UNICEF frets over underage maids in Vietnam

By Doan Loan   October 8, 2019 | 09:16 pm PT
UNICEF frets over underage maids in Vietnam
It's very common in Vietnam for a family to hire a young domestic worker, mostly female. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Thuy.
UNICEF wants Vietnam to amend its Labor Code to prevent underage children from working as domestic help, saying it leaves them vulnerable to abuse.

Shelley Casey, UNICEF child protection expert, told government officials and experts at a consultation workshop held on Monday to discuss amendments to the Labor Code that several countries around the world have classified this job as dangerous work for minors.

In the Philippines and Malaysia, for instance, hiring children under 15 for housework is illegal, she pointed out.

"Juvenile workers are vulnerable to abuse. Therefore, if they are allowed to work, the authorities need to devise some safety measures."

The proposed amendments do not make hiring juveniles for housework illegal, only subjecting domestic workers to abuse, violent treatment, sexual harassment, and forced labor.

They also require employers to sign a contract with domestic workers and not confiscate their personal documents.

Le Dinh Quang, deputy head of the labor relations department at the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, concurred with Casey saying working in houses has hidden risks given the fact there have been many cases of abuse of child workers.

"Juvenile labor needs better protection, so the job of domestic help should be carefully overseen."

The proposed amendments allow employers to only hire people under 18 for jobs commensurate with their physical condition to ensure their physical, mental and personality development. They must also have the express consent of a parent or guardian.

To hire a person under 15, an employer must sign a contract with their legal representative and get the consent of the minor, who needs to furnish a health certificate. They can only be hired to do "light work" as stipulated by the Minister of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs.

Children under 13 can only be employed for activities related to arts, physical training and sports and only with the approval of the local labor departments.

Casey concurred with the proposed amendments, but said the law should provide a definition of light work based on international standards, which describes it as work that does not pose a risk to health, physical development or academic performance.

In Vietnam, hiring domestic workers, usually female, is fairly common.

It is unclear how many domestic helps there are in the country now but the 2013 census found 7.1 percent of domestic workers were aged under 18.

Last year the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs had predicted 350,000 Vietnamese would be working as domestic help by 2020 not only in Vietnam but also in Taiwan, Macau, Cyprus, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia.

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