Multiple child sex abuse cases have stirred public anger on social media in Vietnam, and legal experts are calling for stronger punishments for pedophiles.
Lawyer Nguyen Thi Bich Diep from Hanoi said at a conference on Tuesday that Vietnam should start using chemical castration to punish child sex offenders.
This form of punishment, in which drugs are used to reduce the libido and sexual activity, is mandatory for child sex offenders in several countries, including Poland, Macedonia, South Korea, Moldova and Russia. It has also been used in several U.S. states and is being considered in Scotland, according to media reports.
"As a mother myself, I am very angry that child abuse continues to happen,” she said.
In Vietnam, more than 8,200 cases of child abuse came to light between 2011 and 2015, including 5,300 cases of sexual abuse, according to official figures released a year ago.
In most cases, the perpetrators were people with authority over the children, such as teachers, school security officials and relatives.
Vietnamese police are investigating at least two cases – a 76-year-old accused of molesting seven girls at an apartment building in the southern beach town of Vung Tau, and another involving an 8-year-old girl allegedly molested many times by her 34-year-old male neighbor in Hanoi.
In the first case, police in Vung Tau received complaints from the parents in August last year, but failed to identify the culprit. Police said they had been unable to gather testimonies from all the victims, so were unable to press charges.
For the case in Hanoi, police said they needed more time "to look into it", after questioning the suspect and letting him go. The girl's mother reported the crime in January this year.
Both cases have stirred up a frenzy on social media and caught the attention of government leaders, who this week ordered police and prosecutors to take swift, strong action.
Experts at Tuesday's conference said that Vietnam has legal loopholes that prolong sexual abuse cases and even allow them to be buried.
Vietnam’s Penal Code classes sex with a child under 13 years old as child rape, which can be punished by death.
Lawyer Le Van Luan, who is providing legal assistance for the Hanoian girl, said Vietnam only applies strong punishment for sex abuse acts that leave serious physical effects on the children.
Otherwise, culprits only face light punishment, Luan said.
“Police usually value physical evidence more than testimonies, but child molesting usually leaves no traces,” he said, venting indignation at how it takes a lot of time for investigators in Vietnam to open a criminal case or name a suspect in a sex abuse act.
Khuat Thu Hong, director of the Institute for Social Development Studies, said at the conference that the Vietnamese public should speak out more about this issue, just as they have done to draw national attention to the Hanoi and Vung Tau cases.
Hong said sexual abuse is rampant and often goes unpunished, partly because Vietnamese society is not open about sex and still has too many demands of women.
A "no sex before marriage" (for women) ideal remains strong in Vietnam, causing the families of many victims to remain silent as they are afraid their daughters will not be able to find a husband, she said.
When a woman is abused, she can become the subject of ridicule, she said.