U.S. Department of State
OFFICE TO MONITOR AND COMBAT TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS
Vietnam (Tier 2 Watch List)
The Government of Vietnam does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included disseminating implementing guidelines for Articles 150 and 151 of the penal code, operating large-scale awareness campaigns in communities vulnerable to trafficking, and government facilitated trainings for Consular officers, police, and other relevant agencies to combat trafficking. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. It identified significantly fewer victims than in previous years. Law enforcement efforts were impeded by the delayed release of formal implementation guidelines on Articles 150 and 151 of the penal code. A lack of interagency coordination and unfamiliarity among some provincial officials with anti-trafficking law and victim protection continued to impede anti-trafficking efforts. There were continued reports of forced labor of individuals detained in government-run drug treatment centers. Despite continued reports of official complicity, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in trafficking offenses. Therefore Vietnam was downgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List.
Train officials on implementing guidelines for Articles 150 and 151 of the penal code, with a focus on identifying and investigating forced labor and internal trafficking cases, including cases involving male victims. • Cease subjecting Vietnamese confined to drug treatment centers to forced labor and allow independent verification that the practice has ended. • Coordinate and effectively implement policies across government agencies 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 social workers, first responders and the judiciary on victim-centered approaches to working with victims of trafficking, including trauma-informed care. • Vigorously prosecute all forms of trafficking and convict and punish traffickers, including in cases involving forced labor or complicit officials. • Fully prohibit all worker-paid recruitment fees and predatory recruitment practices for workers migrating abroad or to Vietnam, including by strengthening efforts to monitor labor recruitment companies and third-party sub-brokers and prosecuting predatory or illegal sub-brokerage networks. • Amend the penal code to criminalize sex trafficking of 16- and 17-year-old children, consistent with international law. • Improve interagency cooperation to effectively implement the anti-trafficking national action plan, including by clarifying the roles of national and provincial-level government entities, fully integrating trafficking data collection into law enforcement efforts, and allocating sufficient resources to the national action plan. • Increase national funding available to provincial level authorities to provide services to reintegrated victims of trafficking.
The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Article 150 of the penal code criminalized labor trafficking and sex trafficking of adults and prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of 20 million to 100 million Vietnamese dong (VND) ($862 to $4,310). Article 151 criminalized labor trafficking and sex trafficking of children under the age of 16 and prescribed penalties of seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and fines of 50 million to 200 million VND ($2,160 to $8,620). These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with international law, Article 150 applies to children between the ages of 16 and 17 years old, and requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a sex trafficking offense; it therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Civil society reported that this led to confusion on how to treat cases involving 16- and 17-year-old children —especially for cases involving labor trafficking—and resulted in victims being treated as adults in nearly all cases. In September 2018, the Supreme People’s Court issued a circular detailing the trial procedures dealing with cases involving victims under the age of 18, designed to make court proceedings more child-friendly. Insufficient time has passed since the close of the reporting period to evaluate if the circular sufficiently addressed the legal discrepancy in the treatment of 16- and 17-year-old children in sex trafficking cases as adults.
While Articles 150 and 151 came into effect during the previous reporting period, the government did not circulate implementing guidelines until January 2019, which did not take effect until March 2019. Delays in issuing implementing guidelines may have contributed to fewer investigations and prosecutions of trafficking cases during the reporting period. For the seventh consecutive year, the government did not prosecute any suspected traffickers under labor trafficking provisions of the anti-trafficking law. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and Vietnam Border Guards (under Ministry of Defense)—often in cooperation with foreign partners—identified 211 trafficking cases (350 in 2017, 234 in 2016) involving 276 alleged offenders (over 500 in 2017, 308 in 2016). The procuracies (prosecutor’s office) reported initiating the prosecution of 194 defendants for trafficking offenses (245 in 2017, 295 in 2016, 442 in 2015, 472 in 2014) and the court system secured 213 convictions (244 in 2017, 275 in 2016); sentences ranged from less than three years to 20 years’ imprisonment, however some prison sentences were suspended. Disparate government bodies continued to report discrepant, overlapping, or incomplete data on anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim identification, and authorities often did not disaggregate trafficking offenses from possible migrant smuggling cases. During the reporting period, the government signed a bilateral anti-trafficking agreement with the United Kingdom to improve law enforcement coordination, and with the Republic of Korea to enhance cooperation between judicial officials, including training Vietnamese prosecutors.
