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NGOs • NPOs • FOUNDATIONS

All smiles now - once Blue Dragon has rescued children from factories and brothels, they are returned home with ongoing support for several years.

STOPPING

THE TRAFFIC

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues trafficked children with the help of over 40 Vietnamese staff, international staff and long-term volunteers.

by michael brosowski

T welve-year-old Giang held back her tears as bravely as she

could, but her demeanour betrayed

her devastation. 38
her devastation.
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For over six months she had been forced to work in a household garment factory in Ho Chi Minh City, over 600km from her family

home in central Vietnam. Seven days a week, 18 hours a day, she sat on a dirty concrete floor sorting cloth into piles, or cutting the rough edges of dyed materials, getting them ready to be shipped off to a larger factory where they would be sewn into shirts.

Failure to work hard enough would result in lectures by the boss and threats of physical punishment. At times, Giang saw the boys as young as 11 being beaten, and she feared that one day the boss would take the stick to her back, too.

And then one day, a stranger came into the factory asking for her by name; a young man introducing himself as Van from an NGO in Hanoi. Van had met Giang’s parents and they had asked him to bring

her home.

Giang was elated, but her joy was to be short-lived. The boss was angry and defiant. Despite a letter from Giang’s mother requesting her immediate return, Giang was denied permission to leave. Van tried to cajole and argue, but the boss stood firm.

Finally Van took Giang aside to explain that he had to respect the wishes of her boss, and he would come back to see her one day in the future. But then he leaned close and whispered: “I have a taxi outside. I will drive 50m down the street and wait. If you want to go home, give me a few minutes, and then run to the taxi.”

Van left, saying farewell to the factory owner, and drove a few doors down the street. Within minutes Giang was running with all her strength down the dirt road. She jumped in through the open door and the taxi sped away.

Giang was going home.

ANTI-TRAFFICKING WORK

Ta Ngoc Van (Van) has had to make many quick decisions over the years. As chief lawyer at Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation (Blue Dragon) in Vietnam, he has overseen the rescue of almost 160 trafficked young people, aged from 10 to 23, and every rescue operation has been loaded with danger and dilemmas.

Blue Dragon’s anti-trafficking work began in 2005 with the rescue of a 13-year-old boy, Nam (names have been changed to protect the identities), who had been taken

from central Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City in the south and forced to sell flowers through the night. His traffickers, two middle-aged women, sat and watched while he and other children from his village worked. Every dollar they earned, or were given by well-meaning adults, went into the pockets of the traffickers.

When Michael Brosowski, the founder of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, met Nam on the street, he was determined to help. Brosowski and Van took the traffickers on with threats of legal action and forced them to release Nam, sending him home to his parents.

Until this time, Blue Dragon had worked primarily with Hanoi’s street children. The organization had no experience in trafficking, but saw that dozens of children from Nam’s commune had been taken by several traffickers and put to work on the streets. Brosowski and Van set about conducting a series of rescue trips to Ho Chi Minh City, and within 18 months the traffickers were out of business.

From those simple beginnings, Blue Dragon has grown into a force to be reckoned with. Van now regularly arranges rescue trips, but these days he includes Red Cross and local Government members from central Vietnam in the missions so that they witness the conditions of trafficked children first-hand. The support of local officials has meant that whole communes have learned to resist the traffickers.

Although Blue Dragon’s approach to anti-trafficking took the Vietnamese Government some time to accept,

they now find themselves regularly called upon to help in trafficking cases around the country. In September 2011, Blue Dragon worked with the Vietnamese police to find and rescue 23 children from ethnic minority communities in northwest Vietnam who had been enslaved in southern factories. Van has also traveled three times to China to find young women who were kidnapped from Vietnam and sold to brothels.

Over time, Blue Dragon has developed a simple model for anti-trafficking work, which can be tailored to suit the context and meet the needs of the individual victims.

REHABILITATING THE CHILDREN

Before the rescue trip, much work needs to be done with families and the community. For the families of children trafficked to factories, there is a need for explanation of what life is like in the garment industry – the long days, the harsh conditions – to enable parents to make the best decision for their child and agree to look after them once they are home. Information must be gathered to help staff determine where the children are being kept; traffickers rarely give addresses to the families.

With the groundwork complete, the rescue trip can take place. Time is critical, because once the traffickers know Blue Dragon staff is in town, they start hiding the children away. Every rescue trip is different; Blue Dragon staff have been attacked by traffickers, arrested by the Chinese military, robbed, as well as abused. Risks have to be assessed swiftly,

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NGOs • NPOs • FOUNDATIONS

At work - this 10 year old boy was trafficked to work in a company
At work - this 10 year old boy was
trafficked to work in a company making
shoes. His job was to cut out the soles of
shoes day after day.
Housing crisis - Child traffickers look for families living in extremely poor conditions such
as this, and lure children with the promise of a better life.
and fast decisions made.

Once the children are set free and reunited with their families, years of work remains to be done. The young people often suffer from trauma and psychological assistance and special protection are sometimes needed. Blue Dragon’s psychologist, Dinh Thi Minh Chau, is assigned to work with young women who have been abused. She is often called on at night or on the weekends by girls who simply need to talk and share their feelings.

Most returnees have very practical needs. Many have never been to school, or have been out of school so long that they cannot return, and so need individual education plans. Some need a new house, or support to receive medical treatment. Since 2009, Blue Dragon has worked with another agency to provide training for 21 parents in fish farming, to help the families of trafficked children improve their incomes.

This comprehensive approach to

anti-trafficking means that the program can be tailored to meet the needs of the people, rather than forcing returnees into a ‘one size fits all’ rehabilitation program. Every rescued person is treated as an individual, with their own dreams and needs.

Today, little Giang is back in school, and Nam works as a chef in Hanoi. Their families and communities are no longer tempted by the lure of the child traffickers.

To date, Blue Dragon has sent 2,359 kids back to school and training, provided accommodation to 114 girls and boys, and reunited 99 runaway children with their families among many other accomplishments.

According to UNICEF, 1.2 million children are trafficked every year. A global alliance against forced labor, International Labour Organisation estimated that at least 12.3 million people are victims of forced labor worldwide and 2.4 million of these people are forced as a result of human trafficking.

of these people are forced as a result of human trafficking. Labouring - 3 children from

Labouring - 3 children from central Vietnam trafficked to sew shirts in Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam trafficked to sew shirts in Ho Chi Minh City. Working on it - Throughout Ho

Working on it - Throughout Ho Chi Minh City, thousands of trafficked children are put to work in factories such as this.

children are put to work in factories such as this. Michael Brosowski is the founder of

Michael Brosowski is the founder of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. He believes that:

“All children have the right to be children: To be safe, to attend school, to play, to be treated with respect, to be heard, to be understood and to be loved.”

respect, to be heard, to be understood and to be loved.” FOR MORE INFORMATION Blue Dragon

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation – www. streetkidsinvietnam.com

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