Combating Human Trafficking of Ethnic Minorities in Rural Vietnam: A Global Collaboration

Cheryl A. Corbett, Teaching Professor, APRN, MSN, FNP-C

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing and second-largest criminal industry in the world. Despite government efforts to eradicate it, human trafficking survives because of its high profitability. While human trafficking permeates and persists in every part of the world, it is especially prevalent in Southeast Asia. It is estimated that at least 225,000 women and children are trafficked in the region each year, accounting for one-third of the global trafficking trade.

Within the Southeast Asia area, Vietnam is one of the largest hubs for human trafficking. Northern Vietnam is especially a target for traffickers because of its proximity to the Chinese border, allowing easy border crossings. The area is also vulnerable due to the social marginalization of ethnic minority groups that dominate the region. Within these groups are many young, uneducated girls that are easy targets for exploitation. As a result, it is increasingly common for young ethnic girls to disappear from the area.

BYU teaching professors Cheryl Corbett (BS ’89, MS ’96) and peer Karen Lundberg (AS ’79) believe that a start to addressing the problem of human trafficking is through education and identified strategies.. At the Sigma Global Nursing Excellence Congress event in 2019, Corbett presented her study and methods for improvement. She gave a collaborative approach to fighting human trafficking through partnerships between established social enterprises and nursing students studying global health in Vietnam.

Cheryl Corbett

The region’s vulnerability to traffickers is rooted in societal imbalance and subsequent marginalization resulting from poverty, harsh living, and general naivety regarding the danger of trafficking. Many ethnic minorities rely on subsistence farming and there are minimal opportunities for education, especially for women. The general cultural practices in the region favor male dominance in communities, and child and teen brides are not uncommon. These practices cause young girls and families to be especially vulnerable to the manipulative tactics of traffickers, who may promise well-paying jobs, wealth, or husbands.

Corbett’s evidence-based project and study began with a three-week immersive program in Vietnam for nursing students studying global health. The students collaborated with a social enterprise agency in Vietnam to promote economic advancement for young Vietnamese women by employing them as female trek guides. In years previous to the immersive in-country experience, students and faculty had worked to teach the female trek guides first-aid and health education. Before their in-country experience, students asked the trek guides and organization directors what the specific needs of the local villages were; human trafficking was the key area of concern.

Before their arrival, students became familiar with human trafficking and the cultures of the local villages that they would be teaching in, and they prepared educational materials that would help combat human trafficking. Upon their arrival, students trekked to outlying villages with their guides, working together to teach locals health education and tactics to reduce human trafficking.

The group increased awareness about the dangers of trafficking among village women and prompted a discussion with the women brainstorming ideas to deter trafficking.

The collaboration between nursing students and the social enterprise successfully educates and inspires a continuing local dialogue about human trafficking. While this is a great start in curtailing the trafficking industry, Corbett emphasizes the importance of raising awareness of the worldwide trafficking issue, educating communities about the tactics traffickers may use to deceive families, and promoting economic stability in areas that suffer from social inequality.


Note: This article shares a podium presentation from teaching professor Cheryl Corbett; it does not include references. Conference slides and the abstract for the material can be obtained from Corbett, C. A., Lundberg, K. M., & Corbett, A. W. (2019). Combating human trafficking of ethnic minorities in rural Vietnam: A global collaboration. Retrieved from

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