In a series of 3 articles Le Thi Hong Luong, Blue Dragon’s Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, discusses the causes of the recent tragedy in Essex, UK, and proposes some solutions.
How to end human trafficking
The Vietnamese government’s efforts and commitment, as well as the contributions of multilaterals and non-government organisations (NGO) to fight human trafficking, has been remarkable.
But how do we end human trafficking in Vietnam? The mission sounds impossible. Although it is a hard task, we cannot stop but need comprehensive intervention from many sides.
As an NGO specializing in rescuing and assisting victims of human trafficking, this is Blue Dragon’s approach.
Exceptional care for each individual matters
Changing policy and building the capacity of law enforcement officers and those responsible for supporting trafficking victims is extremely important. But the centre of human trafficking must be its victims because human trafficking is a serious violation of human rights.
Therefore, it is essential to rescue all victims from exploitation and slavery, and we need prevention so there are no new victims. We are not able to say that human trafficking has ended as long as there is still a victim who is yet to be rescued.
At Blue Dragon, we never accept leaving a person behind. We receive regular calls for help from families and community members whose sons and daughters have gone missing. The victims may be children from ethnic minority villages in rural Vietnam, where poverty is rife and very few people are literate.
Traffickers target them for work in sweatshops far from home, in slave labour conditions. Or they may be girls or young women from anywhere in the country, who have been betrayed by traffickers who won their trust and then sold them into forced marriages or brothels in China.
Although the poor and ethnic minorities are at higher risk of becoming victims of trafficking, anyone can be trafficked and Blue Dragon rescues victims regardless of their background.
Importantly, rescue does not secure a happy ending. Survivors may need many types of support to reintegrate and rebuild new lives. Blue Dragon provides individual assistance based on the needs of each person and our support does not end until the survivor is able to be independent.
Go beyond raising awareness
Large-scale media campaigns that attract public opinion may be necessary. However, people who are at high risk or the most vulnerable to human trafficking rarely access such information.
At Blue Dragon, we have stopped talking about raising awareness and are focusing instead on activities that can lead to behaviour change. Instead of organizing large-scale communication campaigns, Blue Dragon’s staff work with villages and high-risk communities to provide accurate information and direct support for them.
Traffickers commonly offer vocational training for children to persuade their parents to let their sons and daughters work for them, but in reality, the children are enslaved in factories. Traffickers offer sweeteners to families, such as a $50 advance to let their children go.
To counter this, Blue Dragon staff spend time talking with families, community members, and officials to let them know the reality of life for trafficked kids.
We organize small scale meetings where local officials recount their own experience of going into squalid factories and finding children asleep at sewing machines, working through the night.
Teachers are taught to implement an “early warning system” to recognize potential cases and inform us when a child goes missing.
Word quickly spreads through the villages, and the impact is profound. When community members hear first-hand stories of what happens to their children who are taken away from home, they resolve to never let it happen to their own family.
Once a few families start talking about how bad it is to send children away, the whole culture of the village changes.
Child by child, family by family, village by village, district by district. This is how Blue Dragon is working to end the trafficking of children from Hue and Dien Bien provinces into the garment industry. Some years ago, we set more than 30 children free from labour exploitation in sweatshops every year.
But in recent years we only have one case per year or even none. Our work to end the trafficking of children into sweatshops succeeded because of targeted, village-specific intervention – not because of awareness raising.
Deal with all forms of human trafficking
The majority of Vietnamese people still think that human trafficking means women and girls trafficked to China for sexual exploitation or organ removal. But it is clear that victims include men and boys who are badly exploited in mines, farms and factories within the country or across the border.
Vietnam has very clear provisions in the law about these types of trafficking. However, it’s time for the authorities to engage in more drastic measures to deal with all types of human trafficking.
Blue Dragon is persistent in this regard. Besides rescuing women and girls, we have rescued and supported hundreds of male victims from labour exploitation.
Although finding justice for them is arduous, we do what we can to protect their rights and interests and put it on the table for discussion whenever we can.
Blue Dragon has organized many training meetings for local officers, police and border guards to improve their anti-trafficking skills.
However, we find that the most effective way to support and improve their capacity is to walk alongside them. We call it on-the-job training.
Many meetings have been organized and officers have attended various training. But without a supportive resource or a mentor, those officers may not really know how to apply what they learn.
Blue Dragon’s chief lawyer directly rescues victims and joins in investigations. By doing so, he truly understands the difficulties that law enforcement agencies face, and then provides them advice and helpful contacts.
After each training, local officers have the contacts of leading experts in the field to call when they need help. They know that they can contact Blue Dragon at any time for victim rescue and support. We invite policemen and border guards to collect victims’ testimony at our centre, instead of at police stations.
We do not only offer officers training sessions on victim-friendly work but invite them to observe Blue Dragon social workers, psychologists, and lawyers working directly with victims. They gradually change their behaviour and make adjustments.
We invite labour officials and the Women’s Union to join us in visiting and supporting victims, so they can witness how our social workers practice social work. This approach takes time, but we are demonstrating it is a model that works, and advocating for its use in other localities.
Creating long-term change
From our work on the ground with each victim, each family, each local officer and every community, Blue Dragon has gained invaluable practical experience. We understand the difficulties of each stakeholder and work with them to offer suitable solutions.
We are implementing models of anti-trafficking work in three hotspot provinces (Thua Thien – Hue, Dien Bien and Ha Giang) to support their efforts to tackle human trafficking issues. And above all, Blue Dragon works with the authorities to address legal loopholes.
Blue Dragon is working on law reform projects such as the rights of victims of crime to have legal counsel, a circular on child friendly investigation procedures and guidelines in handling sexual abuse crimes.
Human trafficking is ultimately a human crime. To end or reduce this crime, there are many things to be done. On the large scale, it requires governments to join multilateral agreements for better cooperation as well as to improve their internal legislation and the rule of law.
At the medium scale, people need to be educated about the issue and the most vulnerable communities supported to become resilient to human trafficking. Although these interventions are essential, there’s still something more to be done, and that’s on the individual level.
Millions of people are in slavery around the world and each one deserves to be set free. Therefore, Blue Dragon responds to each call for help and continues our rescue work. Some cases take a few days and some take a year, but as long as there are people in slavery, we will continue.