This year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons arrives at a particularly concerning time: the financial hardship created by the coronavirus pandemic has increased the vulnerability to trafficking of entire communities in Vietnam, and caused an upswing in the number of exploitation cases of both males and females.

In mid-July, Blue Dragon received a call for help: five young girls from the northern region of Sapa had gone missing. The group of friends, all aged under 16, were deceived while they sought jobs to support their families, and were forced to work in karaoke bars that were fronts for prostitution.

In collaboration with local authorities, Blue Dragon located and rescued the girls, and is now providing counselling and legal support to them and their families.

Their case, unfortunately, isn’t unique.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Blue Dragon has rescued 11 underage girls from sexual exploitation in different parts of the country, and has assisted in the rescue of an additional seven. This represents a significant spike in the number of domestic exploitation cases. In 2019, almost all of the victims rescued by Blue Dragon had been trafficked to China.

These cases exemplify an alarming COVID-19 side effect that Blue Dragon and police are observing in Vietnam: the financial struggles faced by families have caused a sharp increase of human trafficking cases, and a rise in types of exploitation that Blue Dragon used to encounter much less frequently.

Financial struggles multiply the risk of trafficking

“Social distancing measures were taken and restrictions put in place, but that didn’t stop trafficking rings,” says Blue Dragon’s Anti-trafficking Coordinator Luong Le, who highlights that after restrictions were lifted in May, the number of potential victims increased due to the financial hardships brought about by the pandemic.

Migration for work, another factor

The vast majority of trafficking victims Blue Dragon has rescued in the past were Vietnamese girls and women who were deceived and sold into forced marriages or brothels in China. Due to the current and widespread financial difficulties, however, that is also changing.

More victims and more traffickers

Finally, an additional side effect of this financial hardship is a potential increase not only in the number of trafficked men and women, but also in that of traffickers.

“In many cases, human traffickers and their victims share the same background. They have a low level of education and legal knowledge, and they are unemployed,” says Le. Blue Dragon’s Anti-trafficking Coordinator explains that the need for quick money combined with the nature of human trafficking, which is usually carried out by deceiving people the traffickers already know, means “there will also be an increased number of criminal recruits.”

“Blue Dragon’s prevention work is absolutely crucial right now. We have to immediately expand our work with communities and schools to educate them about all the risks.”

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