Blue Dragon receives the Iqbal Masih Award for the Eradication of Child Labor

January 14, 2023

The United States Department of Labor has recognised Blue Dragon’s two decades working for the safety and wellbeing of children in Vietnam. “The organization stands as a vanguard for progress to end the worst forms of child labor in Vietnam.”

Blue Dragon co-CEOs Vi Do and Skye Maconachie were presented with the Iqbal Masih Award for the Eradication of Child Labor by United States Ambassador Marc E. Knapper last Friday in Hanoi. 

The Award recognizes the “exceptional efforts” of individuals and organisations in the fight against the exploitation of children. “The organization stands out as a leader in supporting trafficking survivors, partnering with government, and creating safe spaces for the country’s vulnerable youth,” said US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.

The Award was established in 2008 by the United States Department of Labor and bears the name of Pakistani child activist Iqbal Masih. At just 4 years old, Iqbal was sold to work as a carpet weaver. He escaped from slavery when he was 10 and went on to become an outspoken advocate for children’s rights until he was tragically killed at age 12. 

“Pivotal moments” in the fight against child labour and human trafficking

Each aspect of the work Blue Dragon is known for today “began with a single child” just like Iqbal Masih, explains co-CEO Skye Maconachie. 

“There have been pivotal moments for Blue Dragon which significantly shaped the direction and development of our work. The first was a 15-year-old boy living and working on the streets of Hanoi doing shoe-shine. This chance encounter more than 20 years ago began our intensive work to protect street children. Then, a meeting with a 13-year-old boy selling flowers on the street clearly under the control of a pimp. This was the beginning of our rescue work, rescuing children from labour trafficking in Vietnam. And then, a call for help from a 17-year-old girl who was being held in sexual slavery. This marked the beginning of our fight against sex trafficking.”

Since that first encounter with a street child in 2002, Blue Dragon has reunited 729 homeless children with their families in the countryside, and provided holistic assistance to return to education, heal from their traumatic experiences, and keep safe from homelessness and exploitation to thousands more. 

The meeting with a 13-year-old boy who was selling flowers in Ho Chi Minh city marked the beginning of Blue Dragon’s work to rescue children who were being exploited in this southern metropolis. Between 2005 and 2018, we collaborated with law enforcement to rescue hundreds of children who were forced to work in the city’s garment factories. 

Trafficked children used for labour in a garment factory, Vietnam

Children trafficked into forced labour in a garment factory in southern Vietnam.

His rescue also resulted in the beginning of our work in the province of Thua-Tien Hue, in central Vietnam, where many of the children forced into labour in Ho Chi Minh City came from. Blue Dragon’s work in this province providing vulnerable children and families with access to education, training, and livelihoods to overcome poverty turned this form of exploitation that was once systemic into an anecdotal occurrence. Blue Dragon has not encountered any child victims of labour exploitation from Thua-Tien Hue since 2018. 

Since the very first rescue of a teenage girl from sexual slavery in China in 2007, Blue Dragon has assisted nearly 1,000 victims of sex trafficking in China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Over a third of them were still children at the time of rescue, with many more being underage when they were deceived and sold into slavery. 

A world where every child is free

“Ending child labour and human trafficking is core to Blue Dragon’s mission. We know that around the world children are being exploited every day. 

“Our dream for Vietnam is that every child is free. Free to play. Free to go to school and free to be with their families. Everything we do, every day, is to make that dream a reality,” says co-CEO Skye Maconachie.

14-year-old Sen reunites with her family after being rescued from sex trafficking.

Receiving the Iqbal Masih Award in recognition of this work is as much an honour as it is an inspiration for Blue Dragon. “It strengthens our commitment to keep fighting for the freedom of all children still in slavery.” 


*** To learn more about what you can do to end child trafficking and read the stories of the inspiring children and youth who have overcome disadvantage and rebuilt their lives with Blue Dragon’s assistance, sign up to our newsletter here. ***

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