Keeping children safe: a sound investment

November 13, 2022 | 04:46 pm PT
Najat Maalla M'jid Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General
With World Children's Day just around the corner, this is a good time to highlight the important progress Vietnam has made for its more than 27 million children, as well as the challenges that still need to be addressed.

The second country to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1990, Vietnam has demonstrated forward-looking leadership in paving the way for a healthier, safer, more inclusive, nurturing and empowering environment for children to reach their full potential.

Decades of fast-paced economic development have delivered prosperity to much of the country, lifted millions of families out of poverty and improved children's well-being. Most children in Vietnam now attend school, have access to healthcare and can expect to live longer than their parents. Reaching the remaining gaps requires renewed and cross-sectoral strategies to ensure the full benefits for all, leaving no one behind.

With the economic development new challenges have emerged some of which have put children at greater risk of neglect, abuse and other forms of violence in their homes, schools, communities and online. Corporal punishment with a reported 72% of children experiencing violent discipline, sexual violence and child marriages are some areas requiring further particular attention and action to keep the promise made to children to end violence by 2030.

Children attend a game at a kindergarten in Hanoi, April 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hang

Children attend a game at a kindergarten in Hanoi, April 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hang

Covid-19 as well as the climate crisis exacerbated the risks, highlighting the need to build a resilient, cross sectoral and well coordinated and financed child protection system that can effectively prevent and respond to the increased risks, and fulfill children's right to live free from violence, which is enshrined in the CRC.

Child protection services in Vietnam are fragmented and provided by volunteers and social welfare workers who generally lack the necessary skills and training. There is no dedicated budget allocation for child protection, which, together with childcare, accounted for only 0.2% of government spending on social security in 2020. The child protection response is also affected by a lack of inter-agency cooperation and protocols setting roles and responsibilities.

Vietnam has achieved strong results for children in a remarkably short time. Now, as the country springs back to life after two long years of battling Covid-19, it can build on that momentum to keep children safe. This will require building a workforce of properly trained social workers and establishing a network of social workers at provincial and district levels which require prioritizing a budget line and well-trained workforce dedicated to child protection. And it will require improving inter-agency cooperation mechanisms and protocols to provide integrated child protection services.

Violence against children is never justifiable and is always preventable. Ending it is clearly a legal and moral imperative, and helps children reach their full potential and eventually become productive members of society. As demonstrated by a grandmother of an abused girl I met during my visit to the country, addressing such cases and providing support, love and care to children victims as well as ensuring accountability for perpetrators are possible.

Significantly increase investment in cross sectoral child and gender sensitive violence prevention and protection services is key. The potential dividend that would accrue from investment in integrated, cross-sectoral child protection and violence prevention domestically and in the context of overseas development assistance is very high.

Investing in children since the early age is key for sustainable, inclusive, safe, just, resilient and sustainable development. Vietnam will soon start its process for the preparation of the national voluntary report on the status of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and on the ongoing efforts and progress for the achievement of the sustainable development goals. This provides a great opportunity to mobilize all key stakeholders at all levels to strengthen the implementation of the 17 SDGs as they are all interlinked with children's rights, as enshrined in the CRC.

*Najat Maalla M'jid is the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children.

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