Committee on the Rights of the Child
31 May 2012
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today reviewed the combined third and fourth periodic report of Viet Nam on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Presenting the report, Doan Mau Diep, Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs of Viet Nam, said the threefold increase in gross domestic product raised Viet Nam from the group of poorest countries to the group of low, middle-income countries. The public healthcare network had been strengthened, the poverty rate decreased, life expectancy increased and universal primary and secondary education had been achieved. New laws had been passed to benefit children in areas of nationality, healthcare insurance, juvenile justice, adoption, persons with disabilities and human trafficking. By 2011 around 66 per cent of children were covered by healthcare insurance and all children under six years were entitled to free healthcare. State expenditure on education had increased to 20 per cent of the central budget, 95 per cent of five year olds attended nursery school, and almost 50 per cent of children with disabilities had access to special schools. In spite of the encouraging achievements Viet Nam still faced difficulties such as ensuring sustainable development, bridging the gap between the rich and poor, prevention of natural disasters and pandemics, and the adverse impact of climate change and the world economic recession.
Kirsten Sandburg, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Viet Nam, said Viet Nam had experienced mass economic growth, large reductions in poverty, and improvements in education, health and living standards. However challenges remained and the Committee appreciated the State party’s frankness about the shortcomings it faced. The Rapporteur asked about changing the definition of the child to be in line with the Convention, about children’s right to participate and the use of corporal punishment in schools and homes.
Other Committee Experts asked about child labour, inter-country adoption, maternal and child health, child malnutrition and breastfeeding rates. De-mining programmes, juvenile justice, legislative reform, training for childcare professionals and education and health provisions for children from ethnic minorities and remote areas were also raised.
The delegation of Viet Nam included representatives of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Ministry of Planning and Investment, Ministry of Justice, Department of Child Protection and Care, Department for International Organizations, Department for Investigation on Crimes against Social Security, Department for International Cooperation, Department of Legal Affairs, National Centre for Interpretation and Translation, and the Permanent Mission of Viet Nam to the United Nations in Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 10 a.m. on Friday, 1 June when it reviews the combined second and third periodic report of Turkey (CRC/C/TUR/2-3).
The combined third and fourth periodic report of Viet Nam (CRC/C/VNM/3-4) is available via the link and on the Committee’s webpage.
Presentation of the Report
DOAN MAU DIEP, Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, began the presentation with an overview of the socio-economic context in Viet Nam from 2008 to 2011. The threefold increase in gross domestic product (GDP) raised Viet Nam from the group of poorest countries to the group of low, middle-income countries. Alongside economic development Viet Nam gave priority to resources for social development. Around 1.7 million jobs per year had been created and the urban unemployment rate was maintained at 5 to 6 per cent. The public healthcare network had been strengthened and life expectancy of Vietnamese people increased. Universal primary and secondary education had been achieved. There was a focus on improving infrastructure in remote and mountainous areas, and the rate of poverty had decreased to 12 per cent in 2011. Viet Nam was recognized as one of the leading countries in poverty reduction and implementation of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. International commitments related to children had been implemented, such as the Colombo process on labour migration and the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking (COMMIT)’s Third Action Plan to tackle human trafficking. However, in spite of the encouraging achievements Viet Nam still faced difficulties such as ensuring sustainable development, bridging the gap between the rich and poor, prevention of natural disasters and pandemics, and the adverse impact of climate change and the world economic recession.
Key progress and outcomes on the implementation of the Convention from 2008 to 2011 included new legislation and policies to support children’s best interests and incorporation of international laws into domestic law. For example laws had been passed to benefit children in areas of nationality, healthcare insurance, juvenile justice, adoption, persons with disabilities and human trafficking. By 2011 around 66 per cent of children were covered by healthcare insurance and all children under six years were entitled to free healthcare. Government investment into healthcare was increased to six per cent of the central budget. The network of kindergartens and schools had increased while the proportion of children attending schools had grown consecutively, 95 per cent of five year olds attended nursery school, and almost 50 per cent of children with disabilities had access to special schools. State expenditure on education had increased to 20 per cent of the central budget. Child protection had been improved, particularly for children living in hardship conditions who received State support. Activities to enhance the participation of children had been rolled out nationwide and included the National Forum for Children which took place biennially.
Challenges in childcare, protection and education remained. Despite the reduced malnutrition rate of children younger than five disparities still occurred and the rate was still high at a nationwide average of 29.3 per cent. There were difficulties of accessing clean water, sanitation and healthcare, particularly in rural areas. Disparities in access to education existed, particularly in mountainous and remote areas, while ethnic minority children faced a language barrier when attending school. There were often serious cases of trafficking, exploitation, abuse and neglect of children while school discipline was not always in line with children’s best interests. Investment and competent human resources working in children’s leisure were not adequate. To tackle those and other problems the Government had launched the 2011 to 2020 Children’s National Action Programme which had five primary goals in healthcare, education, protection, participation and access to information for children.
Questions from Experts
KIRSTEN SANDBURG, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Viet Nam, appreciated the State party’s commitment to children’s rights and welcomed its progress and achievements since its last dialogue with the Committee in 2003. Viet Nam had experienced mass economic growth and large reductions in poverty, as well as improvements in education, health and living standards. However challenges remained and the Committee appreciated the State party’s frankness shown in the report about the shortcomings it faced. Ms. Sandburg welcomed the 2004 law on Protection, Care and Education which integrated basic rights for Vietnamese children, as well as other legislative amendments which brought the law more into line with the Convention, while other draft laws were still pending, and asked how those bills were progressing. The definition of the child in legislation was raised, as generally a child in Viet Nam was defined as being zero to 16 years old. Could the State party confirm that it would raise the age of a child to 18 years to match the Convention’s definition of a child?
While some laws did outline children’s right to participate, it seemed child participation was still on a rather ad hoc basis and when it happened it did not have much impact. Were children’s views heard and did they influence Government decisions? What about children being heard in court decisions, such as divorce and custody cases? How did the country balance the right to participation with its deep-rooted notion – which was also enshrined in law – of children’s duty to their parents? The Rapporteur noted that corporal punishment was outlawed in schools and homes, but asked whether there was an explicit prohibition of it. If so, did that prohibition cover all forms of violence against children, including the smallest smack? Reports say violence in families and schools was still common in Viet Nam. Were parents and teachers taught about positive discipline?
An Expert thanked the State party for its sincerity and said it was obvious today would be a smooth and fruitful dialogue, as the State party was clearly not trying to conceal anything. In that connection, he asked about the lack of an independent human rights mechanism. In 2003 the Committee made comments to that regard. The Expert also asked about data collection and whether there was a central bureau for compiling all data relating to children. The second, third and fourth Millennium Development Goals are close to being achieved and Viet Nam was congratulated for that. However, achievement of goals sometimes left certain groups of children out: there were major disparities due to geographical location for example. Viet Nam was a country with enormous cultural wealth, it had many religions and ethnic groups. Children came from different backgrounds and their identity must be respected while their rights were respected on an equal footing, so barriers had to be broken down. There were legal obstacles that impeded children from accessing their rights.
Were awareness-raising campaigns held to combat cultural stereotypes and discrimination towards persons with disabilities, and also to break down paternalistic views that saw a child as something that belonged to the parents? Viet Nam had ratified a large number of international conventions, an Expert noted, adding the Committee would like to encourage Viet Nam to continue in that vein and ratify the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A reported preference for male babies in Viet Nam was remarked upon. Did girls have equal access to education, and had there been any measures to curb early marriages in the State party? What was being done to improve birth registration, and was it true that in some cases traditional names were not allowed and so some parents were forced to accept a single name for their child?
Response by the Delegation
Viet Nam’s policy was to integrate into the global law so therefore its law had to conform with international standards and conventions. The 2004 Law on Protection, Care and Education was currently being revised: the revised law would be submitted to the National Assembly in 2013 and hopefully adopted in 2014. The revisions included an increase of the legal age of a child from 16 to 18 years; stipulation of the rights of children as enshrined in the Convention; identification of the responsibilities of agencies, organizations, schools, families and individuals in prevention of violations and supporting children, especially those who were abused, violated or suffered prostitution; provision of principles for juvenile justice and directions to reintegrate children in conflict with the law back into the community; stipulation of regulations for child-friendly prosecution procedures; and allocation of resources for childcare and protection activities.
