Interview with Ben Randall, author of Sisters for sale

Sisters for sale, a documentary about human trafficking

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Human trafficking in China

Human trafficking in China - Ben Randall, an Australian filmmaker uncovers a local human trafficking crisis: Vietnamese women are kidnapped and sold across the border and taken as brides and prostitutes for Chinese men.

Human trafficking in China

1. What is 'The Human, Earth Project'? What inspired you?

When some of my friends were kidnapped from Vietnam and were believed trafficked into China for sale as brides or prostitutes, I gave up everything to try to find them, and to raise awareness of the global human trafficking crisis. 'The Human, Earth Project' is the name I've given this work, which has now kept me busy for almost four years.

2. How did you meet your Hmong friends?

In 2010, I was teaching English in Sapa, a small town in the mountains of northern Vietnam. Many girls of the local Hmong minority would come to Sapa to sell treks and handicrafts to tourists. A group of 9 or 10 girls would sit on the corner of my street - I'd see them every day, and we soon became friends. Within the next two years, no less than 5 of those girls were kidnapped and trafficked to China.

3. How do these Vietnamese girls get kidnapped?

The girls are often kidnapped by young men from other towns and villages. A man will pretend to be romantically interested in the girl. With the Chinese border just a short ride away, he needs only enough trust for the girl to get on the back of his motorbike, and he can easily kidnap her. Other girls say they were drugged while sharing a drink or meal, and woke up in China.

4. Where did you start to look for them?

With so many teenaged girls being kidnapped, other girls are suspicious of strange young men. To bridge this gap, the kidnappers will often use contacts within the local communities to build trust with potential victims. These contacts are essentially selling their own friends and family members to trafficking networks. I began my investigations by trying to identify the traffickers and their local contacts.

5. Did you face any threat while investigating to find your friends?

Human trafficking is a highly profitable industry, which is carried out by people with little or no regard for human life. It's often operated by multinational criminal organisations who will not hesitate to protect their business. There are very real dangers involved in working against human trafficking at the ground level, and I was lucky not to have had any major trouble.

6. How did you find your friends in China? Were they safe?

It took 5 months to find my two friends in China. They were safe, but in difficult situations. They were both "lucky" - they were forced into marriage rather than prostitution, as countless girls are. By the time I found them, though, each of the girls had given birth in China, and faced the heartbreaking choice between her child and her own freedom.

7. Did the kidnappers drug your friends?

My two friends I found in China both say they were drugged by their kidnappers. This may be the truth, or it may be their way of avoiding blame for going willingly with their kidnappers, in a highly traditional society that often blames the victims rather than focusing on the real culprits.

8. Why wouldn't the girl's family want her home?

These girls are from very poor, and poorly educated, villages. Once they have lost their virginity - by choice or otherwise - they have lost much of their value in the eyes of their communities. China is also seen as a wealthier country with a higher standard of living, and some believe the girls will have better lives there, even if they have been taken and held by force there.

9. What are the Vietnamese authorities doing to stop this practice?

Human trafficking is a very difficult issue for the local authorities. The border between Vietnam and China runs through remote mountain regions that are very difficult to police effectively, and the scale of the human trafficking crisis between Vietnam and China is enormous. While the authorities are working to stop girls being taken illegally across the border, and to arrest and imprison traffickers, more resources are needed.

10. Did you have any help from the Chinese authorities?

My friends were involved in very complicated situations in China, as the men who bought them were also the fathers of their babies. While I would have liked to have seen these men punished, the girls were worried about what would happen to their babies, so we didn't involve the Chinese authorities.

11. What was your role in bringing them back home?

I was working in close consultation with Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, an excellent NGO involved in rescuing and rehabilitating trafficking victims, and we planned rescues for both girls. However, one girl escaped before she could be rescued, and returned home alone. The other girl changed her mind, and decided to remain in China for the sake of her child.

12. How are the girls doing now?

The girls are doing as well as could be hoped for. After the girls are trafficked, their lives will never be the same. Whatever we do, we can't take away the trauma they've been through, and they will rarely have the same opportunities. This is why it's so important to focus on human trafficking education and prevention, as I'm doing now, to make sure these girls are not taken in the first place.

13. Are you concerned about retaliation from the kidnappers?

Many of the people involved in trafficking these girls - in Vietnam and China - have now been imprisoned, and that particular trafficking ring now seems to have been broken. While there are other trafficking networks active in the area, I'm not worried about retaliation from those particular people.