Police stopped a possible human trafficking incident when they arrested a woman and a female taxi driver and rescued four teenage girls after surveillance camera footage showed the girls getting into a taxi in Vientiane.
Relatives told Radio Free Asia they were worried that the girls were about to be taken to a notorious area in northern Laos that borders Myanmar and China where young victims are often forced to work as scammers at call centers.
The girls, all either 13 or 14 years old, got into the taxi in front of a Buddhist temple on Monday and wrote letters to their parents saying they were going to work for two to three years, the aunt of one of the girls said.
“The letters were written with the same content. I think [the suspected human traffickers] may have written the letters, not the girls,” said the aunt, who like all other sources in this report requested anonymity for safety reasons.
The mother of one of the girls said she believes the woman and female taxi driver befriended the girls at several different events and festivals and promised to find them well-paying jobs at a beauty salon.
The mother said family members posted messages on Facebook on Monday and searched through the city Monday night and early Tuesday to find them. They also went to police, who found the surveillance video that helped them identify the taxi.
‘So many girls have disappeared recently’
The female taxi driver and the woman who is suspected of persuading the girls to get into the car were arrested on Tuesday morning, according to family members and one local official.
A government official from Vientiane’s Xaythany district told RFA that police made the arrest while the two women tried to take another girl.
“Police are investigating this incident and interrogating the suspects,” the official said. “Up to now, it’s still not known whether the cases are involved with a human trafficking network.”
A father in Vientiane said on Wednesday that his 24-year-old daughter left home three days ago. She’s responded to text messages but won’t reveal her location, he said.
“Girls and women disappear not only in our village, they go missing in many other villages too,” he said.
Nationwide, the Lao government identified 75 trafficking victims in 2022, including 67 sex trafficking victims and eight victims of forced labor. In 2021, the government identified 110 trafficking victims, according to the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report published by the U.S. State Department.
Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Matt Reed.