A lack of coordination across provincial-level agencies, persistent budgetary constraints, poor understanding of the relevant legislation among local officials, and confusion about individual provinces’ roles and responsibilities in the context of the national action plan continued to hamper effective law enforcement efforts. The Vietnamese government commenced a large scale restructuring of the MPS, merging its Staff Department (C42) responsible for anti-trafficking policies and procedures with the Criminal Police Department (C45) responsible for trafficking operations. While the merging of these departments could potentially improve the flow of information and interagency coordination, civil society reported this reshuffle, coupled with extremely high turnover within the MPS, significantly slowed law enforcement efforts. Police continued efforts to mainstream trafficking content into the training curriculum for new recruits; the MPS organized 12 trainings for 500 police officers, and in cooperation with an international donor, organized trainings on child sexual assault, including child sex trafficking. The government reported that the Supreme People’s Procuracy and Supreme People’s Court have revised their trainings to address trafficking crimes for victims under the age of 16. Despite ongoing reports of official complicity, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in trafficking offenses.
The government decreased efforts to protect victims. In 2018, authorities reported identifying 490 victims of trafficking (670 victims in 2017, 1,128 victims in 2016). The government did not provide statistics disaggregating cases by type of trafficking, victim age or gender, source, or destination. Informally, MPS officials estimated the vast majority of identified cases involved transnational trafficking. Some officials cited an increase in forced labor and noted incomplete data collection and poor interagency cooperation led to low victim identification. Social protection officials demonstrated a lack of familiarity with migrant worker vulnerability to trafficking, often considering them simply illegal workers. Some officials continued to conflate trafficking with smuggling, which precluded the identification of victims who voluntarily migrated abroad. The government maintained common victim identification criteria as part of the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Human Trafficking (COMMIT) and maintained its own formal procedure for victim identification, but it did not proactively or widely employ either mechanism among such vulnerable groups as women arrested for prostitution, migrant workers returning from abroad, and child laborers. Local and provincial government officials at times did not demonstrate a clear understanding of victim identification, including in some cases by conflating it with the confirmation of official identity documents. Foreign victims, including children, remained at high risk of deportation without screening or referral to protective services. NGOs reported the victim identification process remained overly cumbersome and complex, requiring sign off from multiple ministries before victims could be formally identified and assisted.
The government did not systematically refer victims to protective services due to inadequacies in its formal referral process, including some border guards’ unfamiliarity with trafficking crimes, a lack of inter-jurisdictional cooperation, and incomplete data collection processes. National authorities did not devote adequate funds for victim protection, encouraging provincial governments to use their own funds for trafficking programs to further decentralize this responsibility, and relied heavily on civil society to provide protection services with limited in-kind support. In 2018, the government reported assisting all 490 identified victims (500 in 2017, 600 in 2016) with initial psychological counseling, healthcare consultations, and legal and financial assistance; the government reported providing an unspecified number of victims with reintegration assistance, including small business loans. There were no government shelters designated exclusively for male or child victims, although existing shelters assisted all victims as needed. The Ho Chi Minh City Department of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs maintained two rooms in a government-run shelter devoted to trafficking victims transiting through Ho Chi Minh City, where they could stay for up to two months. The Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MoLISA) and government-affiliated Women’s Unions often referred victims to NGOs depending on their individual needs. MoLISA continued operating 400 social protection centers through local authorities to provide services to a wide range of vulnerable groups, including trafficking victims; these centers were unevenly staffed, under-resourced, and lacked appropriately trained personnel to assist victims. The Women’s Union, in partnership with NGOs and with foreign donor funding, continued to operate three shelters in urban cities, including one dedicated to trafficking victims. Local and provincial government officials at times employed practices that could be re-traumatizing to victims of trafficking. Contrary to international best practices, a shelter confined victims for multiple years and limited residents’ freedom of movement. Psycho-social services for victims remained underdeveloped, with training needed on trauma-informed approaches for all actors engaging with victims, including social workers, front-line officers, and the judiciary. Civil society organizations reported assisting 167 victims of trafficking.
