Child abuse in Vietnam's kindergartens continues to keep parents awake at night

By Ngan Anh   December 4, 2017 | 08:31 pm GMT+7
Child abuse in Vietnam's kindergartens continues to keep parents awake at night
Parents surround the Ho Chi Minh City-based Mam Xanh (Green Buds) Daycare Center after footage of infants being beaten there went viral online. Photo by VnExpress/Son Hoa

Lack of supervision, increased stress at work and low salaries have been blamed for recent shocking reports.

Three-year-old Ha Van Thang sat quietly in a shabby room while the popular Disney movie "Frozen" was playing on the television.

When the movie ended and the song “Let It Go” began, Thang looked around at his mother, and seemed to want to say something.

But he didn't. He speaks very little, and almost never completes his sentences.

His mother wants to send him to a kindergarten so that he can develop the social skills needed to one day become a functioning adult. However, she has hesitated in recent months following a series of child abuse scandals at private kindergartens.

Late last month, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper published a video showing shocking footage of infants being beaten in a private day care center.

The video shows the owner of the Ho Chi Minh City-based Mam Xanh (Green Buds) Daycare Center slapping a little boy repeatedly in the face to force him to say hello to her, and hitting a small girl on the head with a big plastic can because she had crawled out of her place.

She and two babysitters can be seen slapping, kicking and punching the children, caning the soles of their feet and shoving their heads against a wall.

They beat the children with anything close to hand: a slipper, a comb, a broom, a spoon, a pan lid and even a knife. One of the women is seen swinging a knife at the children to browbeat them into eating, and tapping it on one of their heads.

“This is terrifying,” Thang’s mother said, sharing the video on her Facebook page to inform more people of the problem. “I'm worried about sending my son to kindergarten. I'm not sure he'll be safe there.”

The incident is not the first in Vietnam, but one of a growing number of cases to hit the country’s booming preschool education industry. This spate of scandals was serious enough for President Tran Dai Quang to in late November call for swift action to put an end to the problem.

Earlier this year, a private nursery school in Hanoi fired two teachers after an online video showed them hitting children in the head with various objects, including a slipper.

The two-minute video showed the teachers screaming at the children to stop crying, and one was seen kneeing a child in the stomach.

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Footage from an online video shows two teachers hitting their students at a nursery in Hanoi.

Many Vietnamese parents now say they are worried about potential lapses in supervision at private preschools.

Le Hong Van, the mother of a 4-year-old girl in Hanoi, said child abuse has become alarming because it's getting more and more common.

According to government data, more than 2,000 children in Vietnam suffer serious abuse that requires special help and intervention every year.

“Parents are feeling they have no sense of security anymore. It can happen to their children,” Van said. “Many of my friends have been asking their children if they've ever been beaten at nursery school.”

Stressful job

Most cases of child abuse are reported at private nursery schools due to insufficient supervision.

In Vietnam, children often attend kindergarten for three years before starting school at six. But the demand for nursery schools far outstrips supply, so private businesses have stepped in to take advantage of the market.

In Ho Chi Minh City, nearly 52 percent of preschoolers attended private day care centers in the 2015-2016 school year. The percentage slightly increased to nearly 53 percent in 2016-2017, according to the city’s Department of Education and Training.

“Insufficient government supervision of private kindergartens has contributed to the problem,” Nguyen Tung Lam, chairman of the Hanoi Association of Education Psychology, said. “Many of them hire unqualified teachers to cut costs. This has worsened the problem.”

Low incomes are another reason. A kindergarten teacher who has worked in the sector for 1-5 years earns VND2.5-8 million ($113.6-363) per month, while those who have worked for 10-15 years can earn VND5-11 million. (Vietnam's average annual income was around $2,200 last year.)

Due to the low income, many people don’t want to work in the sector, and Vietnam now faces a dearth of over 32,000 preschool teachers, according to the Ministry of Education and Training.

Nguyen Thanh Loan, a teacher at a public kindergarten in Hanoi’s Hai Ba Trung District, said every kindergarten class of 50 children has 2-3 teachers who have to do everything from feeding children and coaxing them to sleep, to teaching them and cleaning the classrooms.

“It can be tiring caring for just one or two preschool children, while we have to deal with 50 children every day. The stress is unavoidable,” she said. “Parents should sympathize with us.”

Nguyen Ngoc Quynh Dao, head of the Preschool Department at Saigon University, said some teachers can experience psychological problems due to long term stress, which is another cause of child abuse.

To minimize child abuse, the government is looking at ways to increase wages for kindergarten teachers, and improve resources and standards in nursery schools.

Experts say in the short term, more surveillance in kindergartens, especially private centers, is needed.

But Thang’s mother isn't convinced.

“The authorities keep saying they will step in to address these issues, but these scandals are happening over and over again in Vietnam," she said. "I still don’t have a solution for my son.”