No money to support human trafficking victims

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Vietnam's first effort to provide comprehensive assistance to human trafficking victims has run headlong into rough weather with critics slamming it as impractical and over the top.

The Ministry of Justice on Monday (August 23) submitted a draft bill to the National Assembly (NA), Vietnam's parliament, on supporting human trafficking victims in the country.

The draft law on fighting and preventing human trafficking stresses the need to help victims with daily necessities, healthcare, counseling and education, including vocational training. It also mentions the provision of emergency aid to new returnees, including loans and legal protection.

But legislators at the NA Standing Committee meeting on Monday said the lack of money to fund its activities will make the law impractical.

Phung Quoc Hien, chairman of the NA's Finance and Budget Committee, said the range of victims that the bill deals with was "too broad" and that no state budget would be able to handle it.

"There are still many other disadvantaged people who haven't received such support. I agree that there should be support but it should have some limit and be suitable to our budget," Hien said at the meeting.

Many Vietnamese girls and women have been trafficked to China, Taiwan and Cambodia and forced into prostitution or marriages. Studies have also found that some went voluntarily as an escape from abject poverty. There were others considered "ugly" or too "old" [in their late twenties or early thirties] to find a husband in Vietnam who were lured by the prospect of marriage, children and a better life. Most of the trafficked were cheated into leaving the country for better prospects, studies have found.

Tran The Vuong, Chairman of the Committee for People's Aspiration [a parliamentary agency tasked with collecting people's opinions for follow-up action by the lawmakers and the government] said any support mentioned in the bill needs money and would thus be difficult to implement.

In fact, Vuong went further and said not all victims should be beneficiaries of the bill because some were rich.

He said the bill should lay out more eligibility requirements for assistance.

"I have the feeling that human trafficking victims are being favored and supported like those who have contributed to the country."

As the bill sets out different responsibilities, including financial ones, for commune level administrations, Vuong said the requirement was "far from reality" and "I don't know where people were sitting to write down these things."

He said communes do not have money for such support. The bill asks communes to receive returnees and pay the train and bus fares for them to get home, while commune officials themselves pay their own fares when travelling on a mission, he added.

"Almost all communes have nothing in their budget."

Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong dismissed notions that the bill was overly supportive of the victims, saying the ministry did not see them as contributors to the country.

The support policies were suggested by the Prime Minister in 2007, and the ministry was just narrowing down the range of victims to benefit from the bill, he said.

Cuong also said that if anyone was found to have wrongfully benefited from assistance, they would be punished and would have to return the money given to them.

Many officials at the meeting said the bill should clarify which type of buying and selling of human beings should be held criminally liable.

Some parents have had to sell their children out of sheer poverty, and there were wealthy childless couples wanting to buy children, they said, suggesting that in such cases, only administrative penalties be imposed.

The bill will be amended further and submitted to the National Assembly for passage in October.

Tough reintegration

Since the early 1990s Vietnam has been a source, transit and destination country for trafficked persons, according to a 2007 study titled "Transnational Migration, Marriage and Trafficking at the China-Vietnam border" by Le Bach Duong, Khuat Thu Hong and Danièle Bélanger.

Thousands of girls and women have been trafficked to Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and other places in Australia, Europe and North America, the study found. The researchers focused on 213 women from the northern province of Quang Ninh who were trafficked or migrated to China and had returned to Vietnam. Quang Ninh shares a border with China.

The returnees have not received any formal government support, the study found.

Though more returnees reported no change in attitude towards them after their return, there were those who were ostracized and/or looked down upon.

"Here we have many returnees. We know that they returned from China so we do not want to meet or associate with them. Some even disdain them... They are often asked "˜You've returned from China, haven't you?'... Generally speaking, they must feel shamed to death," the study quoted from group discussions held in Hai Dong Commune, Quang Ninh.

One major difficulty faced by many returnees to Quang Ninh is to get their civil and household registration back as local authorities removed them from the list when they left for China.

This made it impossible for returnees looking to rent land for cultivation, and without household registration, their children could not enroll in schools, the study found.

One victim who lived with her family could not get a birth certificate for a son she had with a man in China. "For ten years he went to school only with his hospital birth certificate."

Then some members from Vietnam Women's Union told her to report that she had the child with a Vietnamese man without a marriage certificate, and finally she was able to get an official birth certificate. "But it was not easy," she said.

"Without instructions from the higher level, local police simply refuse to register the returnees and their children as local residents," the report said.

The relative of another returnee said the woman had to ask to stay in an unused kindergarten. "It took a very long time to get the approval, but she cannot stay there for free. She pays VND150,000 (US$7.70) a month," the relative said.

For many reasons, 84.6 percent of the returnees in the study said they have considered migrating again.

Bélanger, one of the authors of the study who teaches at the University of Western Ontario, told Thanh Nien Weekly in an email this week that "we need to change the attitude and mentality about trafficking and victims of trafficking."

The Canadian academic said people often believe all women victims of trafficking were sex workers, or that it is their fault that they were trafficked.

She said the law should recognize trafficking victims as "people in need of support and help from the government, their family and community."

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