U.S. Department of State
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
If there is a single theme to this year’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, it is the conviction that there is nothing inevitable about trafficking in human beings. That conviction is where the process of change really begins—with the realization that just because a certain abuse has taken place in the past doesn’t mean that we have to tolerate that abuse in the future or that we can afford to avert our eyes. Instead, we should be asking ourselves—what if that victim of trafficking was my daughter, son, sister, or brother?
This year’s TIP Report asks such questions, because ending modern slavery isn’t just a fight we should attempt—it is a fight we can and must win.
The TIP Report is the product of a yearlong effort requiring contributions and follow-up from employees in the United States and at our diplomatic outposts across the globe, host country governments, and civil society. That effort is well worth it, because this Report is one of the best means we have to speak up for men, women, and children who lack any effective platform to be heard themselves. Because of its credibility, the Report is also a source of validation and inspiration to activists on every continent who are striving to end the scourge of human trafficking.
The purpose of this Report is to enlighten, energize, and empower. That’s why it incorporates the insights of NGOs, advocates, and survivors with firsthand experience of this horrific crime. By issuing it, we want to bring to the public’s attention the full nature and scope of the $150 billion illicit human trafficking industry. We want to provide evidence and facts that will help people who are already working to achieve reforms and alleviate suffering. And we want to provide a strong incentive for governments at every level to do all they can to prevent and prosecute trafficking, identify and support victims, and shield at-risk populations.
The United States is committed to working with our international partners to tackle the root causes and consequences of modern slavery and to exchange ideas and innovative practices, but much work remains. Modern slavery is connected to a host of 21st century challenges—from environmental sustainability to advancing the lives of women and girls to combating transnational organized crime. Wherever we find poverty and lack of opportunity—wherever the rule of law is weak, where corruption is most ingrained, where minorities are abused, and where populations can’t count on the protection of government—we find not just vulnerability to trafficking, but zones of impunity where traffickers can prey on their victims.
This year’s Report underscores the need for increased attention to preventing human trafficking. It encourages governments to identify and acknowledge those most at-risk in society, and to create effective ways to recognize vulnerable populations and help first responders spot the methods used by human traffickers. By understanding the needs of vulnerable groups, governments can partner with NGOs and the private sector to protect the innocent from would-be traffickers.
The magnitude of the challenge is real, but make no mistake: So are the opportunities for progress.
In December, the President appointed 11 trafficking survivors to the first-ever U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. Their courage and commitment remind us all of our responsibility to take bold action so that, together, we will win more battles in a fight that will surely last for generations. That is why I urge you to read this Report as a call to action—a plea to people everywhere to realize the vision of a world that is more caring and more just–a world free from modern slavery.
John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
Vietnam is a source country and, to a lesser extent, a destination, for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Vietnamese men and women migrate abroad for work independently or through state-owned, private, or joint-stock labor recruitment companies. Some recruitment companies are unresponsive to workers’ requests for assistance in situations of exploitation, and some charge workers excessive fees, leaving workers with exorbitant debts and vulnerable to debt bondage. Some victims are subjected to forced labor in the construction, fishing, agricultural, mining, logging, and manufacturing sectors, primarily in Taiwan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Laos, Angola, United Arab Emirates, and Japan. Workers may find themselves compelled to work in substandard conditions for little or no pay, with large debts and no legal recourse to address labor law violations. Vietnamese women and children are subjected to sex trafficking abroad; many are misled by fraudulent labor opportunities and sold to brothel operators on the borders of China, Cambodia, and Laos, and in other Asian countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. Some Vietnamese women who travel abroad for internationally brokered marriages or jobs in restaurants, massage parlors, and karaoke bars—mostly to China and increasingly to Malaysia and Singapore—are subjected to domestic servitude or forced prostitution. False advertising, debt bondage, passport confiscation, and threats of deportation are tactics commonly used to compel Vietnamese victims into servitude. Traffickers increasingly use the internet, gaming sites, and social media to lure potential victims into vulnerable situations; for example, men entice young women and girls with online dating relationships and persuade them to move abroad then subject them to forced labor or sex trafficking. Victims are recruited by relatives, acquaintances, or neighbors, often with the knowledge, consent, or persuasion of close family members. Vietnamese organized crime networks recruit, under pretenses of lucrative job opportunities, and transport Vietnamese, including children, to Europe—particularly the United Kingdom—and subject them to forced labor on cannabis farms.
Within the country, Vietnamese men, women, and children—particularly street children and children with disabilities—are subjected to forced labor, although little information is available on these cases. Children are subjected to forced street hawking and begging in major urban centers of Vietnam. Some children are subjected to forced and bonded labor in informal garment and brick factories or urban family homes and privately run rural gold mines. Many children from impoverished rural areas, and a rising number from middle class and urban dwellings, are subjected to sex trafficking. Child sex tourists, reportedly from Asia, the United Kingdom, Australia, Europe, Canada, and the United States, exploit children in Vietnam. Although a 2014 legal provision requires a judicial proceeding before detention of drug users in compulsory drug rehabilitation centers and restricts to three hours detainees’ maximum work day, some drug users detained administratively under the previous legal provision were subjected to forced labor in rehabilitation centers. NGOs report some complicit Vietnamese officials, primarily at commune and village levels, facilitate trafficking or exploit victims by accepting bribes from traffickers, overlooking trafficking indicators, and extorting profit in exchange for reuniting victims with their families.
