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A motherly woman accompanied by a kindly gentleman arrived one day in early December, shortly before the New Year's Tet celebration when the poorest of the poor hope for a little extra cash for modest festivities. Though at least two fathers objected, they were overruled by their wives and daughters, who were willing to take any risk to help their struggling clans. After examining each girl like livestock, the man chose five of the prettiest teenagers, and picked two more from a neighboring area.
The teens quickly packed a few belongings and left. Seventeen-year-old Truong Thi Nhi Linh was one of those chosen. It was, she says, the best chance to help her family — a chance to make considerably more money than she earns working 4 p. She reassured her parents, who opposed her leaving. I'm just going to work.
Hours later, one of the few parents with a cell phone received a panicked call from their daughter — they were not headed north to Ho Chi Minh City but to Cambodia, where the girls would be forced into the sex trade. It is a misfortune that falls on many young women in Southeast Asia with the twin vulnerabilities of being pretty and poor. Like their parents, they often are illiterate and profoundly uninformed about the dangers of international sex trafficking and how strangers drug or lure unsuspecting teens into a life of satisfying the cravings of foreign men.
Vietnam, with an abundance of beautiful young women living in desperate straits, is a magnet for human brokers — some of whom pay families to marry off their daughters to men in Korea, Taiwan and China; others are linked directly to human trafficking. Parents often ignore the dangers to their daughters in pursuit of a better life. In the case of the Rach Gia girls, the police conducted a last-minute raid near the Cambodian border to rescue them after receiving calls from a community member and, eventually, at least one worried parent.
The almost routine incident received no local news coverage, underscoring the virtual daily threat to the world's underclass.