“When I woke up I didn’t know that I was in China.”
Lan remembers the night that changed her whole life. While preparing for university along the border in northern Vietnam, a friend she met online asked her to a group dinner. When she was tired and wanted to go home, the people asked her to stay and talk and have a drink. Next thing she knew, she had been smuggled across the border to China. “At that time, I wanted to leave,” says Lan. “There were other girls there in the car but there was people to guard us.”
The villages along the Vietnamese-Chinese border are a hunting ground for human traffickers. Girls as young as 13 say they are tricked or drugged, then spirited across the porous border by boat, motorbike or car. Young Vietnamese women are valuable commodities in China, where the one-child policy and long-standing preference for sons has heavily skewed the gender ratio.
To put it simply, Chinese men are hungry for brides. “It costs a very huge amount of money for normal Chinese man to get married to a Chinese woman,” explained Ha Thi Van Khanh, national project coordinator for the U.N.’s anti-trafficking organization in Vietnam. Traditionally, Chinese men wishing to marry local women are expected to pay for an elaborate banquet and to have purchased a new home to live in after the wedding. “This is why they try to import women from neighboring countries, including Vietnam.”
Diep Vuong started the Pacific Links Foundation to combat trafficking in Vietnam. She says that Vietnamese brides can sell for upwards of $3,000 to the end buyer and that they are often considered desirable because of cultural similarities to the Chinese.