A Vietnamese court has jailed 29 people linked to a human trafficking ring that sent teenage sex slaves to China, a court official said Thursday after a week-long trial in Hanoi.
Gang ringleader Vu Van Cong, 28, was sentenced to 26 years in prison by the Hanoi People's Court in a verdict delivered on Wednesday, the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The 28 others were given sentences ranging from 22 years in prison to a 10-month suspended sentence handed to a relative of a gang member for failing to report them to the authorities.
Police began investigating the gang after one member was arrested in June 2010 while trying to force a 13-year-old girl to board a train heading for the Vietnamese border province of Lao Cai, the local website VNExpress reported.
The victim was going to be forced to work as a prostitute in Lao Cai before being smuggled into China to work in the sex industry, the report said.
Gang members have admitted to police that they forced at least seven women and 10 teenage girls to work as prostitutes in Vietnam and China since they started operations in February 2009, the report said.
Between 2004 and 2009, Vietnam's Ministry of Public Security reported nearly 3,000 Vietnamese victims of human trafficking, which is a criminal offence under Vietnamese law. The majority of victims were girls under 15.
Because of the clandestine nature of the crimes and the difficulties collecting data, the figures almost certainly underestimate the extent of the problem, experts say.
Victims may end up in China, other Asian countries, Western Europe or the Middle East for sexual exploitation, or be forced to work in factories, according to the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP).