Kiab had never climbed into a car until the day they kidnapped and sold it. I was thirteen years old.
The lunar New Year was approaching, Tet, the great party in which families exchange presents and gather to celebrate the arrival of spring. But at home, in a mountain village in the northwest of Vietnam On the border with China, there was no way to get a little money for gifts, no matter how modest. Her father had died when she was ten years old; his mother had been left in charge of a family of six. Kiab and her older sister heard that there was possibility of working for hours on the other side of the river, already in Chinese territory. They did not doubt it. One could take care of the other and go with a group of people from the area. With a bit of luck, they hoped, they could raise 40 yuan (5.5 euros) and celebrate the Tet as it should.
Neither of them suspected anything when they reached the meeting point. His supposed employers divided the group, supposedly to distribute it by the work points. She and her sister were taken on a motorcycle. He did not see the rest of his companions again. But it still did not seem strange, because crossing to China to work a few hours is common in this impoverished area.
"We stopped and they told us to get on a car that was waiting for us. There I realized that they were kidnapping us. To work, carrying things, they do not take you by car, "explains Kiab (name of course), a girl now 19 years old, small and with a smile almost bigger than her face, in an interview in Hanoi.
She wanted to run away, but the men who had taken care of her and her sister began to beat them. One of them unsheathed a large knife hmong, one of the ethnic minorities that inhabit these mountains and to which Kiab belongs. "They told us that they had already killed other girls and they would do the same with us."
Exhausted, hungry, sore and frightened, the girls got into the car. "We did not know how to open it, so we could not escape. We also did not know where we were, we would not have known where to go. " The road was very long, entering more and more into Chinese territory. "They told us to duck our heads so they would not see us." They ended up somewhere mountainous; Kiab was taken to a house and separated from her sister. He has not seen her again.
After a few days, they put her back in a car. At the end of the journey, they simply told her to get off and left her there, with a man. The sale had been completed.
The trafficking of women is a family scourge in the Vietnamese province of Lao Cai. The lush vegetation, the rugged terrain and ethnic minorities that maintain ties on both sides of the border facilitate kidnappings and disappearances. A traffic that is fed from China, where the unfortunate single child policy It has created a strong gender imbalance in births. It is estimated that there is about thirty million more men than women of childbearing age.
To this excess of the number of men, in rural areas is added the custom of paying a dowry to the family of the bride. A dowry that can reach exorbitant amounts -10,000, 15,000 euros, the equivalent of one year of average salary in Shanghai, the city with the most generous salaries in China-, to the point that the authorities of some provinces have had to impose limits. Faced with the prospect of having to invest the savings of a lifetime on their child's wedding, some families opt for "Buy" a Vietnamese girlfriend or from some other poorer country in Southeast Asia.
According to Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Public Security, Le Que Vuong, the Police of this country has received reports of more than 3,000 people kidnapped in the last five years, 75% of them to China. But the real number can be much higher, because many cases never come to be reported.
Many of the Vietnamese girls, sold across the border to brothels or peasant families to become brides, producers of children and cargo mules, are daughters of very poor families of minority ethnicity, who have barely been able to go to school and they have not left almost from their village. Like Kiab.
Some end up escaping, or being rescued by specialized NGOs or the Chinese Police. A handful finally receives her husband's permission to return, a more likely case if she has had children and agrees to leave them in China with him. Others remain voluntarily, because they do not lose their children. Of others it is not known again.
Those who sell them do not identify themselves as traffickers. Often, they are people as poor as they are, who see the opportunity to earn good money easily and easily. What an iPhone costs, or equipment for the farm. According to Mimi Vu, from the NGO Pacific Links, the initial price, even within the Vietnamese border, is around one million dong, the local currency, or 50 euros. Beyond the border, the price can reach 10,000 or 12,000 euros.
"The number of traffic cases is growing, and we will see it grow even more, "says Vu. It is common, he adds, to detect an increase when, for example, Apple releases the iPhone model. "In Vietnam we have a very young population - 70% are under 35 - very hungry, very impatient to earn money. The traditional way of going to school, then to college, graduating, finding a job ... takes a long time. And they want money already, they want a new I-phone, and they sell them these dreams that in China they will earn more, that in Europe they will be able to work in a nail salon. "
The man who bought Kiab wanted her for his nephew. By then, she had lost track of time; he does not know how exactly he could have been living with that family, although according to his calculations it must have been about a year. Enough to learn Chinese - without making it apparent to his in-laws, just in case - and listen to an announcement by the Chinese Police on television providing a phone number for traffic victims.
"I convinced my husband to let me go to work in a factory. At first I did not want to, but I explained that we were poor, so I could also contribute to the expenses. A little later, I asked him to buy me a phone. I made him see that I would not escape, that he was docile, that he was bringing money home for his expenses, "says the young woman.
At the moment he had the phone working and in his hand, he ran out and called the police. "They came to find me where I had hidden, near a river. A policewoman took care of me. " Kiab was safe. After a few weeks of paperwork, she was sent back to Vietnam.
Today, the young woman has been able to rebuild her life. Thanks to a Vietnamese government program to assist trafficked women, he has completed a cooking chef course in Hanoi, has learned English and plans to start working at a luxury hotel not far from his village. His sister had less luck, and remains in China. Sometimes she manages to send news to her family, although Kiab has never been able to talk to her directly. "They tell me he wants to go back, but he can not. He has children there. And he does not want to abandon them. "