The Vietnamese Lawyers who risk their lives to rescue child victims of trafficking
A photo story by Rupert Bedford
Lawyers working in the legal advocacy department of Hanoi based NGO Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation will rarely be found at their desks. Circumstances demand that their practice goes well beyond the usual remit for lawyers of advice and court advocacy. They are involved in planning and executing rescue operations, often across the nearby border into China, of child victims of trafficking. These operations are carried out in conjunction with the authorities, including police, on both sides of the border. It is difficult and dangerous work that has helped to free over 800 people to date.
In the mountain regions of Northern Vietnam children from ethnic minority groups are particularly vulnerable to traffickers.
The victims, often girls and young women, are lured into thinking they are travelling with a friend, taken across the nearby border into China and often end up being sold into a forced marriage or a brothel.
“The point where we become involved” explains Michael Brosowski, CEO of Blue Dragon “is where that young woman gets her hands on a telephone. She might borrow one, steal one, find one. And she doesn’t call us. She calls her mother. Every single rescue starts with a call the mum. The mum calls the police and the police will open an investigation and may suggest that she contacts us due to our particular expertise in this area”
Blue Dragon lawyers will then try to make phone contact with the victim, sometimes only possible for a few minutes in the middle of the night, and will begin planning a rescue operation.
“We don’t confront traffickers” Michael continues, “we don’t do anything violent, we don’t pay the traffickers for the release of the people they have in slavery. What we do is help people escape from where they are and then we run back to the border and do a legal crossing from China back into Vietnam.”
To make these rescues possible and to have a better chance of bringing the traffickers to justice, the Dragon lawyers normally work in conjunction with authorities on both sides of the border.
Blue Dragon lawyers are as likely to be found travelling over high mountain passes or through jungles as they are at their office or in a courtroom
“It’s not just about finding one person”, Michael explains, “it’s about making sure the whole system knows about this person and can support her when she’s back. And we are constantly reviewing how did this happen, how can someone be trafficked and therefore how can we stop it from happening again. So the lawyers lead that work and they are uniquely positioned to oversee the whole process, not only the rescue which involves alot of investigation and analysing information but also right through to looking at laws and policy to review what they say and how they could be improved.”
Following a successful rescue operation, Blue Dragon runs a sophisticated programme of care and support services from its base in Hanoi to help victims recover and reunite with their families.
Rupert Bedford is a lawyer now working as a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker.