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Sex Trafficking In Vietnam: The Sustainable Solution » Women's Courage

Sex Trafficking In Vietnam: The Sustainable Solution

March 4th, 2011 by taniat Leave a reply »

Date: March 3, 2011

To: The Vietnam Women’s Union

From: Tania Tran, Stanford University

Dear The Vietnam Women’s Union,

My name is Tania Tran and I am a student at Stanford University.  In my studies in women’s health during the past quarter, I have become very interested in the issue of sex trafficking in Vietnam.  Prior to the class, my knowledge on the issue of sex trafficking and prostitution came from the discussions within my family and the Vietnamese-American community around us.  I learned that sex trafficking is a largely prevalent and growing problem in Vietnam, with hundreds of thousands of women and girls victim to trafficking for prostitution and forced-marriage only within the past few decades.  The stories that I’ve heard gave me the impression that this practice is fundamentally the buying and selling of women into slavery.

My research within the past quarter has informed me that the Vietnamese government, especially through The Vietnam Women’s Union, has taken many steps to reduce sex trafficking.  There is no doubt that sex trafficking is an increasing problem in Vietnam.  From the United States perspective through the Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report, Vietnam’s standing has dropped from Tier 2 in 2009 to Tier 2 Watch List in 2010 [1], suggesting many problems that the Vietnamese government has insufficiently addressed.  Some of these issues include lack of funding for victim protection resources, education of law enforcement officials, legal framework for addressing trafficking crimes, and prevention methods.  In light of these problems, I am writing to you with regards to solutions to ending sex-trafficking.  I would like to address key problems I see in existing solutions to end sex-trafficking and propose new ways to combat this issue that could be more effective and sustainable.

Key Issue #1: Community Involvement

According to the National Plan of Action To Combat Crimes of Trafficking in Women and Children in 2004-2010, it was reported that only 12 of 63 Vietnamese provinces had strategies to prevent trafficking linked to the national plan [2].  This suggests an enormous gap in communication and knowledge that could be vital to stopping sex trafficking.  I believe that if the government does not have enough resources to reach out to the provinces, change could also start from the local level.  As evident in the work of ActionAid International Vietnam, providing information and education to poor communities is a very effective way to effect change on a larger scale, especially because women and children who are poor and less educated are most likely to be trafficked [3].  By providing education through monthly meetings in these communities, we can not only provide these women the awareness of the dangers of sex trafficking, but also a sense of community and empowerment.

Key Issue #2: Respecting Women

I have observed that The Vietnam Women’s Union has focused a large portion of its money and efforts on education services designed for women and girls.  I would like to propose that awareness campaigns should address male members of the community as well.  Sex-trafficking, prostitution, and sex-tourism are all activities that flourish due to increasing demand.  In order to combat these issues, we must recognize that the root of the problem lies within the hands of men and leaders in our communities.  If there wasn’t a demand, sex-trafficking would not occur.  Education on sex-trafficking must happen at all levels of society and must target all age-groups.  It must be known that sex-trafficking is prevalent because it is a practice that operates on the belief that women are commodities.  To address sex-trafficking appropriately, we must also address the way society objectifies women and come up with a way to stop it.

Key Issue #3: Government Responsibility

Through public education and awareness campaigns, The Vietnam Women’s Union must pressure the government to be more accountable and diligent in the prosecution of sex-trafficking crimes.  Education programs should specifically target state officials and those in positions of power.  At the most basic level, criminals of sex-trafficking must be punished in order to set a precedent for the respect of human rights at both the national and international level.  The government must be persuaded to focus on the bigger picture – it must seek to improve the status of women in society and protect them from the dangers of trafficking.  The government should not worry itself about the formation of a State Run Bridal Agency [4] or Red Light Districts to limit “illegal” exploitation of women, for these solutions will only temporarily address sex-trafficking and fail to address the human rights of women and the freedom from slavery.  Even when regulated, these practices fundamentally treat women as objects, easily sold and exploited for a profit.  The public must become informed about the Criminal Code in Vietnam and demand for a more uniform legal code for punishment of sex-trafficking crimes.  Currently, article 119 states that perpetrators could be imprisoned for 20 years for this crime, yet does not indicate any punishment for perpetrators who are government officials [5].  Education must seek to educate citizens not only of their rights, but also for insisting that state officials must be educated and responsible in the fight for human rights for trafficked victims.

I hope that The Vietnam Women’s Union will take these suggestions into consideration. I believe that approaching the issue of sex-trafficking systematically by educating all levels of society will contribute greatly to both the prevention and treatment of this injustice.


Tania Tran

[1] Trafficking in Persons Report 2010: http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2010/

[2] “Trafficking Fight Lacks Political Will” http://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/trafficking-12062010172500.html

[3] ActionAid International Vietnam: www.actionaid.org.uk/100192/Vietnam.html

[4] BBC News: Vietnam State to Run Bride Agency: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7817818.stm

[5] General Assembly WOM/1593, Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women: www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2007/wom1593.doc.htm



  1. wsallman says:

    Thanks for the interesting post! I am also very interested in trying to address the demand side of the sex trafficking problem. Clearly there are fundamental drivers that cause these men to make the decisions they do. If these are identified, appropriate policies can be crafted. I would love to see some statistics on the education programs addressing this issue. I also agree that it is important for citizens to encourage their government to act on these issues. Political pressure is always a key element in getting governments to change policies. Finally, I think that short term fixes may be useful but you are correct in saying they do not address the the long term. I hope that Vietnam does follow some of your recommendations in fixing the sex trafficking problem.

  2. abui says:

    I actually blogged about sex trafficking as well and how the government needs to be an active agent of change. I totally agree with everything in your blog. I have never considered, nor heard of anyone targeting government officials in education programs, but I think that is a great idea! These government officials are the people we depend on to make the policies that affect these issues. Of course we should be targeting them with these educational programs. And yes the demand for sex workers is definitely a huge driving force in the success of the sex industry. Advocating for sex worker rights is something that can provide immediate relief for the women who are stuck in the industry, but we need to educate the consumers in the industry because they are really the ones that keep the industry booming. Great post and proposal!

  3. ritam1 says:

    Tania, thanks for this action plan against sex trafficking in Vietnam. I am glad that you mentioned community involvement as a key issue in addressing this social problem. I agree that sex trafficking should be viewed as a community problem, and that governments and NGOs should commit to working closely with people on the ground in order to develop effective prevention and rescue strategies. I can’t believe such a widespread problem is not recognized by all the provinces! This is definitely something that communities should focus on as this issue is certainly not localized to any one specific region, but depends on constant mobility.

    It seems like the government itself does not have many enforcement mechanisms in place for punishing those that violate the law, and I feel this is something that should definitely be rectified. In order to do so, community-based organizations and civil society at large needs to take a larger role in advocating for a political change, while also providing resources and opportunities for women who have been trafficked. However, I think it is also important to emphasize that in alleviating this issue, we cannot let the government “off the hook” but keep policy advocacy efforts strong so as to hold them accountable for their lack of oversight.

  4. hnorton says:

    I found this post to be direct, concise, and clearly-written. Thanks for proposing a solution that not only addresses the symptom of the issue, but also the causes. I thought your key issue #3 offered the most concrete solution and gave clear action points. I completely agree with your other key points, and I am curious to know what you think an awareness campaign that addresses the way society objectifies women would look like. Would it be required as a part of secondary education? Or would it be only for johns who had been caught? Thanks for your well-researched policy brief. I definitely think you should send it in!

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