Vietnamese Girls Auctioned on eBay


Jackie Bong-Wright



Shocking 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.   


Globalization of Human Trafficking


            Human 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

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.


Sex Trade in Vietnam 


            Vietnamese are 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 exploitation.”

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. 

            The trafficking 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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