Police in China have returned three Lao female trafficking victims to their native Laos, sources in Laos told RFA.
The two women and one girl were separately duped into traveling to China on promises of jobs or marriages, only to be sold as brides. They each escaped their captors and sought help with the local police, who helped them return to Laos on Feb. 21, a Lao Women’s Union member from Oudomxay province, in the country’s northwest, told RFA’s Lao Service.
The source identified two of the returning victims by name as Deng, 28, and Cheng Moua, 17. Both of these victims are from Oudomxay.
“In the case of Deng, she obtained a border pass, was taken to China, and married a Chinese man who later sent some money back to her parents, then sold her to another man. Finally, she was rescued and returned home,” the source said.
“Cheng Moua said she was tricked into going to China for what she thought was a job, then she disappeared and could not be contacted, and then she was sold to a man in China,” a leader from her native Houeyhoom village told RFA.
The second source said that a trafficker in Laos told Cheng Moua that there was a job for her in the Boten SEZ on the Laos-China border about six months ago. After being taken to China and sold as a bride, relatives in China who happened to live in the same town recognized and rescued her.
Deng, Cheng Moua, and the third victim spent a week at a temporary women’s shelter in Luang Namtha province before returning Feb. 28 to their parents’ homes.
The first source said she was not familiar with the third victim other than that she was from nearby Luang Prabang province.
Between 2008 and 2018, at least 3,000 Lao women were tricked into moving to China, according to a Lao official who spoke at an anti-human trafficking conference in October 2018 in Vientiane. Out of that number, only 600 women were finally able to return to Laos.
Even with Laos launching education campaigns and working with other governments to reduce trafficking, incidents of trafficked poor women and girls are often reported.
The Lao government is appealing to international NGOs to fund the construction of a women and children counseling and protection center to replace the current shelter in Luang Namtha province so it can serve all of the northern provinces.
“It’s all part of the government’s plan. We’re seeking donations from governments of other countries, businesses, and international NGOs to build a center that can provide full service to women and children in the northern region,” a member of the Women’s Union from Luang Namtha told RFA.
According to the Luang Namtha union member, the new center will cost 18 billion kip (about U.S. $2 million). When complete it will have a capacity for 200 women, providing counseling, psychological rehabilitation, and basic job training to women who fall prey to traffickers.
“Our fundraising campaign began last year and has continued into this year because of COVID-19,” the union member said.
“Our current center is only a temporary, rented small building that can accommodate only 30 women. We need more money because we provide everything to the victims including food, clothes and shelter” she added.
“In serious cases, if a victim is mentally ill, we send her to Vientiane.”
“The women and girls who come to our facility are poor, uneducated, and have fallen prey to lies. They were told that they will have good jobs and a good life in China, but in reality that wasn’t the case. They all became victims of human trafficking,” she said.
A worker at the center told RFA that at its current capacity, the shelter has been able to provide service to 70 women.
“Most of the victims are members of ethnic minority groups who have been trafficked to China,” the worker said.
A member of the Lao Women’s Union of Sing District, Luang Namtha Province told RFA she supports the plan to build a new facility in the province.
“It’s a good idea to have our own center because right now we have to send all the victims to Vientiane.”
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.