Regarding the participation of children in the legislative-drafting process, the Government endeavoured to consult children through workshops, seminars and dialogues which allowed children to consider draft laws and comment on whether they could be applied in reality. There was a network of local youth clubs, supported by international and local non-governmental organizations, at which children could also have their views heard. Delegates of the National Assembly held annual meetings with their constituents, including children.
The minimum marriageable age in Viet Nam was 18 years old for females and 20 years old for males. There were lots of ethnic minorities living in mountainous areas who had small populations, little access to information and awareness, so there was still a gap between the law and practice. The Government hag carried out awareness-raising in those areas to make people aware of the minimum marriageable age. Sanctions were applied to violations of that law, namely early marriage.
There were 53 ethnic minority groups living in Viet Nam: all groups were equal and should have equal access to social services and to benefit from economic growth. That policy had been translated into different programmes and projects for ethnic minority groups. For example, campaigns on education of laws and regulations in the languages of ethnic minorities.
Between 1990 and 2007 there were two Committees in charge of children. However, in 2007 when the Commission on Child Protection was dismissed, its functions were passed on to the relevant ministries. Today different Government agencies were in charge of children’s issues: childcare and protection was the responsibility of many areas of society, including civil society. In terms of coordination, programmes had been implemented successfully including the National Action Plan on Children. The Government had approved a project on developing social work as a profession, and social workers would create a collaborative network to implement polices on child protection, with support from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It was important to protect and care for children at the grass-roots level by working with local level organizations. There was no overlapping at local level, but there was a shortage in human resources, especially due to a shortage of qualified people, namely social workers. The Government had therefore promoted training for social workers, and recently increased their number from 7,000 through a very large pool of trainees currently studying at college and university. Furthermore, there was a 24/7 hotline that children could access for advice to address their concerns. For example in 2011 the hotline received 200,000 calls. That hotline also contributed to the grassroots childcare protection system.
Concerning birth registration, particularly for children living in remote and mountainous areas, a delegate said that the Ministry of Justice was responsible and had held campaigns on the issue. 2001 and 2011 were nominated the ‘Year of Birth Registration’ which had increased registration rates. Since 2004 the Law on Protection, Care and Education provided free healthcare for children under six years old, so when children had their birth registered they received their birth certificate and health insurance card at the same time. The selection of a child’s name was chosen by the parents, and there was no obligation to name a child differently during the registration process. Children received a name according to their language and ethnicity and there were no regulations that children had to be named in Vietnamese. There could be a conflict in naming if a child was born to parents of different nationalities or minorities, but that was not a legal conflict. There may have been a different system in the 1950s to 1970s for naming children, but no data from the Khmer was available.
All countries in the world had different mechanisms to ensure human rights, and the international treaties and the United Nations encouraged countries to establish independent bodies to protect human rights and children’s rights in particular. Currently, only four countries out of the 15 countries in South-East Asia had such a body. Whether a country had an independent human rights bodies should not be a criteria as to how that country was graded on the protection and promotion of human rights. In Viet Nam the guarantee of human rights and children’s rights was a goal of all society and Government agencies. Mechanisms and policies were in place to promote human rights and encourage stakeholders to participate. At the highest level, the National Assembly had different commissions responsible for human rights, for example the Commission on Youth and Children’s Affairs and the Commission on Ethnic Affairs. International non-governmental organizations, such as Oxfam and Action Aid, were also very active in promoting human rights.
Questions from the Experts
JORGE CARDONA-LLORENS, Committee Expert acting as Co-Rapporteur for the Report of Viet Nam, raised the issue of abuse and neglect in the family, and whether there was a comprehensive legal definition that covered all aspects. A 2010 report said that gender-based violence was present in one in every three households. Could the delegation comment on that, was it due to gender stereotypes, and how were girl children affected? There were also reports of gender selection through abortions of girl foetuses. Were teachers and health personnel obliged to report abuse of children to the relevant authorities? It had been a general policy of Viet Nam to give up children for international adoption, primarily to the United States. A proliferation of adoption agencies had been seen offering children to European countries and the United States – to date there were over 60 agencies. There were over 1,000 international adopted per year. What protective measures did the Government make to comply with international adoption law that nobody gained any economic benefit from international adoptions?
