Trang had a good, steady job.
She earned enough in the local fish processing plant to look after herself and her 2 sons; while she wasn’t rich by any measure, she was able to get by and she was proud of her small family.
When an environmental catastrophe hit north-central Vietnam in 2016, caused by a major steel mill discharging poison into the ocean, Trang’s job was among the first to go. With 200 km (125 miles) of coastline contaminated, all sealife in the region was devastated. There were simply no more fish to process, and Trang was suddenly unemployed.
With mouths to feed and bills to pay, Trang was deeply worried. It was a huge relief when she met a man who happened to know of a footwear factory that was recruiting, and paying $500 a month. Unfortunately the factory was in China, which would mean she had to leave her children with her own mother, but Trang figured she could work there for a few months and then come back to find another job closer to home.
Except, of course, that there was no footwear factory and no $500 a month. Trang had been deceived by a human trafficker, who had a client in China waiting; a single man in need of a wife.
Trang was held against her will by this man for almost 2 years before she could call for help. Blue Dragon responded and went to find her, bringing her home to the children she so deeply loved.
We tend to think of human trafficking as being caused by poverty, or by a lack of education. In reality, the causes of trafficking are many and complex. Simple ‘awareness raising’ isn’t enough because trafficking is so intertwined with many other issues.
As Trang’s story highlights, the environment matters. Changes to the local environment can create vulnerabilities that traffickers can prey on, and with global warming we’re going to see much more of this.
Opportunities for employment matter. Where people can get good, safe jobs with adequate income, the chance of being trafficked is much lower.
Having decent social support matters. Blue Dragon has been involved in cases of trafficking where a family member was vulnerable to exploitation because of the illness of a child or a sibling, with no adequate social support for medical emergencies or child care or welfare.
Access to education matters. In Vietnam we see very plainly that children become highly vulnerable to trafficking when they are out of school. Longer retention means safety from exploitation.
And legal status matters. People without birth certificates, identification cards, or other important documentation cannot access basic services (including school), or government welfare, and it’s extremely difficult for police to open a case when the victim has no legal status. The absence of some very simple paperwork puts people at massive risk.
Trang is safe now and every day she is thankful to be back with her beautiful family. If we could go back in time and consider how we could have protected Trang, it’s not just an ‘anti trafficking’ program that she needed; it was a safe environment, stable employment, and a welfare net to get her through some difficult times.
When we see people in context and take an holistic view, we begin to understand that the end of human trafficking really will take a whole-world approach. We can’t fix just one issue without also addressing other areas of society and the environment.
There’s much to be done, and no time to waste.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.