Thao and Tin’s rescue from a sweatshop in southern Vietnam changed the course of their lives.
Thao, a 13 year old girl, and Tin, a 14 year old boy, had been locked into the upstairs of a garment factory for over 4 months by the time we found them. They had left their village in the north-west, close to the border of China, believing that they were on their way to a vocational training opportunity.
Neither they nor their families had any idea they were to be used as slave labour in a home-based factory 1,200 km (745 miles) from home.
Both Thao and Tin are home now, and back at school where they can get on with just being kids and enjoying life. With help from Blue Dragon they’re doing well, and their families are getting some extra support for their siblings.
The question remains, though: How can we stop this from happening again? How can we help other kids just like Thao and Tin so that they never have to be trafficked in the first place?
With a problem as complex and multi-faceted as human trafficking, there’s no single answer or magic bullet. And yet, there’s a lot that can be done that we know will have an impact.
Blue Dragon’s rescue work stands out as one of the most powerful activities we do. On pretty much a daily basis, we receive calls to help people who have been trafficked and sold; and through our interventions we find missing people and get them home. Just like Thao and Tin.
And while this may be the most exciting part of our work, it’s only one part of the fight against human trafficking. (Which, by way of a shameless self promotion, you might like to learn more about in my Ted talk).
Apart from the individual rescues and the follow up that takes place (such as arresting and prosecuting the traffickers) a major tool to push back against trafficking is, very simply, working with communities.
Every community that has lost people to trafficking has its own set of vulnerabilities. In some villages, people may be illiterate and have no access to television, and so know nothing of human trafficking. Elsewhere, extreme poverty may make a community ripe for exploitation.
Many people who are trafficked have been easy targets because they lack basic paperwork: they may have no birth certificate or ID card, and so are ineligible to attend school and can never get a proper job. One initiative that Blue Dragon runs is the concept of the ‘registration campaign’ in which we go out to rural areas where this is an issue, and work with the government to register people en masse. This weekend just gone, we have registered 893 people in one area of central Vietnam, bringing our organisational total to over 8,700 people.
That simple bit of paperwork makes them much less likely to be trafficked, and much easier to help in case they do get trafficked.
We’ve found that working with schools, too, is critical in preventing human trafficking. Too many times, the children we rescue from perilous situations have dropped out of school because they couldn’t afford the fees, or they didn’t think education would help them in the future. And once they have dropped out, they become invisible; nobody notices that they are gone.
In one area of Vietnam, we’re working with schools to develop an ‘early warning’ system. As soon as a child drops out of school, a notification is made and someone checks up to see what has happened. It’s simple, but incredibly effective.
Training teachers to understand and prevent child trafficking in Vietnam
Organising registration campaigns in villages and training school teachers to notice danger signs just don’t sound as exciting as rescuing kids from brothels or from factories. And they don’t have the immediate impact that a rescue has. There’s no doubt getting little Thao and Tin home has changed their lives and brought significant relief to their whole family and village.
It’s also much harder to prove the success of the school and community approach. How can we ever know how many kids would otherwise have been trafficked?
And yet, these local interventions are keeping kids and communities safe. The impact might not be as obvious as for Thao and Tin, but it’s just as real and just as important.