The Government of Vietnam does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Vietnam amended its penal code to bring its anti-trafficking law closer to international standards, but the changes were not in effect at the close of the reporting period. The government convicted fewer traffickers in 2015 and, although it initiated investigations, it did not pursue criminal prosecutions for forced labor. The government continued to provide anti-trafficking training for officials and develop interagency cooperation; however, many officials lacked the skills to identify victims or to investigate labor trafficking cases. The government continued to subject to forced labor some individuals administratively detained in drug rehabilitation centers. Vietnamese officials abroad assisted with the return of an unknown number of trafficking victims in 2015 and worked with NGOs to help repatriate victims from China. Vietnam entered into memoranda of understanding with 11 primary destination countries and updated its agreement with Malaysia to ban the practice of employers retaining employees’ passports. NGOs report border officials in high-risk trafficking areas increased their engagement to investigate trafficking cases.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR VIETNAM:
Fully enact and implement articles 150 and 151 of the new penal code, which amend articles 119-120 of the current penal code, to vigorously prosecute all forms of trafficking and convict and punish traffickers, especially in cases involving forced labor or complicit officials; continue to strengthen and actively monitor labor recruitment companies and enforce regulations prohibiting the imposition of recruitment fees; fully implement plans to train officials on implementation of the amendments to the penal code, with a focus on identifying and investigating forced labor and internal trafficking cases; cease the practice of subjecting Vietnamese drug users to forced labor in government-run rehabilitation centers; implement policies to identify and assist victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers, individuals in prostitution, and child laborers, and train relevant officials on these procedures; expand training for consular officials on worker rights and international labor standards; support efforts of international organizations or other stakeholders to research and report on trafficking trends in Vietnam, including the public release of findings; finalize the database on trafficking statistics and disseminate information at the national level; improve interagency cooperation on anti-trafficking efforts in order to effectively implement the national plan of action and ensure sufficient resources are dedicated to the plan; develop programs that reduce stigma and promote reintegration of trafficking returnees; implement anti-trafficking campaigns directed at reducing child sex tourism; and ratify and fully implement the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP).
The government demonstrated uneven law enforcement efforts; it made progress in reforming its anti-trafficking legal framework, but obtained fewer convictions. Vietnam’s 2012 anti-trafficking law expanded articles 119 and 120 of the country’s penal code to define and criminalize sex and labor trafficking; however, these articles do not prohibit all forms of trafficking, and labor trafficking provisions in the 2012 anti-trafficking law have not been applied in prosecutions due to a lack of awareness. In November 2015, the National Assembly passed a new penal code that included articles 150-151 on human trafficking, which amended articles 119 and 120 of the anti-trafficking law by describing most of the acts, means, and purposes of trafficking included in the international definition and more clearly defining the prescribed penalties and aggravating factors. The amended articles do not require the means of force, fraud, or coercion for trafficking anyone younger than 16 years of age, but the no means requirement should apply to anyone 18 years of age or younger, to be consistent with the international definition. However, penal code articles 150-151 were not yet legally in effect at the end of the reporting period. Based on the severity of the crime, anti-trafficking law articles 119-120 prescribe punishments ranging from two to 20 years’ and three years’ to life imprisonment, respectively, and impose fines on traffickers ranging between five and 50 million Vietnamese dong ($450-$4,450); these punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. In 2015, the government made modest progress on the development of a nationwide computer database—launched in 2014—to track trafficking cases. Although in its nascent stage, the database improved the accuracy of trafficking statistics; however, discrepancies persisted in interagency data on anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim identification.
The government arrested 544 suspected traffickers. It prosecuted 442 and convicted 217 trafficking offenders (under anti-trafficking law articles 119 or 120), compared with 472 prosecutions and 413 convictions in 2014. Sentences ranged from probation to life in prison. Authorities did not report how many cases involved sex or labor trafficking or how many were for internal or transnational trafficking. Because the penal code does not specifically criminalize labor trafficking, officials lacked confidence in a legal basis to prosecute labor trafficking and treated such cases as administrative violations under the country’s labor laws, which do not prescribe criminal penalties. Labor officials suspended the licenses of a few companies, mandated companies implement required pre-departure training for laborers, and conducted inspections based on labor complaints but largely left labor recruitment companies to resolve individual contract disputes with workers over fraudulent recruitment and conditions indicative of forced labor. The government sent interagency delegations to participate in joint investigations on an ad hoc basis in Cambodia, China, Kazakhstan, Laos, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, and the United Kingdom, and more routinely in China, Cambodia, and Laos for rescue operations.
A lack of coordination across provincial agencies impeded overall law enforcement in Vietnam, and budget constraints precluded some local authorities from pursuing trafficking cases, especially when they occurred in isolated parts of the country. In addition, some officials’ poor understanding of the anti-trafficking legal framework resulted in uneven law enforcement efforts. Police included a module on anti-trafficking in its overall training for new recruits. The government organized 20 anti-trafficking training sessions for more than 500 interagency officials. The Ministry of Public Security partnered with Australian authorities to conduct an anti-trafficking training for 26 Vietnamese police from jurisdictions across Vietnam. Some complicit officials, primarily at commune and village levels, accepted bribes from traffickers, overlooked trafficking indicators, and extorted profit in exchange for reuniting victims with their families. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.
The government maintained modest efforts to protect victims. In 2015, authorities identified 1,000 potential trafficking victims—a slight decline from 1,031 the previous year—but did not report how many were subjected to sex or labor trafficking, how many were adults or children, or how many were exploited in Vietnam or abroad. Victim identification and referral mechanisms remained inadequate throughout the country. The government had a formal procedure for victim identification that it did not proactively or widely employ to identify victims among vulnerable groups, such as women arrested for prostitution, migrant workers returning from abroad, and child laborers. It also did not systematically refer victims to protective services due to inadequacies in its formal referral process, including some border guards’ unfamiliarity with trafficking crimes and a lack of interjurisdictional cooperation, in addition to the large number of victims who self-identified, were returned via unofficial border crossings, or lacked identification documentation. Officials continued to conflate trafficking with smuggling, which precluded the identification of victims who voluntarily migrated abroad.
In 2015, the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) provided protection, repatriation, and reintegration support to 650 trafficking victims, compared with 668 the previous year. Although protection services remained variable by location, the majority of victims received vocational training, healthcare, legal aid, shelter, counseling, and financial allowances. Authorities did not report how many victims used the one-time government cash subsidy—up to 1.5 million dong ($65). MOLISA continued operating 400 social protection centers through local authorities, which provided services to a wide range of vulnerable groups, including trafficking victims; these centers were unevenly staffed and resourced and lacked appropriately trained personnel to assist victims. The Vietnam Women’s Union, in partnership with NGOs and with foreign donor funding, continued to operate three shelters in urban cities, one of which was trafficking-specific. There are no shelters designated exclusively for male or child victims, though existing shelters provided assistance to all victims as needed.
Vietnam maintained labor attaches at its embassies in nine countries with large numbers of documented Vietnamese migrant workers; however, some Vietnamese diplomatic personnel reportedly lacked sufficient training to adequately assist victims. In an unknown number of repatriation cases, Vietnamese diplomatic missions provided basic provisions, transportation, and healthcare to Vietnamese nationals subjected to trafficking abroad. The government encouraged trafficking victims to assist in judicial proceedings against traffickers and offered them some protection and compensation; however, the extent to which these measures were applied remained unknown. Vietnamese law protects victims from being prosecuted for actions taken as a consequence of being subjected to trafficking; however, because officials are not properly trained in identification techniques, some may have treated some victims as criminals. NGOs reported victims expressed trepidation in returning to Vietnam—particularly without proper documentation—given the endemic social stigma attached to being a victim, dread of retribution in their local communities, and fear of punishment for illegal acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking. The government did not offer foreign victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they faced retribution or hardship.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. During the reporting period, the government approved a four-year (2016-2020) national anti-trafficking action plan to address forced labor, improve victim services, and implement the revised anti-trafficking penal code; however, it did not endorse a specific budgetary allotment to implement the plan. The government continued to develop its national database on trafficking statistics, which commenced operation during the previous year. In 2015, officials supported anti-trafficking awareness campaigns by partnering with national and local media outlets to conduct radio and television stories, publish news articles, and disseminate fliers on trafficking. The government conducted workshops and hosted community dialogues on vulnerabilities to labor trafficking, targeting areas prevalent with foreign contract labor. It also organized theatrical performances and social events in high-risk provinces to warn vulnerable populations of the risks of trafficking for women entering brokered marriages abroad. The government fully suspended two labor recruitment companies for labor export law contraventions and suspended three companies from recruiting workers to Saudi Arabia; it initiated 23 criminal investigations against 27 unlicensed organizations after observing indicators of labor trafficking. During the year, Vietnam entered into memoranda of understanding with 11 primary destination countries and updated its agreement with Malaysia to ban the practice of employers retaining employees’ passports. The pre-departure fee and deposit system for Vietnamese migrant workers—ranging from 6.5-65 million dong ($585-$5,850)—could have decreased the debt burden experienced by some workers if scrupulously enforced; however, this scheme may have increased overseas workers’ vulnerability to debt bondage if recruiters charged in excess. The government made tangible efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the reporting year by conducting raids at unscrupulous establishments notorious for prostitution and prostitution brokering. It provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.