This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Lao authorities have arrested two Chinese men for alleged human trafficking after they were found to have hired underage girls to perform in provocative videos on their TikTok channel, according to officials.
A joint force of police officers and the Lao government’s anti-human trafficking unit conducted the arrest in Xayaburi province on Sunday after determining that at least eight girls had been paid by the men to produce the sexually explicit content.
The two Chinese men admitted to police that they had used social media to recruit girls who would perform on camera at their rented guesthouse with offers of 1-1.5 million kip (US$50-75) per month, said an official with the anti-human trafficking unit who, like others interviewed for this report, declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak with the media.
The men allegedly earned around 100 million kip (US$5,200) per month by running advertisements on their TikTok channel, depending on how many paying viewers it attracted.
“We’re not sure what kind of sentence authorities are pursuing, as the handling of the case is up to the police,” an official with the public safety sector in Xayaburi province told RFA Lao. “We know they were detained by police, but we don’t know where.”
The public safety official said that investigation into the extent of the operation is currently underway.
An official from the Lao Women Federation in Xayaburi province said they are concerned by the case and will follow up closely to prevent other underaged Lao girls from becoming victims of human trafficking.
“We run a project to educate young men and women not to become victims of human trafficking … especially those who are unemployed,” the official said.
Sending a message
RFA spoke with a guest house owner in Xayaburi who said that he believes the men rented their lodging from a Chinese national.
“I don’t know where the Chinese men were running their operation, but we all heard about the arrest,” he said. “The authorities have asked us to do background checks on Chinese renters. If they are real tourists, there won’t be any problems, but there will be if they come here trying to do something else.”
Another guest house owner told RFA that all proprietors in town are being cautious about renting to Chinese nationals after news about the arrest went public.
“But we don’t rent to Chinese here as our guest houses are too small,” she said. “Most Chinese nationals want to rent big houses to accommodate groups.”
A resident of Xayaburi said that he wants the authorities to jail the two Chinese men to send a message to others who might want to set up a similar operation.
“This kind of thing goes against Lao culture and will damage our dignity,” he said. “The authorities should crack down on this Chinese group and put them in jail.”
The arrest follows a similar one on July 19, in which authorities detained Chinese nationals who paid Lao underaged girls to perform in a show on TikTok in an area nightclub. Requests by RFA to authorities for information on the status of the suspects went unanswered.
Human traffickers regularly lure people in with offers of high pay in glitzy casino towns around Southeast Asia – many built with the backing of Chinese criminal syndicates that operate in poorly policed borderlands difficult to reach.