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  • Writer's pictureDurham Pro Bono Blog

The Human Trafficking Crisis in Vietnam

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.

Vietnam has been and still is in the grips of a human trafficking crises. The deaths of 39 Vietnamese people in Ireland in October 2019 who were being trafficked to the UK raised awareness of this humanitarian crisis.[1]

Between 2012 and 2017 the Police Department in Vietnam reported 6000 victims of trafficking.[2]However this figure is claimed to be grossly underestimated with Hager International claiming approximately 400,000 victims of trafficking since 1990.[3]A National Crime Agency report on human trafficking analysed offence over the first 4 months of 2019 and found that the number of total reports of trafficking is 2156, with those of Vietnamese origin being the third largest nationality of all victims of trafficking.[4]

Of the numbers estimated to have been trafficked only a small percentage of them ever escape and return to Vietnam. Between 2015-2019, 436 victims are reported to have returned from China (where they had been trafficked to) to Lao Cai (a border province between Vietnam and China).[5]

The main victims of trafficking are often poor and uneducated people from remote provinces.

It is claimed that traffickers use a proposal of work or marriage to lure the victims in and then sell them when they reached their destination.[6]Many victims are also sold by their family or friends due to poverty and China (being adjacently located) is one of the biggest markets for Vietnamese women due to the increased demand for women after enforcement of the One Child policy meant that the number of Chinese women decreased dramatically.[7]It is further claimed that 90% of those trafficked are women, children and ethnic minorities.[8]

How the Government is Tackling the Issue:

The United States produced a Trafficking in Persons Report that evaluated the Vietnam Government’s response to trafficking, finding that the Government does not meet the minimum standards for its elimination. However, they were commended for increasing their efforts to do so.

The Government implemented anti-trafficking training for police officers and prosecutors and awareness campaigns within communities on the realities of human trafficking. An anti-trafficking national plan was also introduced to try and help guide all departments in aiming for preventing and rescuing victims of human trafficking. Also the Government introduced a new penal code to clarify and strengthen the trafficking provisions and increased penalties, with fines of up to 50 million dong and imprisonment for up to 20 years. Moreover, a nationwide database to track cases was created and there was an increase in news stories and documentaries to try to raise awareness nationally.[9]

Is the Government Response Effective?

The main criticism of government action is that it lacked inter-agency coordination, which made it very difficult to track trafficking cases, communicate on suspects and gain a statistical report nationally. Furthermore, there was a lack of familiarity or knowledge of officials within the anti-trafficking legislation and the procedures to identify victims and offenders. Help for victims was massively criticised as under-resourced with a number of foreign victims deported without access to protection services.

The nationwide database was ineffectively used overlapping and incomplete data. This hampered communication between departments on cases and made it difficult to estimate the number of victims identified, the number of offenders arrested, thus details of the cases were incomplete. This meant that ensuring that any analogous situations were not flagged up or addressed in an appropriate amount of time.

Also, it is widely criticised that trafficking cases were not distinguished from smuggling cases, which meant that any data collected would not be completely accurate and that estimates of trafficking at present and in the future could be affected.[10]

Whilst it is estimated that there are around 400 victim shelters in Vietnam to help victims reintegrate into society, provide them with medical services, educational and job opportunities;[11]no shelters were exclusively for men or children.[12]

All of these criticisms hamper any government response to trafficking in preventing and tackling the crime. Also, government and police corruption meant that the reporting of trafficking was impacted and often officials and the police profit from trafficking themselves, with the estimated cost of smuggling people from Vietnam to the UK being £25,000. Evidence has suggested that the police collude with traffickers to gain a profit and that around 1/3 of all people have paid bribes to public servants.[13]

Proposals for Reform:

Whilst the Government response has improved in recent years there is still much improvement to be made. Work needs to be done tackling corruption because as long as it exists within law enforcement and government there will be no true improvement of preventing and tackling trafficking because the police and officials are the ones who profit from it.

Also, improvement surrounding inter-agency coordination and communication needs to take place in order to achieve an accurate database network of cases and to be able to track cases across the country, helping to identify offenders and the regions where trafficking is at the highest threat level.

Moreover, whilst many charities have created shelters alongside the Government, it is evident that more shelters are need to help more victims access medical help, educational and job opportunities, with the ultimate aim being to reintegrate them back into society. Awareness of trafficking will also help tackle this issue because if more people are aware of trafficking there will be less stigma attached to being a victim, helping to improve reintegration rates.

Finally, increasingly accurate data collection needs to be achieved in order to recognise where trafficking is the most prevalent, construct victim profiles to ascertain who is the most vulnerable as well as offender profiles to improve arrest and conviction rates. Accurate data analysis will lead to identification of issues and help the Government create custom responses to each issue.

Whilst Vietnam has a long way to go to vastly decrease human trafficking in the country, improvements have been made and the Government is attempting to tackle the issue through numerous avenues but unfortunately these improvements do not mean the crisis is not ongoing today.

Layla Moan

Feature Writer



[1]Conrad Duncan, ‘Essex Lorry Deaths: Irish Court Approves Extradition of Driver to UK over Deaths of 39 Vietnamese People’ (Independent, 24th Jan 2020) <> accessed 8th Feb 2020

[2] ‘Human Trafficking on the Rise in VietNam’ (Viet Name News, 4th Nov 2017) <> accessed 29th January 2020

[4]NCA, National Referral Mechanism Statistics Quarter 1 2019 January to March (published 25th March 2019)

[5] ‘Reintegration Shelter From Human Trafficking Victims in Lao Cai’ (Vietnam+, 29th Dec 2019) < > accessed 29th Jan 2020

[6] ‘Human Trafficking on the Rise’ (n 2)

[7]Harris (n 3)

[8]Phan Anh, ‘Vietnam Human Trafficking Worth Billions of Dollars A Year’ (Vietnam Express International, 1 Dec 2019) < > accessed 8thFeb 2020

[9] US Embassy and Consulate in Vietnam, Trafficking in Persons Report(published in 2017) <> accessed 8th Feb 2020


[11]Anh (n 8)

[12]US Report (n 9)

[13]Thoi Nguyen, ‘Vietnam’s Human Trafficking Problem is Too Big to Ignore’ (Electronic Immigration Network Blog, 12 Nov 2019) < > accessed 29th Jan 2020

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