Vietnamese Girls Auctioned on eBay
By Jackie Bong-Wright
Photos of Vietnamese Teens on website
Photos of a young Vietnamese woman and two Vietnamese teens
were posted in early March on eBay’s Taiwan website with a starting price of
$5,400. The company, which acts as an
intermediary between buyers and sellers, and lists everything from used
garage-sale merchandise to collectibles, said that the “items” which were from
Vietnam and would be shipped to Taiwan only, would only be up for bid for 10 days.
Outraged by this human trafficking, Vietnamese activist
groups from all over the world, especially from Australia and the U.S., sent
letters of protest to Meg Whitman, President & CEO eBay in San Jose,
California. Hung Nguyen, president of
the National Congress of Vietnamese-Americans, headquartered in Virginia, and
other organizations cited the lack of respect and decency, and the unlawful
manner in which eBay conducted their business.
They demanded the review and removal of prohibited auction items.
Hani Durzy, an eBay
spokesman, told the Associated Press that the company did not screen auction
items before they went live on the site, but it usually halted products it
deemed inappropriate or illegal and suspended persons behind such sales. “ EBay
strictly forbids the sale or purchase of humans, alive or dead,” he said.
Taiwan, according to
the State Department, is at once a source, transit country and destination
point for people trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labor, with victims
coming from China, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.
of Human Trafficking
trafficking, a modern type of slavery, is the third-largest, fastest-growing
criminal industry in the world today.
According to Interpol, trafficking in persons was a $19 billion a year
business worldwide in 2001.
Congressional sources estimate that 2 million people, mostly women and
children, are trafficked across international borders annually. The U.N puts the number at 4 million, held
against their will to work in the sex trade and in other kinds of slave
labor. The CIA reports that 50,000
foreign nationals are trafficked annually into the U.S. alone. The number of Americans trafficked within
the country is even higher, with 200,000 – 400,000 American children
prostituted each year.
The U.S. Congress and administration have upgraded
trafficking as a priority. Rep. Chris
Smith (R. NJ) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R., KS) spearheaded the Trafficking
Victims Protection Act of 2000. That law
requires the State Department to report to Congress each year on
trafficking, and creates an interagency task force to coordinate efforts to stop it. It also mandates sanctions for countries
that tolerate the practice.
Domestically, the legislation stipulates a 20-year sentence for
criminals who entice victims into sexual slavery.
In its reporting, the State Department divides countries
into three kinds. Tier 1 are those that
fully comply with minimum standards successfully prosecuting trafficking and
providing assistance to victims (e.g., Austria, Canada, Taiwan and the United
Kingdom). Tier 2 countries are those
that do not fully comply with the minimum standards but are taking steps to bring
themselves into compliance (e.g., Angola, Bangladesh, China, Morocco, Thailand
and Vietnam). Tier 3 countries do not
comply with the minimum standards and are making no effort to do so (e.g.,
Albania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates). A full listing is available at www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2003.
Rep. Smith noted that President Bush’s speech at the U.N.
in September 2003 devoted nine paragraphs to the issue of sex trafficking. “Bush displayed a characteristic of his
foreign policy, which combines tough-minded American assertion with a
high-minded humanitarianism.” Brownback
added, “Sex trafficking includes the classic and awful elements associated with
historic slavery, such as abduction from family and home, use of false
promises, transport to a strange country, loss of freedom and personal dignity,
extreme abuse and deprivation.”
Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters that fighting
sex trafficking would be a priority of the Department of Justice (DOJ) during
his tenure. He issued regulations to
assist and protect victims while their cases are investigated and
prosecuted. The new rules also require
training for DOJ and State Department personnel in this area.
involved in the sex trade both as victims and perpetrators. In 2003, the State Department designated
Vietnam as a “Tier 2 government, which is a source, transit and, to a lesser
extent, destination country for persons trafficked to forced labor and sexual
Back in 1998, John Chalmers wrote in the Chicago Tribune
that the transition in Vietnam to a market-oriented economy had left many women
unemployed and forced to find any means to survive, including
prostitution. Around the same time, Reuters
reported that Vietnam’s open-door policy for foreign trade and investment,
initiated in the late 1980s, had led to a rapid increase in trafficking. It also said, in 1997, that Vietnamese
military and Communist party officials had been implicated in the rise of child
prostitution. Associated Press cited
1,335 people as having been arrested in
1996-1997, when Vietnamese police began a crackdown on prostitution.
In 1998, the
International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the government-controlled
Vietnam Women’s Union sponsored a mass media campaign, using television and
newspapers to raise awareness and alert potential victims of trafficking. The government was providing limited funds
for development projects for education and training for at-risk women and youth
at the prevention level.
But government officials were reported to be part of the
problem as well. During the 1998
period, Deutsche Press-Agentur wrote that as high as two thirds of
Vietnamese government officials were known buyers of women in prostitution,
their activities being financed through government agency “slush funds.”
Has the situation in Vietnam improved over the past six
years? That is hard to say, since
statistics are difficult to come by. The question is whether Vietnam has
involved its own police, judicial authorities, and immigration to enforce
trafficking law with prosecutions, convictions and arrests of perpetrators as
well as rehabilitation of victims.
section of the State Department2003 Human Rights Report said that Vietnam had
taken part in bi-lateral police cooperation to combat trafficking between China
and Cambodia, and that high-profile local officials were brought to trial and
indicted in 2002 and 2003. At least
some anti-trafficking enforcement seems to be occurring. The Vietnamese government said in September
2003 that it was prosecuting five people for participation in a trafficking
ring that smuggled women into Cambodia to work as prostitutes.
On the other hand, the respected NGO Save the Children
said in November 2003 that the trafficking of children was increasing in
Vietnam, and that “thousands of women and children are trafficked both within
and outside the country’s borders every year.
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