A significant proportion of infant trafficking stories from the Kho Mu ethnic community in the north-central province of Nghe An converge with Moong Thi Oanh, a middlewoman known for connecting expecting mothers to a transnational trafficking ring.
Working with her mother, Moong Thi Hien, Oanh devasted her Kho Mu neighborhood over a years-long period by offering poverty-stricken expecting mothers quick cash for their newborn children.
Oanh left her hometown of Cha Lan Village in Huu Lap Commune, Ky Son District, Nghe An in 2004 to seek out work in China. She eventually married a Chinese man.
A few years later, she returned to her village and asked Hien for help in looking for expecting mothers in need of quick cash.
For each successful trade, Oanh paid the mothers VND60 million (US$2,590) for their babies. Meanwhile, Hien earned a VN10 million ($430) commission for making the connection.
A cold-blooded scam
Hien’s house in Cha Lan is quiet and empty. According to a neighbor, the house was abandoned after a lawsuit was filed against Hien and Oanh when they failed to honor the remuneration agreement with a mother who agreed to sell her newborn.
The plaintiffs in the suit are Luong Thi Mui and her family, whose house is located just a short walk away.
Lu Van Thuong, Mui’s husband, is a middle-aged man who has found solace in drinking. When asked about the whereabouts of his wife and children, he simply shakes his head and sips from a dark glass.
Thuong said Kho Mu men are first exposed to alcohol in their youth and he himself has been steadily drinking since the day his unborn child was marked to be sold, just six months into Mui’s pregnancy.
“My child has been taken away for roughly a year, yet Hien and Oanh have only paid VND12 million [$515] — and that was after my charge was sent to the authority,” Thuong recalled.
|Lu Van Thuong eats lunch alone as his wife and kid are nowhere to be seen in their house in Cha Lan Village, Huu Lap Commune, Ky Son District, Nghe An Province, Vietnam. Photo: Thai Loc / Tuoi Tre
The two families have been neighbors for years, but it was only when Mui was pregnant with her sixth child in early 2018 that Hien approached her.
In her increasingly regular visits to Mui and Thuong, Hien hinted that the unborn child could be the solution to the family’s debt.
Eventually, the two parties agreed that Hien would help sell the baby and Mui, in turn, would be paid VND50 million ($2,160).
“That [amount of money] is nearly enough to pay off our loans at the bank,” Thuong explained.
Mui then traveled to China on a trip arranged by Hien and Oanh. She delivered after 35 days in China and was separated from the baby a few days later.
Mui then returned home only to find that Oanh failed to honor the promise and had only given her family a fraction of the promised sum.
“Oanh said it’s hard to trade my son because he has a medical condition,” Thuong explained the reason why his family only received VND4 million ($175).
Mui and Thuong then filed a lawsuit with local authorities, after which Hien paid the couple an additional VND8 million ($345).
After tricking Mui into the illicit operation, Oanh found success in luring another four women in from the Kho Mu community.
Things eventually took a turn for the worse when Oanh and the four women were caught in a traffic accident in a three-wheeler with Oanh’s husband as the driver.
One woman unfortunately did not make it out alive.
During the testimony procedures after the accident, Chinese police figured out all three of the women were being trafficked in an inter-country adoption ring.
Oanh and her husband were then held in custody and subjected to further investigation as suspected criminals.
After being repatriated to Vietnam with the survivors, Oanh was prosecuted for organizing illegal emigration.
As she was raising a small kid, Oanh was not subject to detention during the investigation and has since fled the locale.
|Rescued pregnant women return home in Ky Son District, Nghe An Province, Vietnam after being tricked into newborn peddling trips organized by Moong Thi Oanh and her mother Moong Thi Hien. Photo: Nghi Xuan / Tuoi Tre
From victim to dealer
Moong Thi Chanh is also a known middlewoman in the western corner of Nghe An Province.
She hails from the Kho Mu community in Huoi Tho Village of Ky Son District.
Chanh was prosecuted for organizing illegal emigration in June 2019 but was released on bail with a residential confinement order to take care of her small child.
In 2013, Chanh fell victim to a human trafficking plot and was sold to China. While adapting to life there, she made connections with Phuong, a Vietnamese woman who settled into local life with a Chinese husband.
The duo conspired to make money by brokering the trade of newborns between Vietnamese women and Chinese customers. They scored a deal of CNY60,000 ($8,400) per smuggled child, which is to be split between the two.
In July 2018, Chanh visited her hometown Ky Son and was quick to spot a pregnant woman named Cut Me An.
Chanh attempted to coerce An into a bid to sell the baby all while looking for a Chinese customer with the help of Phuong.
Chanh offered remuneration of VND70 million ($3,000) as long as An delivered a girl, to which she agreed.
The middlewoman then ushered An to China in May 24, 2019 through the border city of Mong Cai of Quang Ninh Province.
Phuong then showed up to take the child after the delivery while Chanh escorted Lan home with her cut from the deal.