ECPAT’s latest overview of Viet Nam reveals that child sexual exploitation remains a threat all over the country, and warns in particular that the trafficking of under-aged girls for child marriage is on the rise in the northern districts.
The report details the scale of the problem in Viet Nam, saying that the republic has now become a major regional source for the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. A high demand for brides in China has resulted in several cases of girls from Sapa and surrounding areas being tricked into crossing the border, kidnapped and sold as brides. Mark Kavenagh, Head of Research at ECPAT International, comments:
“Our research indicates that child, early and force marriages continue to be an issue – particularly in the northern provinces. This is due in part to traditional practices, but increasingly because of cross-border marriage, with Vietnamese girls trafficked and sold to Chinese men. Some Vietnamese child brides are sold for as little as $1,500.”
Children in poverty – an easy prey for offenders
The report also warns that despite impressive economic growth in recent years, the number of children subject to sexual exploitation in Viet Nam is growing, with poverty being one of the main driving factors. Enduring social inequalities and exclusion mean that children are increasingly vulnerable, particularly those that are marginalized because of their sexuality, disability or ethnicity.
There has been an overall rise in the number of children sexually exploited in prostitution, which continues to thrive in Viet Nam due to the high demand. Exploiters, some of whom actively seek virgin girls, include Vietnamese and foreign nationals, men and women, and people of all ages and professions. Low capacity in law enforcement, as well as families often feeling reluctant to report child sexual exploitation due to financial necessity, are big barriers to ending this threat to children in Viet Nam.
Other issues surrounding the sexual exploitation of children in Viet Nam include a rise in online child sex abuse material – and an increase in the number of travelling child sex offenders visiting the country, as its tourism industry expands rapidly.
Lack of protection of children between the age of 16-18
However, the news is not all bad for Viet Nam. The report says that government efforts to protect children have improved in recent years. The new Criminal Code, which came into force in January 2018 specifies and criminalizes a broader array of conduct related to children. However, there are still legal hurdles to overcome as well. Viet Nam still defines a child in law as “below the age of 16” in some cases, which puts it at odds with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines a child as someone “aged 18 or under”. Legal loopholes still exist that allow for the online grooming of children.
The report also has praise for the government’s improved prevention measures, which include awareness campaigns aimed at children. A number of Vietnamese travel and tourism businesses have also committed themselves to help prevent the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism, by becoming members of the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, an industry-driven initiative supported by ECPAT.