Trafficking in Persons Report 2015 - Country Narratives - Vietnam


Vietnam is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor within the country and abroad. Vietnamese men and women migrate abroad for work independently or through state-owned, private, or joint-stock labor export recruitment companies. Some are subsequently subjected to forced labor in the construction, fishing, agricultural, mining, logging, and manufacturing sectors, primarily in Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, Laos, the United Arab Emirates, and Japan. 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, while others are subjected to sex trafficking in Thailand and Malaysia. Some Vietnamese women who travel abroad for internationally brokered marriages, mostly to China and increasingly Malaysia, are subsequently subjected to domestic servitude or forced prostitution. Debt bondage, passport confiscation, and threats of deportation are tactics commonly used to compel Vietnamese victims into servitude. An increasingly reported tactic is men using the internet to lure young women and girls into online dating relationships and persuading them to move abroad where they are subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. Victims are often recruited by relatives or acquaintances, often with the knowledge, consent, or urging of close family members. Vietnamese organized crime networks recruit and transport Vietnamese nationals, especially children, to Europe—particularly the United Kingdom and Ireland—and subject them to forced labor on cannabis farms; they are lured with promises of lucrative jobs and compelled into servitude through debt bondage. Vietnam’s labor export companies—many affiliated with state-owned enterprises—sometimes charge fees in excess of the law for work abroad, leaving workers with exorbitant debts and vulnerable to forced labor and debt bondage. Upon arrival in destination countries, some workers find themselves compelled to work in substandard conditions for little or no pay, with large debts and no credible avenues of legal recourse. Recruitment companies are sometimes unresponsive to workers’ requests for assistance in situations of exploitation.

Within the country, Vietnamese men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor. NGOs report street children and children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable. Children are subjected to forced street hawking and forced begging in major urban centers of Vietnam. Some children are victims of forced and bonded labor in informal garment and brick factories or urban family homes and privately run rural gold mines. Children, many from rural areas, are subjected to sex trafficking. Vietnam is a destination country for child sex tourism, with perpetrators reportedly coming from Asia, the United Kingdom, Australia, Europe, and the United States. The government implemented a new legal provision in 2014 that requires a judicial proceeding before a drug user is sent to a compulsory drug detoxification center and restricted the number of hours a detainee can work to no more than three hours per day. During the reporting year, some drugs users serving administrative sentences under the previous legal provision remained in the detoxification centers and were subjected to forced labor. NGOs report trafficking-related corruption occurs, primarily at the local level, where complicit officials at border crossings and checkpoints accept bribes from traffickers and opt not to intervene on victims’ behalf when family relationships exist between traffickers and victims.

The Government of Vietnam does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Vietnamese authorities continued to prosecute and convict internal and transnational sex traffickers, but did not pursue criminal prosecutions for labor traffickers exploiting victims transnationally or within Vietnam. The government reported an increased number of officials received anti-trafficking training; however, many officials were unable to identify and investigate labor trafficking cases, resulting in a failure to identify victims and to pursue criminal investigations in 2014. Often, government responses to overseas workers facing debt bondage or forced labor situations were inconsistent and inadequate. However, government officials abroad assisted with the return of trafficking victims in 2014 and worked with NGOs to help repatriate victims from China and Malaysia. NGOs report border officials in high-risk trafficking areas increased their engagement to investigate trafficking cases, but official complicity remained an impediment to anti-trafficking efforts in Vietnam.


Using provisions of the 2012 anti-trafficking law, vigorously prosecute all forms of trafficking and convict and punish traffickers, especially in cases involving forced labor or complicit officials; ensure draft anti-trafficking amendments to the penal code allow for criminal prosecutions of labor traffickers; actively monitor labor recruitment companies and enforce regulations that prohibit the imposition of excessive recruitment fees; increase training for officials on the anti-trafficking law, with a specific focus on identifying and investigating cases of forced labor and internal trafficking cases; cease the practice of subjecting Vietnamese drug users to forced labor in government-run drug rehabilitation centers; implement policies for the proactive identification and provision of assistance to victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers, individuals in prostitution, and child laborers, and train relevant officials in the use of such procedures; provide 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; improve data collection and disseminate at the national level on all forms of trafficking; improve interagency cooperation on anti-trafficking efforts in order to effectively implement the national plan of action; develop programs that reduce stigma and promote reintegration of trafficking returnees; and implement anti-trafficking campaigns directed at those who solicit adults and children in the sex trade.


The government sustained law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking. Vietnam’s 2012 anti-trafficking law expanded on Articles 119 and 120 of the country’s penal code to specifically define and criminalize sex and labor trafficking, although it was unclear if the law prohibited all forms of trafficking. Based on severity of the crime, these articles prescribe punishments ranging from two to 20 years’ and three to 25 years’ imprisonment, respectively, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape, and also impose fines on traffickers ranging between five and 50 million Vietnamese dong ($240-$2,350). In 2014, the government launched a nationwide computer database to track trafficking cases; however, inconsistencies in data collected on anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim identification data persisted.

In 2014, the government arrested 685 suspected traffickers, of which it prosecuted 472 (346 under Article 119 and 126 under Article 120) and convicted 413, with sentences ranging mostly from three to 15 years’ imprisonment, a slight decrease from the 420 offenders convicted in 2013. Authorities did not report how many cases involved sex or labor trafficking or how many were for internal or transnational trafficking. Although the 2012 anti-trafficking amendments provide a criminal law basis to prosecute these crimes, officials primarily pursued labor trafficking cases as administrative violations under the country’s labor laws, which do not provide criminal penalties. Officials continued to participate in joint investigations and rescue operations in China, Cambodia, and Laos. A lack of coordination across provincial agencies impeded overall law enforcement progress in Vietnam, and officials sometimes did not pursue trafficking investigations due to provincial budgetary constraints. Contract disputes between workers and labor recruitment companies—for fraudulent recruitment and conditions indicative of forced labor—were left largely to companies to resolve. Although workers had the legal right to take cases to court, few had the resources to do so. The government reported an increased number of officials received anti-trafficking training. The Ministry of Public Security conducted 40 interagency trainings for 1,000 officials on anti-trafficking investigations. However, local officials had difficulties applying anti-trafficking legislation. Although trafficking-related corruption continues to occur, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.


The government demonstrated modest efforts to protect victims. In 2014, authorities identified 1,031 potential trafficking victims but did not report how many were exploited in sex or labor trafficking, how many were adults or children, or how many were exploited in Vietnam or abroad. In comparison, authorities certified 982 trafficking victims in 2013. Victim identification and referral mechanisms remained weak throughout the country. The government had a formal procedure for victim identification, but it did not proactively employ it 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 that persisted in its formal referral process. Officials continued to conflate trafficking with smuggling, which precluded the identification of victims who voluntarily migrated abroad.

In 2014, the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) provided protection and reintegration support to 668 trafficking victims, of which the government repatriated over half. Protection services varied by location but generally included legal aid, counseling, shelter, vocational training, healthcare, and financial allowances. Authorities did not report the number of victims who used the one-time government cash subsidy—up to one million dong ($50). MOLISA’s social protection centers, which provided services to a wide range of vulnerable groups, sometimes housed trafficking victims; these centers are often underfunded and lack 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 areas, one of which was trafficking-specific. Vietnam had no shelters or services specifically for assisting male or child victims and none devoted specifically to victims of labor trafficking. Vietnam maintained labor attachés at their embassies in nine countries receiving large numbers of documented Vietnamese migrant workers; however, reports allege some Vietnamese diplomatic personnel lacked sufficient training to adequately assist victims. Vietnam lacked diplomatic representation or bilateral agreements with some countries where Vietnamese citizens were subjected to trafficking, inhibiting victims’ access to government assistance and impeding the government’s protection efforts. In some repatriation cases, Vietnamese diplomatic missions provided basic provisions, transportation, and healthcare to Vietnamese victims subjected to trafficking abroad. The government reportedly encouraged trafficking victims to assist in judicial proceedings against traffickers and offered some protection and compensation to victims, yet victims expressed trepidation to use them given the endemic social stigma attached to being a victim, fear of retribution in their local communities, and fear of punishment for illegal acts committed in the course of being subjected to trafficking. Vietnamese law protects victims from being prosecuted for actions taken as a consequence of being subjected to trafficking; however, officials are not properly trained in identification of trafficking victims, which may have led to the treatment of some victims as criminals. The government did not offer foreign victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they faced retribution or hardship.


The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. During the latter part of 2014 and early 2015, the government commenced initial planning of a new four-year (2016-2020) national anti-trafficking action plan by developing future anti-trafficking priorities, though it did not include a specific budgetary allotment for its implementation. The government shared limited information on trafficking statistics and anti-trafficking operations with the international community, but the lack of accurate reporting on labor trafficking stymied anti-trafficking progress in the country. In 2014, officials supported anti-trafficking awareness campaigns by partnering with national and local media outlets to conduct radio and television stories and publish news articles on trafficking. It hosted community dialogues on vulnerabilities to labor trafficking. The government fined or suspended the licenses of approximately 40 recruitment companies and suspended the licenses of five companies for collecting excess fees or withholding payments to workers. The minimum and maximum pre-departure fee and deposit system for Vietnamese migrant workers—ranging from 6.50-65.0 million dong ($300-$3,000)—could have decreased the debt burden experienced by some workers if enforced; however, this scheme could have also increased overseas workers’ vulnerability to debt bondage. The government made some efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. Throughout the reporting period, the government led raids at brothel and unscrupulous massage parlors, and it administered fines and suspended the licenses of some companies that used forced labor. It provided anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel.