Combating Human Trafficking

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Imagine that your household income is only $1,700 per year. Picture the stress you’d feel as you tried to find a way to purchase enough food, clothing, and other supplies to meet your family’s needs.

Then imagine that you are a young person living in this family. You eagerly want to find some way to earn your own income and help out your parents, yet job opportunities are few and far between.

This difficult and desperate environment of poverty leads many people around the world to fall victim to human trafficking. Lured by the promise of good employment, many people—especially young people—decide to follow a stranger to an urban environment or neighboring country.

Once there, they may find themselves physically trapped or financially indebted and therefore forced into work for little or no pay.

That is exactly what happened to a group of 27 people from Pho village in Laos in December 2012. This village is one of 29 remote rural communities in Laos World Renew has been working with to build up local leadership and to improve agricultural production, health, literacy rates, and family incomes.

Despite these interventions, young people in these villages continue to be vulnerable to the lure of big money and jobs outside their community. When a man arrived in Pho community and promised people jobs on a sugarcane plantation in Thailand, the offer seemed too good to pass up.

“We left in the middle of the night from our village and didn’t tell anyone we were going,” recalled Sang (not his real name), a young man from Pho.

“A man took us on a bumpy, eight-hour trip by truck to Sop Lao where we spent the night. The next day, we drove all day to Kham District and then at night to a village on the Mekong River. A boat came at night to take us across the river. We worried that the Thai police would catch us because we didn’t have any papers—but we were lucky. On the other side of the river, another truck took us several hours to the sugarcane plantation.”

At the plantation the young people were given tools and taught how to clear land, plant, and harvest sugarcane. They worked 12-hour days and were promised $10-$15 US per day for their hard work. However, they also had to pay their employers back for their food, lodging, and supplies.

“After three months, I had earned over twenty thousand baht ($600 US), but the people over us took some of the money for our transport, housing, and their ‘finder’s fee,’” said Sang.

By that time, several people were eager to return to their hometown. Their employers allowed them to leave but charged an additional fee for the transportation costs of getting them there.

By the time he arrived back in Pho village, Sang only had $35 from his three months of work.

This was the first time World Renew had heard of such an incident happening in one of its target villages in Laos. They worked with the district authorities and the Department of Labor and Social Welfare to try to track down the location of those who were trafficked.

To help prevent it from occurring again, World Renew held an anti-trafficking event. Sang shared his experience and encouraged others to not make the same mistake. People played games and sang songs to learn about trafficking and viewed a film that dramatized a typical trafficking situation.

“Having Sang and those who were trafficked share their story was an excellent way to raise awareness about the risks,” said Mike Fennema, World Renew’s country consultant in Laos.

“We will continue to work in Pho and the surrounding villages to prevent this kind of incident from happening again. Please continue to keep us and the Lao people in your prayers.”

About the Author

Kristen deRoo VanderBerg was part of the World Renew Communications team from 1999-2016. She now serves as director of Communications & Marketing for the Christian Reformed Church.

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