The government maintained labor representatives at diplomatic missions in countries with large numbers of documented Vietnamese migrant workers. These missions could provide basic provisions, transportation, and healthcare to Vietnamese citizens subjected to trafficking abroad. The government reported repatriating over 386 Vietnamese victims in 2018 (138 in 2017). Some diplomatic personnel reportedly lacked sufficient training to adequately assist victims, and NGOs abroad reported some overseas missions were unresponsive to foreign government and NGO attempts to connect them with Vietnamese victims. The government encouraged trafficking victims to assist in judicial proceedings against traffickers and offered them some protection and compensation, including child-friendly courtrooms and not requiring victims to be present at trial; however, the government did not report the extent to which they applied these measures. The law protected victims from prosecution for unlawful acts traffickers coerced them to commit, but NGOs reported victims were less likely to come forward about their abuses in a judicial setting due to fears they may face arrest or deportation, and returned victims were afraid of being arrested for crossing the border without documentation. Civil society reported Vietnamese victims who migrated via irregular means, were involved in criminal activity as a result of their trafficking, or had criticized the Vietnamese government feared reprisals from Vietnamese government authorities, were less likely to seek support, and were vulnerable to re-trafficking. International observers reported government officials often blamed Vietnamese citizens for their exploitative conditions abroad or suggested victims inflate abuses to avoid immigration violations. The government did not offer foreign victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face retribution or hardship.
The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. During the reporting period, it continued to implement the third phase of the 2016-2020 National Anti-Trafficking Action Plan (NAP); however, civil society reported progress under the NAP slowed due to the MPS reorganization. The government continued a five-year assessment on NAP implementation benchmarks. Authorities did not allocate sufficient funding to carry out the plan for a fourth year and a lack of inter-ministerial cooperation generally hampered effective implementation. While the government completed the resolution providing guidance to the application of Articles 150 and 151, because it did not come into effect until March 15, it was too late to impact implementation of the articles during the reporting period. The MFA organized training courses on human trafficking prevention and combatting in the forms of periodic consular affairs training courses for officials prior to their postings to Vietnamese representative missions abroad. The Ministry also held workshops on international migration and human trafficking prevention to improve the capacity of desk officers at the ministry and localities in Vietnam. The Ministry of Information and Communication and the Vietnam Women’s Union organized public awareness campaigns focused on high-risk groups such as female migrant and agricultural workers, construction workers, and communities sending migrant labor abroad, as well as targeting schools in high-risk communities. Authorities reported distributing 25,000 copies of awareness materials in border areas and 900 handbooks in particularly vulnerable communities. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Information and Communications directed state-run media to air more than 700 documentaries and news stories to raise public awareness on trafficking. Civil society reported while the government made efforts to translate campaign materials into regional languages to increase awareness, many at-risk populations found the information abstract and difficult to understand. MoLISA operated a 24-hour hotline for trafficking victims; authorities reported receiving approximately 2,010 calls to this hotline (2700 in 2017) and referring 30 cases to NGO and government services (65 cases referred in 2017). The government continued to support more ethnic minority’s languages on the hotline including English. However, civil society reported callers have difficulty when speaking with an operator with a different regional dialect.
