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HOP TIEN, Vietnam — Rare visitors to Hop Tien often catch a first glimpse of this sleepy village in a blur as they career, white-knuckled, around a hairpin turn high in the mountains above. What they do not see as they glance over the ruggedly beautiful territories of northern Vietnam is the ostracism of many women in this region, and the enterprising determination of one woman who has begun to fight against it. Over a decade ago, human traffickers descended on this seemingly forgotten slice of soaring limestone crags and lush valleys to snatch up women and children and sell them over the border in China, less than four miles away.
The first predators arrived in Hop Tien in , offering in seemingly innocent tones to buy some young women new shoes. Then the women disappeared. Soon others vanished too, all between the ages of 16 and 22, to be sold as wives, forced laborers or sex workers.
They were victims of a relatively widespread problem in Vietnam that included the abduction and trafficking of children as young as 5 or 6 years old, according to Matthew Friedman, the regional project manager for the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking. Between and , the Chinese police say they rescued more than 1, trafficking victims on the Vietnam border, according to a State Department report on human rights.
Friedman said. But it still faces challenges, and trafficking in people remains a problem. Not least is the stigma attached to the victims once they have been rescued. After villagers here reported the abductions, the Vietnamese authorities collaborated with Chinese officials to find the women and, remarkably, bring them home.
News quickly spread that the others, too, had been made sex workers, and even those who did not bear the signs of the trade paid its price. Fearful that a fallen woman would cast shame on the whole family, several households quickly disowned their kidnapped daughters. Some of the girls built makeshift tents, blue specks that can still be seen tucked high into the mountainside, a wide distance from town.