Lao authorities have recently stepped up surveillance at border crossings with China and other neighboring countries in a bid to stop the trafficking of Lao women and girls for sexual exploitation, as traffickers continue their attempts to evade controls, Lao sources say.
With tightened inspections already in force at border gates, new methods are also being tried, a Lao anti-trafficking official recently told RFA's Lao Service.
"We began showing videos about human trafficking on large-screen TVs at all border check points after we rescued two Lao women leaving for China from an airport in Thailand earlier this year, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Instead of taking their victims across the Lao border with China, where controls on trafficking have been significantly tightened since 2016, the trafficker had told the women to travel first to Thailand, to be taken to China from there, the official said.
Officials now try also to help potential victims before they cross the border, with information campaigns in place at all crossings including the First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge and other points of entry into China, Thailand, and Vietnam, he said.
Speaking in Thailand on National Anti-Human Trafficking Day on June 5, Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha pledged to tighten controls on the Thai side of the border, vowing also to criminally charge any Thai official found to be involved in the trafficking of persons for sex or labor.
Human traffickers conduct their business without any fear of the law, the prime minister said, adding that traffickers routinely fake and raise the age of children in their care to avoid being charged, and modify their vehicles in order to sneak people across.
The solution is that we have to do more at the border, he said.
Safe houses, work skills
In Laos, authorities have meanwhile set up safe houses in which trafficking victims rescued from China and other places can live for three to six months and be trained in work skills so that they can support their families and themselves on their release, the Lao official said.
Anywhere from 90 to 100 victims are now rescued each year, with many of those brought home after seeking help from police or from the Lao Consulate in Kunming, in southern China's Yunnan province, he added.
Speaking at an anti-trafficking conference in the capital Vientiane in March, one Lao official said that as many as 3,000 Lao women and girls have been trafficked to China and around 600 rescued over the last 10 years.
Meanwhile, traffickers have begun recruiting more openly in Laos, with one Chinese man describing himself as a successful businessman living in Laos found leafleting for a wife outside a high school in Vientiane on May 29.
Change in tactics
Speaking to RFA, a Lao anti-trafficking official called the distribution of leaflets a change in traffickers' tactics.
Yes, we've seen them, the official said. It's a new form of human trafficking.
Before, traffickers would look for young women for Chinese men who were willing to pay up to $5,000 to get them. But that tactic has become more well-known, and so now they have changed to distributing flyers to recruit Lao women, he said.
Reached for comment, the Chinese embassy in Vientiane said they were unaware of the May 29 incident, while Lao police said they are investigating the case.
Many Lao women, most of them uneducated, have been lured to China on false promises of marriage, the Lao official said, adding that many trafficking victims believe that once they are settled in China they will be able to send money to their families, or even buy a new car.
But once they arrive, they are often sold to some other person in another place, he said.
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