Economic hardship in Lao villages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is driving a new surge in the trafficking to China of Lao women and girls desperate to find jobs, police and other sources in the Southeast Asian country say.
“Right now, our police department is working on more than 20 cases of underage Lao girls who were trafficked to China late last year or early this year,” a police officer in the Lao capital Vientiane told RFA’s Lao Service on July 2.
“They are being married to Chinese men, and are forced to sell sex and work hard. We’re trying to bring them back home to Laos,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“In addition, last month we were able to stop three under-18-year-old girls at the Laos-China Boten border check point from being trafficked into China,” the officer said.
“These girls are too young. They’re from poor families and are uneducated, and then they’re deceived and are lured into the sex trade and false marriages,” he said.
A police officer in Bokeo province bordering China confirmed the new increase in the exploitation of young women and girls, saying, “Two months ago, we rescued a Lao girl who was trafficked to the [Chinese-owned] Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone here in Laos.”
Men and women working for buyers in the trade are now traveling across northern provinces in Laos in spite of restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the disease, said a member of the Bokeo Women’s Union, also speaking to RFA.
“They are offering up to 40 million kip [U.S. $4,000] ‘dowry’ to girls or women in poor families in rural areas, saying all they have to do is go to China and marry Chinese men,” she said.
“But after they arrive in China, they are locked up in their new homes. They are not allowed to go out or contact their parents, and their passports are taken away from them.”
Rescued and returned
A 25-year-old woman living in the capital Vientiane was trafficked to China last year, and was later rescued by Chinese police and sent back home. Speaking to RFA two months ago in an exclusive interview, the young woman said she had been told by a neighbor that she could find good work in China.
“A woman in my village told me that she was married to a Chinese man, and she convinced me to go to China to get a good job,” the young woman said.
“I decided to follow her advice, but in China I was sold to a Chinese man instead of getting the job, and I was detained in the man’s house for four months.”
“Later, I escaped to the Chinese police,” she said.
At least 3,000 Lao women and girls were tricked into moving to China between 2008 and 2018 in spite of government education efforts aimed at stopping the trade, according to a Lao official who spoke at an anti-human trafficking conference in October 2018 in Vientiane.
Of that number, only 600 women were finally able to return to Laos.
Copyright © 1998-2020, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036