Greater awareness about the risks of human trafficking hasn't stopping people in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam from pursuing illegal work in richer countries.
For this reason, governments should help educate youths about safe migration practices and provide them better access to travel documents, World Vision suggested in a report issued Wednesday.
Thanh (name changed to protect identity) was 16 when she decided to leave home in her mountainous village in Vietnam’s Yen Bai Province to help her poor family.
A man who described himself as a labor broker offered her a good job in the provincial capitol and she accepted.
Instead of making good on his offer, the man spirited her over the border to China and sold her to a brothel.
Thanh tried to get help to leave; she begged the brothel’s owners to let her go, but they only beat her into submission.
After a month in the brothel, a compassionate individual helped Thanh escape and flee home to Vietnam.
Life back in her home town was far worse than before.
The teenager suffered from severe psychological trauma and numerous health problems.
Eventually, she required hospitalization for gynecological and liver ailments caused by forced sex work.
Over the last 15 years, similar stories have been published in papers throughout the region.
Young people from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam continue to be convinced to work in richer countries. When they arrive, the jobs they're promised never materialize. Instead, they are forced into jobs they didn’t want or didn’t sign up for and face violence, extremely difficult working conditions and exploitation.
Despite the millions of dollars that have been poured into anti-trafficking work in the Greater Mekong Sub-region for over a decade, the problem persists.
To date no substantial evidence has been produced to prove that anti-trafficking efforts have had any impact on the problem. Efforts to stop human trafficking have mostly been constructed around false assumptions.
World Vision found that trafficking victims are aware of the negative experiences that could arise from migrating for work before they embark upon it. In fact, more than a third of the children and youth that had migrated for work said that they had previously endured at least one of the following negative experiences - excessive working hours, debt used a form of control by the employer, withholding of wages by the employer, physical or mental abuse, or dangerous working conditions.
Among Lao children and youth, 2 out of 3 that migrated had endured at least one of these negative experiences.
The recent study indicates that nearly 60 percent of Vietnamese children and young people had heard of human trafficking and were aware of the risk of being trafficked; 28 percent had engaged in dangerous work, frequently construction work; 22 percent reported that their jobs seldom allowed them free time or the freedom of movement.
Despite these findings, surprisingly, the majority of children and youth were able to send money to their families back home.
World Vision maintains that many young people migrating for work only care about sending money home,
The view any migration that results in sending money home as a success; the negative experiences they endure are considered collateral damage.
“This is the first time we can confirm, with empirical evidence, that prevention work that relies on raising awareness is not enough. Young people will continue to migrate. It’s time trafficking prevention agencies shift the focus of prevention work to safe migration,” said John Whan Yoon, World Vision’s End Trafficking in Persons Regional Program Manager.
Since 2011, in Vietnam alone, World Vision has set up a series of Smart Navigator Youth Clubs in Yen Bai, Quang Tri and Quang Nam province that provide young people with information about safe migration.
They have been advised to never travel alone, to ensure they have trustworthy contacts at their destination and that they bring identifying documents with them. They have also been provided with emergency contact information.
“In 2014, more than 11,000 children and adults in Vietnam have been educated about how to migrate safely for work through World Vision’s relevant activities”, said Vu Thi Du, World Vision’s Manager of the End Trafficking in Persons program in Vietnam.
“Being equipped with protective behaviors and instructed about how to practice them is very important for the people who decide to migrate for work, especially as long as Vietnam functions as a labor-export market,” added Du.
No less than 70,000 Vietnamese leave the country for jobs overseas each year and approximately 400,000 Vietnamese workers are now present in over 40 countries and territories worldwide, according to the statistics from the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs.
“We are not advocating for young people to move beyond their borders for work. However, we are seeking to empower youth with protective behaviors that could keep them safe in case they decide to work in another country,” said Whan Yoon.
In 2013, the International Organization for Migration estimated that 3 to 5 million people in the Greater Mekong Region migrate for work, according to the World Vision’s report which draws on responses from close to 10,000 children, young people and adults in the affected communities.
While it may be lofty to dream of ending human trafficking, there are things that can be done to decrease the risk.
World Vision suggested that governments establish a system by which passports and work permits can be obtained at a low cost and in a timely manner. With those in place, more young people will be able to access documents that can protect them and allow them to work legally in destination countries.
Countries that receive migrants should also have the ability to count all workers, regardless of citizenship, and ensure that labor rights are extended to everyone.