arms.
Cong and Na, and all their extended family, are relieved beyond words to be back together. But this is an ordeal that will haunt them forever.
The trauma that Na has experienced. The massive debt that Cong now has on his shoulders. Their months apart, and the extraordinary stress that they all lived through. The loss of their fishing boat – which was the only source of income for this family.
Recovery will take many, many years.
Blue Dragon’s philosophy is that we will help as much as we can, for as long as we are needed. However, there’s a bigger picture at play here.
What services and support should Na’s family be eligible to receive from the government?
When the trafficker is prosecuted and the court decides on compensation to be paid to Na, should her father Cong also be eligible for financial compensation?
As Na inevitably goes through the system – giving statements, applying for social assistance, re-enrolling in school – what training will each official she encounters have to support her on this journey? What rules are there to ensure her privacy and her dignity?
The truth is, many factors impact on the recovery for survivors of human trafficking and their families.
Right now, Vietnam’s law on human trafficking – the law that sets out all these details like the right to services, support and compensation – is being reviewed. And this means a chance to make a change for good.
Blue Dragon is in a special position to contribute to this review. We’ve rescued over 1,000 people from slavery. In court we have represented 92 survivors of trafficking as their traffickers are prosecuted. And we’ve given psychological counselling and practical assistance to over 1,700 survivors as part of their recovery process.
So as this review gets underway, Blue Dragon is playing a key role in contributing our experience and ideas. Our strategy of having a multidisciplinary approach – with lawyers, psychologists and social workers all together on one team – means we can offer some rich insight on what’s needed in the new law.
This is a chance to make the system work better for everyone.
For Na and Cong, we will continue helping them as best we can while they recover from their terrifying experience. And through this law review, we will ensure that the whole system is better able to support families like them in the future.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis. We are especially thankful to the Czech government’s Transition program for funding our ongoing involvement in this law reform initiative.