The government maintained efforts to protect victims, but two allegedly complicit officials took measures to harass, intimidate, and facilitate the re- exploitation of some survivors of trafficking with impunity. The government reported identifying 126 victims in 2021, of whom 114 were female and 12 were male; 45 were children (compared with a total of 121 victims comprising 112 females, nine males, and 32 children in 2020). Of these, 120 were Vietnamese nationals, and 96 were subjected to transnational trafficking. Twenty-two individuals were victims of forced labor and 28 were victims of “sexual exploitation;” some of the latter cases may have fallen outside international definitional standards for trafficking crimes. Slightly more than half of identified victims (64) were members of ethnic minority communities. Seventy-six individuals were victims of unspecified trafficking, which in prior years included “illegal marriage” and “illegal adoption,” neither of which was consistent with international definitions of trafficking (64 and three, respectively, in 2020). The government utilized victim identification criteria as part of the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Human Trafficking (COMMIT), along with its own victim identification procedures approved in 2014; however, identification procedures remained largely reactive—rather than proactive—across various key agencies. The victim identification process remained overly cumbersome and complex, requiring approval from multiple ministries before victims could be formally identified and assisted. Ineffective implementing guidelines on victim identification procedures prevented border guards, law enforcement, and other officials from fully detecting and assisting victims. Authorities did not proactively employ the COMMIT criteria or their own procedures to screen for trafficking indicators among key vulnerable populations, including individuals in commercial sex, individuals transiting border stations, workers in the fishing and seafood processing industries, migrant workers returning from abroad, and child laborers. Despite conducting more than 36,000 inspections of establishments most-at risk for sex trafficking, authorities did not identify any sex trafficking victims during these inspections.
The government maintained an NRM approved in 2014, but some local officials’ unfamiliarity with anti-trafficking protocol and policies, insufficient inter-jurisdictional cooperation, and limited social worker capacity continued to hinder its systematic implementation. The labor and social affairs ministry (MOLISA) led an inter-ministerial process during the reporting period to review and revise the NRM, as well as to draft supplementary guidance on receiving and providing protection services to trafficking victims; neither effort was complete at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report the total number of victims it referred to NGO or state protection services (compared with 25 referrals to protection centers, 20 to police, 19 to an NGO, and three to the to the Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU) Center for Women’s Development in 2020), nor did it disaggregate data according to whether victims received assistance from NGOs or official sources. Authorities did record and grant 111 total requests for victim support in the form of medical and psychological care, legal aid, lodging, essential needs, travel expenses, vocational training, and loans (compared with 84 assisted in 2020). Survivors benefitting from these services included 12 male and 99 female individuals, and five were foreign nationals—four Cambodians and one Thai national (unreported in 2020). Thirty-four victims requested and were granted legal aid. As with victim identification, more than half of assisted survivors were members of ethnic minority groups (64). With donor funding, MOLISA continued to operate a 24-hour hotline for victims of various crimes, including trafficking. Hotline operators could speak Vietnamese, English, and seven ethnic minority languages. Although the hotline reported an increase in the total number of calls received—3,808, up from 2,826 in 2020—it received fewer trafficking- specific calls during the reporting period: 35 calls involving 39 victims, compared with 59 calls involving an unspecified number of victims in 2020. The majority of these cases (28) involved children. Observers ascribed this change to an increase in reported missing persons cases and a decrease in the movement of vulnerable people across international borders during pandemic-related travel restrictions. The hotline referred 19 of these cases to police for recovery and investigations, 16 to MOLISA for further assistance, two to an NGO, and one to a VWU shelter. The government maintained labor representatives at diplomatic missions in countries that hosted large numbers of documented Vietnamese migrant workers, such as Japan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These missions could provide basic provisions, transportation, and health care to Vietnamese citizens subjected to trafficking abroad. MFA authorities did not report complete repatriation data, but Vietnam’s diplomatic mission in Burma reported receiving, identifying, and providing various support services to 16 Vietnamese female victims of sexual exploitation there—14 women and two girls—compared to nine victims repatriated from Burma in 2020. MFA worked with Burmese authorities to fund and conduct repatriation for 11 of these victims after five opted to remain in Burma.
