Ta Ngoc Van, who has freed over 800 trafficking victims, has been chosen a ‘Class of Asia 21’ Young Leader.
The annual list of young leaders in the continent is compiled by the Asia Society, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that works to address a range of challenges facing Asia and the world.
It chooses leaders under the age of 40 from 31 countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region.
Van, 37, is chief lawyer and founding member of the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, a Hanoi-based nonprofit organization that rescues Vietnamese women and girls trafficked to China for the sex trade as well as victims of forced labor.
He has worked hard to secure the freedom of over 800 trafficking victims and provided legal representation to 90 victims of human trafficking and sexual abuse in 48 court cases, according to the Asia Society.
His efforts have earned him the trust of police and government officials, who regularly invite him to assist in their anti-trafficking and law reform initiatives, the organization said.
“Human trafficking is a hidden crime. When government officials and non-profit organizations step in to crack down on the problem, more victims can be rescued and more criminals brought to justice,” Van, currently at the China-Vietnam border on an anti-trafficking mission, told VnExpress International.
“Anyone can become a victim of human trafficking, from uneducated women and children from poor areas and ethnic minority groups to intellectuals like reporters, university students and teachers,” he said.
He stressed that the trafficking victims are not only from the northern border provinces like Lao Cai, Ha Giang, Dien Bien, and Quang Ninh. Blue Dragon has rescued hundreds of trafficking victims from all 63 localities in the country, he said.
While he was happy with the honor bestowed on him by the Asia Society, he remained focused on what he had to do: “What I hope is that I can avoid publicity, so that it will facilitate my mission to rescue trafficking victims from dangerous areas.”
Van was the first to win the Trust Women Anti-Trafficking Hero Award from Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2015. The U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report in 2014 named him among its “Heroes Network,” those who fight for human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
The 2019 Class of Asia 21 Young Leaders also includes Megha Rajagopalan, a 2018 Human Rights Press Awardee and an international correspondent for BuzzFeed News; Esra’a Al Shafei, who founded a network of online platforms to represent marginalized communities in Bahrain; and Farhad Wajdi, who helped build a school in a refugee camp in Pakistan at the age of 14 and later set up a non-profit organization that challenges gender inequality in Afghanistan.
The honorees will meet from November 15 to 17 in San Francisco and Silicon Valley in the U.S. for the annual Asia 21 Young Leaders Summit.
Trafficking is lucrative
Human trafficking is a colossal industry with annual revenues of $150 billion that affects over 40 million women, children, and men, coercing them to forced labor and sexual exploitation.
Citizens of the Asia Pacific region have twice the possibility of becoming enslaved compared to a developed country, according to a report by the International Labor Organization.
Vietnam, in particular, is a major source of cross-border sex and labor trafficking. According to the anti-human trafficking foundation Pacific Links, 60 percent of all traffickers arrested in Vietnam are former victims.
Officials from the Ministry of Public Security said in June that they were working with other countries to bring home 385 human trafficking victims who remain abroad.
About 80 percent of human trafficking victims in Vietnam end up in China, according to the ministry.
Many of the trafficked children are approached through social networks such as Facebook and Zalo, the popular Vietnamese messaging app.
Besides financial difficulties, police say negligence, easy immigration procedures and gender imbalance in destination countries are major reasons for the increasing incidence of trafficking in Vietnam.
China, the world’s most populous country, suffers from one of the worst gender imbalance rates due to its one-child policy and illegal abortion of female fetuses by parents who prefer sons. This has led to increasing trafficking of Vietnamese women and baby girls.