Cablegate: Protection of Trafficking Victims in Vietnam

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary: In Ho Chi Minh City, various sectors of
society - including the city government, Communist Party
mass organizations, NGOs, and even local churches - are
working together to protect victims and women identified as
particularly vulnerable to trafficking. A visit to the
central provinces of Quang Binh and Quang Tri and to Danang
City also revealed a high level of awareness of the issue of
trafficking in persons among social welfare, local
government, and law enforcement officials. Protection of
victims of trafficking - including internal trafficking - is
a clear part of official GVN policy and local practice. End

--------------------------------------------- ------------

2. (U) In Ho Chi Minh City, the Center For Women In
Difficult Circumstances is an example of the Ho Chi Minh
City authorities' creative approach to the protection of
victims and prevention of trafficking. Officials from the
External Relations Office (ERO) of Ho Chi Minh City
government and its Department of Labor, Invalids and Social
Affairs (DOLISA) escorted Hanoi Poloff and Ho Chi Minh City
Econoff to the Center on April 23 to demonstrate the GVN's
determination to, in the words of DOLISA Director Le Than
Tam, "use every resource to combat trafficking." The
Center, funded by the French/Cambodian NGO AFESIP (Action
for Women in Distressing Circumstances), is staffed by
members and officers of the Ho Chi Minh City Women's Union,
four of whom are trained social workers. According to the
Center's Director, the social workers seek out victims of
trafficking or "women in high-risk situations" and invite
them as "guests" to come live at the center, where they
receive medical care, emotional counseling, vocational
training, and job placement.

3. (U) The Center - a clean, bright, and new multi-story
house in a pedestrian-only section of Ho Chi Minh City -
currently houses 20 women, of whom two are victims of forced
prostitution and two who were "rescued" as they were in the
process of being trafficked. (The other residents of the
center are former prostitutes, victims of sexual violence,
or women viewed by the Women's Union or its partners as
especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation or
trafficking.) According to Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh, Vice
President of the Ho Chi Minh City Women's Union, in addition
to women introduced to the center by the resident social
workers, the center also receives referrals from the Bac Ai
Catholic Convent and "other churches" through those
churches' links with ward-level Women's Union
representatives. Nuns from Bac Ai also provide vocational
training for the Center's guests. Ms. Hanh also noted that
the Women Union's had similarly good ties with local
Buddhist temples to assist with protection of potentially
vulnerable populations.

4. (U) Still more referrals come from the police, Hanh
said, clarifying that Ho Chi Minh City police "know to
screen" arrested prostitutes to find out if they have been
trafficked. In cases where the police identify trafficked
victims, police refer those cases to the Women's Union, she
added. Nguyen Van Minh, Deputy Director for DOLISA's Social
Evils Prevention Office, described the Center as a pilot
project; DOLISA hopes to see the Center expand to 30 beds
within 3 years, and then, depending on the evaluation of the
success of the project, to duplicate the Center elsewhere in
Ho Chi Minh City.

--------------------------------------------- -------

5. (U) In separate meetings with Poloff April 20-23, other
authorities from Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Quang Tri, and
Quang Binh confirmed that, in cases of prostitution arrests,
they indeed screen the prostitutes to determine if they are
trafficking victims. In Quang Tri, Quang Binh, and Danang,
police officials said their primary motivation for screening
was to develop information for use in arresting and
prosecuting traffickers. In Danang, Nguyen Hung Hiep,
Director of the Social Evils Prevention office of DOLISA,
noted that the additional purpose of the information was to
determine how best to "treat the victim." [Note: Vietnamese
law considers prostitutes to be victims rather than
criminals and provides for "treatment" rather than
incarceration. This treatment is not always voluntary. End
note.] Ms. Nguyen Thi Mai, Deputy Director of Danang's
DOLISA, said information regarding whether or not a
prostitute was also a trafficking victim was a key factor
considered by the "counseling council" (made up of
representatives of the police, DOLISA, Women's Union,
Justice Department, Youth Union, and Health Department) in
determining what level of "treatment" to prescribe. In
theory, Mai said, a trafficking victim could be assigned to
a mandatory term at a prostitution treatment center, but the
policy of Danang City would instead more normally be to
assist a trafficking victim to return home. Police Colonel
Le Tan Mai confirmed that "prostitution victims from out of
town should be returned to their homes and families."

6. (U) Ho Chi Minh City authorities - specifically Lt. Col
Toan of the City Police and DOLISA's Minh, said that Ho Chi
Minh City had a policy similar to Danang's, but with the
addition of material assistance to victims. Minh stated
that Ho Chi Minh City policy, in accordance with the
national law on prostitution (which provides wide latitude
in the local treatment of prostitutes), distinguished
explicitly between "volunteer" prostitutes and "forced"
prostitutes. Trafficking victims, he said, would clearly be
considered "forced" prostitutes and, rather than being sent
to prostitution treatment centers, would instead be entitled
to assistance both in returning home and in reintegrating
into their communities, using funds from the "hunger
alleviation and poverty reduction program, supplemented by
Ho Chi Minh City government funds." Hanh of the Women's
Union said that the Ho Chi Minh City DOLISA implemented this
assistance in coordination with commune-level mass
organizations, in particular the Women's Union. Ho Chi Minh
City had provided this assistance to "hundreds of women,"
Hanh said, focusing on women "in especially difficult or
vulnerable circumstances, such as poor women with children
or sick family members."

7. (U) Quang Tri and Quang Binh, provinces in central
Vietnam on the Laos border, do not currently have problems
with trafficking, representatives from both provinces told
Poloff. Deputy Director of Quang Tri's DOLISA Ngo Thanh
Hung said that Quang Tri's lack of trafficking problems was
due primarily to its location far from the Cambodia and
China borders. Another reason he cited was that traffickers
in Vietnam usually know their victims; since the pool of
traffickers did not include residents or former residents of
Quang Tri, the province was not targeted.

8. (U) However, Nguyen Thi Minh Chau, Vice President of
the Quang Tri Women's Union, admitted that Quang Tri was a
poor province and there was a problem with young people
leaving their rural villages either permanently or between
growing seasons, and that those people were vulnerable to
both trafficking and labor exploitation. Colonel Van Ngoc
Thai of the Quang Tri anti-crime office said he and his
staff understood that traffickers in Vietnam used
sophisticated techniques and that it required "hard work" to
prevent trafficking. The police in Quang Tri, he pledged,
worked with the Women's Union and DOLISA to provide regular
awareness campaigns, including seminars and conferences for
officials and village and commune-level "clubs" where
trafficking methods could be discussed and information
shared. According to Colonel Thai, women in these clubs
became aware of the dangers of trafficking and of
"alternative living options and opportunities" such as
political participation and micro-credit programs. Colonel
Thai credited the central government for providing the
training and materials for these awareness-raising
activities as well as the resources to make it possible to
hold programs at least monthly.


9. (U) DOLISA's Hung noted that, as a relatively poor
province, Quang Tri was not a magnet for either migrant
labor or prostitutes. However, he said, Quang Tri laborers
were very interested in leaving the province to work.
DOLISA checked out companies looking to hire Quang Tri
workers very carefully, Hung promised. These companies were
required to go through the Quang Tri labor service center,
he said, and sign "labor supply contracts" with the service
center, which checked out the companies carefully, examining
capacity, financial condition, and the qualifications of the
company's officers. "Many" companies failed the labor
service center's inspections, Hung noted. Hung expressed
confidence that Quang Tri was doing a "good job" of
protecting workers, based on comparisons of labor contracts
with company tax returns filed and also on interviews with
prospective and returned laborers. Hung noted that the same
labor service center had the responsibility for acting as
the advocate of overseas workers with a labor export company
in the event of a dispute between the two, but added that so
far this circumstance had not arisen in Quang Tri.


10. (U) Quang Binh provincial officials also noted no cases
of trafficking in persons and pledged that preventing such
cases in the future was a priority. Nguyen Thi Hong, deputy
Chair of the Quang Binh Women's Union, said that continued
involvement in the lives of rural women and continual
awareness-raising activities were the best ways the Women's
Union could protect Quang Binh women against trafficking.
Pham Thi Kim En, the head of the Quang Binh Women's Union's
Family and Social Affairs Office, said that one of the
Women's Union's "key efforts" was to protect women against
those who would try to take advantage of former
relationships. Educating local women about trafficking
tricks employed elsewhere -- returning to home villages to
encourage former friends and neighbors to "follow them"
somewhere "to have a better life" by promising overseas
travel, jobs, or good marriages, and then exploit those
promises and their former village mates -- as well as
helping them build strong families and coordinating official
efforts throughout the province and across the border into
Laos were the best tactics to keep trafficking from emerging
in Quang Binh, Hong said. She noted also that the central
government supplies Quang Binh with training, materials,
guidance, and information about trafficking on a regular

11. (U) Danang City officials described their comprehensive
prevention/awareness raising program. Ms. Mai from DOLISA
explained that the Women's Union and Youth Union jointly
sponsored and carried out half-day programs in schools
monthly or quarterly that focused on HIV/AIDS, drugs, and
trafficking in persons. In addition to these programs, she
said, once a year, all schools in Danang spent a week
studying these issues in more depth. Awareness-raising
programs that included posters and pamphlets as well as
broadcasts on TV and radio accompanied these school
programs, along with cultural and art activities and art
contests, held once per year, on the subject of trafficking
in persons and other social evils. Mai said she was
confident that these activities reached the entire
population and reduced trafficking in persons.

12. (U) Comment: The high level of understanding and
awareness of trafficking issues in the poor and rural
provinces of central Vietnam as well as the sophisticated
and modern cities of Danang and Ho Chi Minh City is evidence
that the central government's campaign to fight this problem
is having an effect. The GVN's guidance and assistance
allows Quang Binh and Quang Tri - and likely numerous other
similarly poor provinces with vulnerable populations - to
provide awareness-raising activities to prevent the
development of a trafficking problem in those provinces.
The national prostitution law's wide latitude also allows
localities like Danang and Ho Chi Minh City to develop
creative local responses to existing trafficking problems.
In particular, the cooperation among the Women's Union, the
police, the government, local and international NGOs, and
churches and temples as demonstrated by the AFESIP project
is evidence that the GVN's commitment to fighting
trafficking and assisting trafficking victims is more than
rhetorical, and has firmly part of ongoing implementation

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