Human trafficking survivors - Building a support network

According to the Lao PDR Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and UNICEF, human trafficking is a problem that requires urgent action. 

Stakeholders have recently come together in the province of Savannakhet to gather survivors of human trafficking in prevention efforts to eliminate future risks and problems.

The national and provincial divisions of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare together with staff from the End Trafficking in Persons project under World Vision Lao and Provincial Lao Women Unions (whom provided the technical and financial support), met in Savannakhet and aimed to create opportunities for human trafficking survivors to engage in trafficking prevention programs.

“This event was a great success for human trafficking survivors. Such an event builds awareness, teaches them how to protect themselves and helps them find their strengths and weaknesses. The lessons they have learned from this event will help them succeed in society and hopefully allow them to learn and improve” said Mr. Thongphone Oudanith, deputy office at the Savannakhet Provincial Labour and Social Wefare Department.

Mr. Southasa Bouthsady, Project Manager of Human Trafficking Prevention at World Vision Laos International said, “This is the second year of relationship building with human trafficking survivors. There were 25 survivors from around the district of Savannakhet, as well as survivors from Village Focus International (VFI). This year was a bit different from the previous one because we focused on life skills, and added information on various occupations in order for survivors to learn valuable skills and bring back that knowledge to their communities."

He continued, "Through group settings, they were able to open up as well as learn valuable skills. My dream is to see all survivors gain more confidence and reach a level of normality like other people in their society. We support their work whether it is running a small business with animals or goods, weaving or sewing, depending on what they want and should need within their own community. We also provided counseling and monitoring for the survivors when they returned back to their own communities.”

“I have learned how to build important life skills, to be strong and confident. I have friends from different places that face the same issue with human trafficking,” says survivor Teng, from Khaysone District, Savannakhet Province. “After being part of these activities, I will bring what I have learned into my everyday life to improve myself and share with my friends in my community."

“The biggest lesson I took away from this event was that knowledge is an important way to protect myself, especially when travelling to another country. From doing housework in Thailand and being abused, overworked, hit and uncompensated to now having my own business. I love working in my own country because it is safe and I feel comfortable. I initially received help to plant mushrooms, however with experience; I have changed my business to selling fish. I buy and sell fish in the market; one day I sold 800,000kip (USD $100) worth! I am happy with my job and present life,” she added.

The national study, Broken Promises, Shattered Dreams found cases of child trafficking from each of the seventeen provinces surveyed, from the far north to the far south of the country. Trafficking occurs both internally and across borders, particularly to Thailand.

While approximately one-third of global trafficking in women and children occurs in or from East Asia and the Mekong sub-region in particular, it is only now that the extent of the problem in the Lao People's Democratic Republic is being grasped.

Broken Promises, Shattered Dreams is a qualitative study based on interviews with 253 victims of trafficking, their families and key informants. The study found that most trafficking victims (60 per cent) are girls aged between 12 and 18 years, and that 35 per cent of these girls end up in forced prostitution. A significant proportion of trafficking survivors come from non-Lao ethnic backgrounds.

Child protection and participation are central to World Vision’s work as a child-focused organisation. The legal framework in Lao PDR supports both child protection and child participation. Laos became a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, and National Decree Number 4 (2007) provides for the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Children.

The National Decree states: The state, society and family shall create conditions for children to participate in various activities and to express their views in all matters affecting them. Those views shall be given due and balanced consideration based on the age and discernment of the child.

World Vision Laos is actively working with its partners to make this statement become a reality for children throughout the country. According to a recent Lao Social Indicator Survey (2012), 76 per cent of children have experienced violent discipline and hundreds of children continue to be victims of exploitative labour and human trafficking.

World Vision Laos is working towards systemic change, which requires both change in community behaviors and institutional strengthening.

World Vision is currently implementing the End Trafficking in Persons (ETIP) Programme that covers Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. The goal of the ETIP Programme is to protect victims of human trafficking, prevent those who are vulnerable to trafficking and support policy advocacy.