Ta Ngoc Van is the chief lawyer at Blue Dragon. He leads a team to find, rescue, and represent trafficking victims who have been trapped in slavery. Since October 2018, the team has rescued and assisted 20 victims of a recently discovered form of trafficking: baby trading and trafficking for surrogacy– the act of impregnating women to sell the baby.
We spoke to Van to find out more.
What is the situation with baby trafficking in Vietnam?
Basically there are people who are involved in the illegal act of tricking or forcing a woman to sell her baby, or to have a baby, with the aim of selling it to another person. However, this term is slightly complicated as there are two distinct ways we have seen traffickers do this.
The first is by approaching pregnant women in impoverished communities or after giving birth in hospital and offering them money in exchange for their baby.
And secondly, what we refer to as forced surrogacy, or “baby farming”: Luring a woman with a promise, such as a good job in China, but when they arrive they are trapped and either raped or artificially inseminated. When their baby is born it is onsold, and the process then repeated.
Why do you think we’ve seen a rise in baby trafficking in the last year?
It’s hard to say whether or not there has been a rise, as we weren’t aware of this form of trafficking until October last year when the police discovered a trafficking ring who were tricking women into selling their babies. Blue Dragon provided support for these nine women and helped them to return home to their community and reunite with their families.
Trafficking is a hidden crime driven by profit, and the more work we do the more we discover. So baby trafficking may have been happening for years, but it has just gone undetected. Now I think we’re at the tip of the iceberg: what we see isn’t the whole picture. I think it’s only just the beginning.
What is the punishment for baby trafficking crimes in Vietnam? Are there any issues with the current law?
There are big loopholes in the current law, due to how a fetus is recognised. Currently under the Vietnamese law, a baby isn’t considered a human being until it is born. This means that when a trafficker lures a pregnant woman to go to China to sell her baby, the trafficker cannot be charged for trafficking a minor (up to life-time imprisonment) or organ trafficking (up to 15 years imprisonment). Instead they will be charged for illegal emigration which carries a sentence of up to 15 years, and doesn’t reflect the nature of the crime.
However, when a woman is impregnated, it is filed under the surrogacy for commercial purposes law which only holds a sentence of up to 5 years.
Blue Dragon is advocating for the government to redefine the law so that traffickers can be prosecuted for the act of trafficking a minor which would increase the sentence to (up to) life-time imprisonment.
What is Blue Dragon doing to combat trafficking in Vietnam?
Blue Dragon has a very holistic approach to working with all trafficking victims. We work at many different levels: individual, community, and systemic.
We work to free victims and provide psychosocial and financial support to help them overcome their trauma and get back on their feet.
People tend to undervalue the relationship between a mother and a child. The long-term suffering that can arise from selling your baby is immense. For the victims we have worked with, many regret it as soon as the baby leaves their arms, and have to live with the decision for the rest of their lives. They feel shame and spend their life wondering, what if?
We work with police and officials to identify and prosecute traffickers so the victims can have closure. We have found this to be an effective way to discourage future traffickers.
Blue Dragon educates communities to help them to understand the situation and the tricks that traffickers use to lure their victims. By using preventative measures we hope to reduce the amount of women that fall prey to a trafficker.
It’s also an effective way to make the community aware of our services. We had one situation where a pregnant woman was tricked into going to China to sell her baby, but before giving birth, she changed her mind. In her case she could luckily escape and call her family. The family knew about Blue Dragon so they called us and we were able to help her to come home.
What can people do to join the fight against human trafficking?
I think the most important thing I would say is: don’t judge or criticise these women. These people are in desperate situations, and living in extreme poverty. Some have huge debt and struggle to even pay for their own basic needs while living in remote communities with a lack of economic opportunities. When they make the decision to sell a baby, or to leave Vietnam in search of a better opportunity, they feel like they have no other option.
It’s the people who take advantage of these vulnerable women who should be punished.
Blue Dragon is working with many remote communities to educate and provide opportunities to people. You can support our work, or spread the word so that others can help, and we can continue fighting this horrible crime of human trafficking together.