Mandatory quarantine periods and other pandemic-related restrictions negatively affected some victim care and support services during the reporting period. The government continued to assist vulnerable groups, including trafficking victims, through 51 social protection and 43 social service centers nationwide; some of these facilities operated with NGO funding, and none provided services to male or child victims exclusively. The government also announced a series of protection-related actions to supplement or clarify preexisting policies, laws, and initiatives during the reporting period. In May 2021, the Prime Minister issued a formal decision approving a new national Child Labor Prevention and Reduction Program for 2021-2025 which focused on the provision of timely support to all children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. The government also approved new policy guidance for a 2020 overseas employment law that added or increased financial, legal, and vocational assistance options for Vietnamese workers who return home prior to the end of their contracts, including for those who are fleeing forced labor. Another new policy outlined the development of income generation projects for trafficking survivors in predominantly ethnic minority communities in mountainous regions. Authorities did not provide information on the implementation of any of these policies in 2021. Authorities allowed victims to stay at support facilities for up to three months with a meal stipend and medical assistance according to a circular issued in 2020. A decree issued in the prior reporting period entitled foreign trafficking victims to four support services: essential needs and travel expenses, medical support, psychological support, and legal aid. However, NGOs reported the government did not have adequately trained or experienced social workers to provide appropriate support to trafficking victims. Vietnamese law guaranteed trafficking victims the right to legal representation; the law did not require victims to be present at or testify in-person in court. The law also entitled trafficking victims to compensation in trafficking cases; the government did not provide complete data on this entitlement, but review of case records indicated at least seven cases concluded with compensation orders ranging from 10 million to 100 million VND ($439 to $4,390) in 2021 (compared with at least ten cases resulting in non-disaggregated compensation orders, the highest of which was 45.3 million VND, or $1,990, in 2020). The government encouraged trafficking victims to assist in judicial proceedings against traffickers; however, NGOs previously reported victims were at times less likely to come forward about their abuses in a judicial setting due to fears they may face arrest or deportation for crossing the border without documentation. During the reporting period, MPS established 25 child-friendly investigation rooms at the provincial level for testimony from persons younger than the age of 18, but officials did not report statistics on their use.
The government continued to train officials in various agencies on victim identification and protection. In conjunction with an international organization, MFA continued work on standard operating procedures for diplomats’ reference in supporting overseas Vietnamese women who were victims of violence, including trafficking. However, official complicity was a significant concern during the reporting period, including in cases allegedly perpetrated by two members of Vietnam’s diplomatic service. A Vietnamese MFA official reportedly harassed, threatened, and restricted the communication of some of the victims of the aforementioned Saudi Arabia forced labor case after they attempted to request assistance. Some victims escaped and attempted to seek assistance at the Vietnamese Embassy, only to be forcibly returned to the traffickers by the same official. In other instances, after survivors sought shelter with a local organization, the same official reportedly deceived them with promises of repatriation in order to lure them out and then “sell” them to new local employers, who continued to exploit them in forced labor. NGOs and Saudi police conducted the recovery and repatriation of most of the victims—reportedly without any assistance from the Vietnamese government—despite a Vietnamese law mandating the provision of repatriation expenses for all Vietnamese victims subjected to trafficking abroad. An international organization interviewed 10 of the returned women repatriated from Saudi Arabia and assessed four as victims of human trafficking. Local authorities attempted to request victim compensation from a Vietnam-based representative of one of the sending companies; however, the compensation was only partially paid or not paid at all in some cases. The government reportedly examined, inspected, and administratively sanctioned 10 out of 20 enterprises sending workers to Saudi Arabia, but authorities did not pursue criminal accountability for their role in facilitating trafficking crimes. Authorities also penalized one labor export company for failure to resolve its employees’ salary disputes, which NGO representatives interpreted as government retaliation for its initial attempts to respond to victim allegations with support services. In Vietnam, police reportedly harassed and surveilled the family members of some of these victims, rather than assisting them in an attempt to silence relevant allegations.
Due to a lack of systematic implementation of victim-centered screening procedures during police raids on establishments most-at risk for sex trafficking, authorities may have penalized some women and children for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. This insufficiency also continued to place foreign victims, including children, at high risk of punitive deportation, although the government claimed it screened all deported individuals for trafficking indicators and did not identify any such cases. Civil society groups previously reported Vietnamese victims who migrated via irregular means or who were forced to commit unlawful acts as a result of their trafficking feared reprisals from authorities. These victims were less likely to seek support and were vulnerable to re-trafficking. International observers previously reported government officials often blamed Vietnamese citizens for their exploitative conditions abroad or suggested victims inflate abuses to avoid immigration violations. The government did not report offering foreign victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face retribution or hardship.