A Taiwan-based women's rights group has filed a lawsuit against the U.S.-based auction Web site e-Bay and a Taipei chef who offered three Vietnamese women for sale under laws prohibiting human trafficking. Meanwhile, a Taiwan police Internet crime committee has ruled that the man engaged in matchmaking, not human trafficking.
"The person who put up the advertisement is a chef in Taipei," committee chairman Eric Lee told reporters, who gave the chef's name as Liu Hsin-sun. "He married a Vietnamese woman. He is happy with his marriage, so he wanted to introduce other men to the opportunity of marrying Vietnamese women."
But Lee's announcement drew strong criticism from Taiwan rights campaigners.
The Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation, set up to help abused women, said it had filed a suit against e-Bay and Liu in a Taipei district court, saying that the police-led investigation had got it badly wrong.
"First, the advertisement wrote 'Bring the merchandise to Taiwan only.' It clearly shows these actions had the intention of human trafficking," Foundation lawyer Shen Mei-chen told a news conference to contest Lee's claims. "Secondly, the girls in the pictures looked younger than 15, meaning they were minors," she said.
Shen said e-Bay management did not remove the advertisement right away when people found out about the auction, and the organization should bear part of the blame for the incident.
"Humans are not animals or goods," Shen said. "In compliance with Sub-article One, Article 296 of Taiwanese Law, someone involved in human trafficking can receive a minimum sentence of five years in jail, or pay a fine of five hundred thousand Taiwan dollars or more."
The police investigation found that Liu had met and fallen in love with a Vietnamese woman during a trip to the country, Lee said. Happy with his marriage, he had posted some photos of his wife's friends on e-Bay in the hope of making matches for them too. "He didn't have any intention of trading in humans," Lee concluded.
A Vietnam-based Web site reported part of the conversation between Liu and a potential 'buyer,' in which Liu asked for half the bid amount up front, and the 'buyer' asked for a certificate proving the woman's virginity. RFA was unable to verify this report independently, however.
Taiwan women's rights activist Wang Chin-fong said the episode had cast shame on Taiwan's international image. Wang called on Taiwanese men to stop taking advantage of women from under-privileged countries.
E-Bay withdrew the listing offering for auction three young Vietnamese women "for delivery in Taiwan only" on March 7, after it had been on the Web site in Chinese and English for five days.
The listing first appeared March 2 in Chinese and English and drew bids up to U.S. $5,400. "Item location: Vietnam," it said, adding: "Ships to Taiwan only." According to the National Congress of Vietnamese Americans, based in Springfield, Virginia, the listing was deleted 48 hours after the group sent a March 5 letter of complaint to E-Bay president Meg Whitman.
The trafficking of women and children from Vietnam, often to work in the sex trade in China and Cambodia, is a growing problem. Police in Vietnam estimate that 50,000 people have been sold into prostitution over the last decade.