The invisible chains of slavery

Michael Brosowski
May 29, 2023

From Michael’s blog

The story seems too incredible to be true.

Almost three decades in slavery, sold as a bride and forced to have children to a man she never loved.

How could any person be in slavery for so long?

Myth v. Reality

There’s a common stereotype of how human trafficking works.

A well-resourced gang of men in dark suits grabs their victim off the street, stuffing her into the back of a van. She is taken far from home and locked into a dark room, chained to a wall.

In reality, that’s rarely how it works.

Most of the time, victims are deceived by someone they trust, not grabbed in broad daylight.

And they don’t need to be chained up or locked into a room to be enslaved.

There are many ways to keep a person in slavery. Threats of violence… holding someone’s identity papers and controlling their finances… making them dependent on you for their survival… creating a ‘debt’ that they must work to pay off…

Or, as in Mrs Thu’s case, forcing them to have babies and using the bond of a mother and her child.

A degree of freedom

Mrs Thu’s world turned upside down.

A person she knew as a friend tricked her into agreeing to travel with her to China. They were meant to be gone on business just some days and then they would both be home with their families.

But Mrs Thu would not return for 28 years.

At first she fought against the man who bought her, refusing to succumb.

Hundreds of miles from home, with no way to call anyone for help, she had no choice but to eventually accept what had happened.

Despite having her own family in Vietnam, she became the wife of a Chinese man.

Once she fell pregnant, escape became even harder; and when her child was born, it became impossible.

Mrs Thu’s ‘husband’ treated her well, as long as she complied, so she learned to navigate this terrifying new reality.

Hands holding baby

In bride trafficking, forcing a woman to have a child is a common strategy to stop her from escaping. With thanks to @isaac.q.q for this image

Before long she was learning a few words of a new language and gained some degree of freedom. She could go shopping, take her child to school, even go traveling with her new family at times.

To an outsider, Mrs. Thu looked like an ordinary mother raising a family in a small Chinese town.

She was there by force, but now she had children to care for and nobody to help her find her way back to Vietnam. For many years, Mrs. Thu thought she would never see her own home again.

Call for help

In recent years, the availability of new technology meant that she was able to contact people back in Vietnam. But who could she call?

Her son would be a grown man and she had no way to know where he might live or work… or even if he was still alive. And if she could contact him, what would he think? Did he grow up believing that his mother had abandoned him?

When the youngest of her Chinese children turned 18, Mrs Thu knew that they would be OK without her. It was time to finally make her escape.

We can’t share the details of how it unfolded, but a call for help from Mrs. Thu reached Blue Dragon and we sent a team to bring her home.

Even though it was painfully difficult to leave the children she had raised in China and come back to the unknown in Vietnam, she was absolutely determined.

Many questions, no answers

Mrs Thu is safe but her future is far from certain. Soon she will be reunited with her son, who is in his 30s now. He’s about the same age as his mother was when she vanished. After all this time, can they have a life together? What awaits Mrs. Thu back in her hometown? And what will become of her grown children in China?

Many questions but no answers. This is a story that’s far from over.

What happened to Mrs. Thu reminds us that trafficking doesn’t fit neatly into our expectations. The chains of slavery may be invisible, but their grip on innocent lives is very real.

In every form it takes, human trafficking is a crime of the worst kind.

We must do all that we can to rid our world of it.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is on a mission to end human trafficking.

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