Laos is a major source country of trafficking victims. Most are young women and girls from poor villages or ethnic minority groups who are lured to wealthier neighboring countries by promises of lucrative employment. Once there, they are exploited in the sex industry, forced into domestic servitude, or put to work in factories or on plantations for little to no pay.
Lao children are the country’s future, but poverty, remoteness, social and cultural norms, and rapid economic changes bring challenges for Lao youth. Many are prevented from reaching their full potential due to inadequate education, labor or sexual exploitation, domestic violence, malnutrition, and poor access to healthcare and other essential services.
Despite progress in policies recognizing women’s rights, gender inequalities persist in Laos. Women and girls are overall less educated and literate than Lao men, lack representation in decision-making bodies, struggle to access economic opportunities, experience high levels of child/teenage marriage and pregnancy, and are vulnerable to domestic violence.
VFI operates two of only three shelters in Laos for trafficking survivors and at-risk girls and young women, with a total capacity of up to 60 residents. Each individual’s circumstances and needs are assessed by a social worker to develop a case management plan. At our shelters, residents are provided safe accommodation, nutritious food, healthcare, vocational training, holistic pastoral care and other daily necessities for their rehabilitation, empowerment and successful reintegration into society.
The safety and services provided through VFI’s two shelters have changed the lives of over 500 young women and girls. Read some of their stories by scrolling over the pictures below. Please note that, to ensure privacy, pseudonyms have been used in place of real names, and photos do not depict survivors themselves, but rather illustrate VFI shelter activities.
Phengma left school in fifth grade to help her parents on their rice fields. One day, the mother of another girl from the village told Phengma of a job opportunity in Thailand where her daughter was already working. The salary was attractive and the employer would provide food and accommodation.
Mee’s family struggled to make ends meet through a range of irregular jobs such as fishing, construction, coffee bean and rice harvesting, and seasonal work. One day, a woman from another district visited to recruit Lao people to work in Thailand. Mee’s family agreed to go. They were told that they would be sent to an aquatic farm where they would receive a salary of 7,500 Baht each.
Sang was 15 when she left school and, together with a friend, crossed over to Thailand to seek employment.
Sang initially obtained work on a pomelo farm in Thailand and then as a housekeeper, both at low pay. After nine months, Sang became homesick and tried to return home, but was arrested and repatriated back to her family. Within two weeks, a man from another village approached Sang and her friend with the offer of a well-paying job in Thailand. Enticed by the opportunity to improve her circumstances, Sang agreed and was transported overland to Thailand.
Meng’s family was displaced by a new hydropower project near their property. They were forced to give up their land and relocate to a different village. With no farmland, the family’s only income source was clearing grass and picking coffee beans. Meng and other youth in the village started to look for jobs to support their families.
Many labor migration brokers came to this village to recruit young people for work in Thailand.
VFI’s advocacy against human trafficking continues to strengthen villages, government capacity, and individuals each year. Between 2016 and 2017, VFI’s work led to: