Along Kênh Té, the canal separating district 7 from the rest, I struggle with the heavy afternoon sunshine. Above our heads thousands of burning power cables embrace each other and create a jungle, witnesses and guilty of the chaos, shielded from the cracks, the sand and the time that slows down at that time of the day. Nobody seems to move. Life only comes from the scooters. Further, hidden behind the ruins of the houses, boats navigate silently. They are light years away from the earthly condition. Forget the streets' roar. Wipe off the smell of the meats waiting in the sun, of the burning of scrap and trash, of the coffee with condensed milk. They left the calm and the beauty of the river for the crowded canals of city. Waiting in a disturbing universe, on stilts, under sheet metal, they progress without paying attention.
In every street of Saigon, an effervescence takes over the day: coffee shops, stalls of tissues, cosmetic products, lottery tickets, cigarets and cans, lamps and mirrors, sinks, jewelleries and shoes are next to each other. In between these streets, other shops rent women's bodies.
The ones of Ho Chi Minh City come from the countryside. They left the calm and the family for the dusty urban streets. Firstly attracted by new opportunities, they followed the well-paved path made by traffickers: promises, debts, threats and manipulations. They were sometimes sold by they own families and friends. They end up in forced marriages in China or in Cambodian brothels.
Many causes are evoked. Dung, who works in a shelter for victims of these trafficks, mentions the violence in the homes and the lack of education. Organizations mention globalization, the expansion of sexual tourism, the slackness of some authorities.
The shelter is quiet. It is siesta time. The girls and their children sleep on the floor. The place is sober. The only colorful room is reserved for the younger ones. The girls usually stay two years in the shelter. Sometimes more. We whisper to not wake them up.
About eighty percent of the victims of human trafficking are women and girls. They are mainly directed to the sex market. The latter follows the trend of the other markets, the supply and the demand, devote themselves to the free trade or call on intermediates. The traffickers control the expiration date of their products, their ease of use and promise a price that defies any competition.
They apply an additional law, the one where human rights are crushed under the weight of economical vulnerability. This millenary rule has a bitter taste for half of the population. Today, the female body is a sexual product by nature. Being born poor and in some parts of the world pushes, by choice or under duress, women to sell their bodies. The major difference here is that it is not a package but human dignity that gets torn.
In another shelter, set back from Saigon, a young girl was just admitted. Her tiny shoes wait at the entrance. A toy hangs on the wall. The drawing workshop will start soon. Like all the others, she wants to forget. Start something new, learn, speak about everything else. Live again. Her former life was haggled and, at the same time, the rights of all women were mocked.
Ben Thanh market. The space between the stalls is almost non-existent. The sellers are pressed against their overloaded storefronts, bring out their products for every passer-by and yell in Vietnamese, sometimes English. The air is moist. Life is everywhere. People come and go to shop or eat. Everything has a price. Almost eveything.