Reports continued of poor migration management and poor regulation of the labor broker industry leading to debt bondage and exploitation of Vietnamese citizens abroad. MoLISA conducted an inspection, in coordination with public security agencies, and discovered 91 cases related to violations in the recruitment of labor for overseas employment and found 55 organizations and individuals without relevant permits. Violators received administrative sanctions. MoLISA collaborated with media agencies in publishing 300 news articles on rules and policies for migrant workers, organized training courses for officials and labor-recruiting businesses, and addressed laborers complaints. The Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), the national trade union under the direction of Vietnam’s Communist Party, took steps to prevent exploitation of Vietnamese workers abroad. In partnership with an NGO, the VGCL began working to form an association of migrant Vietnamese workers in South Korea to better inform Vietnamese migrant workers about their rights and services available. Despite these efforts, unscrupulous third-party recruiting organizations often placed migrant workers in debt. Despite the government entering into a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Government of Japan in 2017 to improve protections for Vietnamese participants in Japan’s Technical Intern Training Program (TITP), there were continued reports of severe exploitation of Vietnamese workers. NGOs and the media in Japan reported Vietnamese workers pay $7,000 to third party brokers in Vietnam before entering the TITP program and then often must pay $4,000 to $5,000 if they break their contracts, trapping them in debt bondage. International observers noted Vietnamese government officials sometimes considered the exploitation of Vietnamese workers abroad to be the host countries’ responsibility and beyond their purview. The government continued efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.
As reported for the last five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Vietnam and traffickers exploit victims from Vietnam abroad. 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 excessive fees that trap workers in debt bondage. Traffickers subject victims to forced labor in construction, fishing, agriculture, mining, logging, and manufacturing, primarily in Angola, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates; there are increasing reports of Vietnamese labor trafficking victims in the United Kingdom and Ireland (including on cannabis farms), continental Europe, the Middle East, and in Pacific maritime industries. Large-scale Vietnamese infrastructure investment projects in neighboring countries such as Laos may exploit Vietnamese and foreign workers. Traffickers exploit Vietnamese women and children in sex trafficking abroad; many are misled by fraudulent employment opportunities and sold to brothel operators on the borders of China, Cambodia, and Laos, and elsewhere in Asia, including Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. Some Vietnamese women who travel abroad for internationally brokered marriages or jobs in restaurants, massage parlors, and karaoke bars—including to China, Cyprus, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Taiwan—are subjected to domestic servitude or sex trafficking. Traffickers increasingly use the internet, gaming sites, and particularly social media to lure potential victims into vulnerable situations; men often entice young women and girls with online dating relationships and persuade them to move abroad, then subject them to forced labor or sex trafficking. Some traffickers pose as police officers on social media networks to gain victims’ trust. During the migration process European gangs and traffickers often exploit Vietnamese victims in forced labor and sexual exploitation before they reach their final destination.
Within the country, traffickers exploit Vietnamese men, women, and children—including street children and children with disabilities—in forced labor, although little information is available on these cases. Traffickers exploit children and adults in forced labor in the garment sector, where workers are coerced to work through threats and intimidation. There were reports of children as young as six producing garments under conditions of forced labor in small privately owned garment factories and informal workshops, and that children as young as 12 worked while confined in government-run rehabilitation centers. Traffickers force children into street hawking and begging in major urban centers. Traffickers subject some children to forced or bonded labor in brick factories, urban family homes, and privately run rural gold mines. Sex traffickers target many children from impoverished rural areas, and a rising number of women from middle class and urban settings. Traffickers increasingly exploit girls from ethnic minority communities in the northwest highlands, including in sex trafficking and domestic servitude, by channeling their criminal activities through the traditional practice of bride kidnapping. Child sex tourists, reportedly from elsewhere in Asia, the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States, exploit children in Vietnam. North Korean restaurants operating in Vietnam may exploit North Korean workers in forced labor.
Although the government reports it no longer subjects drug users to forced labor in rehabilitation centers, international organizations and media report authorities continue the practice. A 2014 legal provision requires a judicial proceeding before detention of drug users in compulsory drug rehabilitation centers and restricts detainees’ maximum workday to four hours. In August 2018, there were reports that 200 individuals who escaped a government-run drug treatment center claimed authorities forced them to work eight hours a day without compensation and subjected them to punishment, including beating, if they “misbehaved.” Vietnamese law allows for obligatory manual labor for prisoners, which allows forced labor to be used as a means of punishment for political and religious dissidents. Prisoners reportedly work in agriculture and manufacturing, and there have been reports of prisoners of conscience working in hazardous industries such as cashew processing. Complicit Vietnamese officials, primarily at commune and village levels, facilitate trafficking or exploit victims by accepting bribes from traffickers, overlooking trafficking indicators, and extorting money in exchange for reuniting victims with their families.