Vietnamese children demand to be heard

By Sen    June 5, 2020 | 03:00 am PT
Vietnamese children demand to be heard
Children at a primary school in HCMC attend the new school year ceremony, September 5, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.
Nine out of ten children questioned in Vietnam think they have little chance to express their opinion to people with decision-making power.

A survey by Hanoi-based Management and Sustainable Development Institute (MSD) and Save the Children asked 1,692 children aged 11 to 16 across Vietnam about the enforcement of their rights in the country.

Most respondents access information on child rights via social media (61.3 percent), with a little less by reading news outlets and watching TV. More than a quarter learn about their rights thanks to child support organizations.

Many children said child rights should receive better attention, and they should have more chance to express their opinions.

"My parents don't talk about child rights, they don't even know about that, they have even violated child rights," a respondent said during a group discussion in Hanoi.

While only a few respondents said they have an opportunity to express themselves to adults, about 90 percent think it is crucial the latter listen to what they have to say.

"In my place, adults don't listen to the opinions of children, assuming they know nothing," said a 16-year-old male respondent in Lao Cai, capital of the eponymous province.

A respondent in the Mekong Delta's Tien Giang Province said: "Adults can be wrong, so we can share our thoughts with them for the sake of better decision making."

The U.N. Convention that Vietnam signed and ratified dictates state members ensure children hold the right to express their views freely in all matters affecting them and that their views are given due weight according to age and maturity.

Nguyen Thi Nga, Deputy Director of the Children Department under the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said at the conference to release the survey in Hanoi on Tuesday: "Children's participation is a prioritized item in action plans of the Children Department."

Nga said the department is preparing a five-year project on increasing children's participation in official decision making that is expected to be launched next year.

"Putting children at the center, listening to children and acting for their best interests are the mottos throughout the operation of all children agencies," Nga said.

Dragana Strinic, Country Director of Save the Children in Vietnam, told VnExpress: "It is very important to have strong child protection systems, and Vietnam has National Child Protection Hotline 111 for children and all stakeholders to report and seek support on child protection, however, the percentage of children who select to call 111 for help is low."

Strinic said the communities and schools should inform children about child support services and specific child rights policies.

Save the Children and MSD's survey found child molestation, cyber bullying, alongside emotional and physical abuse are priorities young respondents want Vietnam to act on.

"When my mom tried to help me with my homework, I said I don't understand. She then hit me on the head and asked why I was so stupid," a Hanoian respondent said.

In the northern city of Hai Phong, a female respondent, often struck by her parents, said she mirrors their actions by hitting her sister to show how wrong it is.

Less than a quarter of children do not know where to get help in case they experience issues at home, with most respondents have been taught at school or have heard about violence and molestation prevention.

Sources of support differ between children in case they are molested – half of the respondents would go to the police if they witness another kid being violated, while seven out of every 10 respondents would turn to their parents for help. Four out of every 10 respondents said they would resort to friends for support if they have problems at home.

Five children were raped or physically abused daily in Vietnam between 2015 and the first half of 2019, according to official data from Criminal Police Department under the Ministry of Public Security.

Deputy Minister of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs Nguyen Thi Ha said at a conference last year many cases of abuse occur in places considered safe such as home and schools, and abusers are people close to the victims like fathers and teachers.

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