A love of video games ended up with Thinh being stuck on a fishing boat, with the teenager forced to haul in cuttlefish every night while his family had no idea where he was.

Lured by traffickers, caught by fishermen

Thinh was addicted to gaming so much that he had to restart grade 11 three years ago. But the teenager nearly didn’t have the chance to resume his education after being lured from his remote hometown in the mountains of Quang Nam province.

“I used to spend the breakfast money that my mum gave me at the computer game stores in my district’s main town,” the now 19-year-old says. “One weekend, a young man came up to me at a store. He’d noticed that I’d spent all the money I had and I stood with him for a long time watching other guys playing games.”

He asked if I wanted to go with him for one or two days to be a day labourer.

“He asked if I wanted to go with him for one or two days to be a day labourer, so I could earn enough money not only to play games all day, but also to buy a trendy outfit like his,” he continues. “He said he was a deliveryman at a fish market in a coastal area and his boss sometimes asked him to deliver fresh sea fish to customers in my town.”

Thinh believed this was his big chance to earn some money, not to mention to see the sea for the first time. “I couldn’t turn down such an offer,” he adds, “so I followed the man, taking a bus with him to his workplace, which was only a two-hour drive away as he’d said.”

But the student wasn’t rewarded for the trip as promised. And it wasn’t until the following day that he realised what had happened to him.

"I’d fallen into the human traffickers’ trap without suspicion."

“The man left me alone at a bus stop near a beach with many fishing boats anchored offshore when we arrived in the late afternoon,” he recalls. “And while I was trying to find a way to get back home, another man asked me if I wanted to go fishing with him that evening for the money to get an early bus the next day.”

But the next morning, Thinh wasn’t waiting at the bus stop. Instead, he woke up as the blazing sun hit his eyes. He was still on the deck of the fishing boat that the man had taken him to in a bamboo coracle. There, in the open sea, he had hardly slept due to fear after his first evening as a labourer.

“I’d fallen into the human traffickers’ trap without suspicion,” Thinh says bitterly. “Under false pretences, the traffickers had enticed and then sold me to a group of fishermen.”

Thinh was forced to work on the boat for four months, fishing for cuttlefish at night. And he couldn’t escape because the boat was always anchored offshore. Every afternoon, people rowed coracles to the boat to bring the fish ashore, returning with food and water.

“I was only able to escape when I was told to help the others bring a good catch of fish from the boat to a crowded beach,” Thinh reveals. “I borrowed a mobile phone to tell my dad where I was. Half a day later, he took me home by bus with the police’s help.”

After the dangerous trip, Thinh had to wait seven months for the new school year to begin, so he could restart the 11th grade.

Thinh has joined the Smart Navigator Youth Club, using his experience to help local youngsters protect themselves from being trafficked.

Thankfully, World Vision operates its End Trafficking in Persons project in the teenager’s community. With the NGO’s support, Thinh has joined the Smart Navigator Youth Club, using his experience to help local youngsters protect themselves from being trafficked.

World Vision runs 18 youth clubs in Thinh’s community, with the focus on building life skills, awareness of human trafficking and safe migration. The youth clubs are popular venues for children and young people to build friendships and share how to protect themselves from being abused, neglected or exploited.

Meanwhile, World Vision has also trained Thinh’s parents in how to breed pigs to recover their livelihood after their son finally returned home.

“I want my story to be a lesson for my peers. As students, we shouldn’t let harmful activities lure us from our studies,” Thinh says. “I want to tell them to be prepared as smart navigators in life, watching out for enticements and traffickers’ other tricks on the way to a better future.”

See more on Thinh and his family:

Thinh shows his drawing about the fishing boat where he stayed and trapped to work for the owner of the boat. He has used the drawing as a presentation to share his story as a lesson-learnt for his peers.

Thinh shows his drawing about the fishing boat where he stayed and trapped to work for the owner of the boat. He has used the drawing as a presentation to share his story as a lesson-learnt for his peers.

 

Thinh prepares his books for going to school.

Thinh is with his mother. He says goodbye to her for school.

Thinh is with his mother. He says goodbye to her for school.

 

Thinh rides his bicycle to school.

 

Thinh is with other youth club’s core members at his school. They are preparing a training section on human trafficking.

 

With World Vision’s support, Thinh has joined a ‘Smart Navigator’ youth club, where he uses his actual case to help local youngsters know how to prevent trafficking and protect themselves from being trafficked.

 

Thinh is with her mother feeding pigs at their pigsty. His parents also received training on animal husbandry and breeding sows to recover their livelihood when he, a victim of trafficking, finally returned home.

 

Thinh is with his mother and their cows at their backyard. His parents also received training on animal husbandry to recover their livelihood when he, a victim of trafficking, finally returned home.

 

Thinh is with his parents.