The Committee was aware that Viet Nam was trying to protect minority groups who were often victims of indirect discrimination, an Expert said, but there were often differences in how they were treated. For example there was a very low schooling rate for children with disabilities. On education, was schooling given in the languages of ethnic minorities and were text books and school materials available to avoid the high drop-out rate of children from ethnic minorities? Was human rights education included on the school curriculum? How was the Convention disseminated?
Concerning juvenile justice, the Committee had been told that the reform of the 2004 Law on Protection, Care and Education would have a section on juvenile justice. Currently, it seemed that adult justice provisions were applied to children in the 16 to 18 years age group. That was punitive justice and not re-education justice, and consequently the number of recurrences in children 16 to 18 years old was increasing, while the numbers of 16 to 18 year olds in conflict with the law was also increasing yearly. Would the Government consider sentences that were based on re-education rather than penalty? What happened to 16 to 18 year olds who ended up being trafficked or prostituted?
The after effects of Agent Orange (chemical weapon used during the Viet Nam war) and other environmental health hazards were raised: how had the Government dealt with them, particularly the consequences for children? It was noted that the Government endeavoured to create play areas for children, but how did it make sure that unexplored ordinance and landmines from the war were not a hazard for children?
Early childhood development was highlighted, and an Expert commended the State party’s significant progress in that area, with 95 per cent of five year olds in early childhood development programmes. However the Expert was concerned that the majority of early childhood development programmes were private institutions: how were they monitored and regulated, to ensure quality and a holistic approach? Early-childhood education was vital when done well as it gave a child the best start to life.
The Government was commended for its investment in education, and its extremely commendable 20 per cent of the national budget spent on education – one of the highest percentages in the world. However there was still a high drop-out rate from the otherwise impressive system, particularly for minority children. The overall primary school completion rate was 88 per cent, and 68 per cent for secondary sector, but for minority children those rates were 68 and 45 per cent respectively. What was being done for children who dropped-out – were there any vocational education programmes for them, or ways to bridge their education gap?
Child labour in Viet Nam was an issue of serious concern to the Committee: many children younger than 12 were involved in sometimes heavy economic activities and worked for many hours. The worst forms of child labour were prostitution, working in mines and in construction. What specific measures were being taken to address the phenomena in terms of monitoring, inspection, legislation and the legal minimum working age? There were reports that children in detention centres were sometimes forced to work as part of their detention, with their wages being held to pay for the costs of their detention.
Questions from Experts
The number of adoptions from Viet Nam was extremely high in proportion to its population and the Committee believed that 1,000 adoptions per year was very high for any country. Did the State party believe that its legal system was adequate to prosecute anybody who used adoption as a form of human trafficking? What protection was afforded to children from prostitution? There was some gap between the Vietnamese legal apparatus and the Convention, particularly with regard to pornography. What education on HIV/AIDS and sexual and reproductive health was provided to young people? Domestic and gender-based violence was also raised.
An Expert asked about discrimination towards children living with HIV/AIDS, and said that despite legal provisions they were sometimes either not admitted to school or if they were admitted they dropped-out. Who cared for HIV/AIDS orphans, and what was being done to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV? Maternal and child health was referred to, with a notable percentage of infant deaths at birth and in the first month of life which was connected to a lack of maternal care at the point of delivery, as well as post-natal and newborn care. Other leading causes of infant deaths were pneumonia and diarrhoea, which were preventable. What immunisation programmes were in place?
There were high rates of acute malnutrition, and very low rates of breastfeeding. What was being done to raise breastfeeding rates, as there was indication that the international code on breast milk substitutes was not followed, and there was widespread and blatant advertising of breast milk substitutes or infant formula milk, with advertising on television, free samples, and influencing of healthcare professions by infant formula companies? What emphasis was given to safe water and sanitation, given that hand-washing before eating was rarely carried out and cholera remained a serious risk?
Response from the Delegation
Under the law on domestic violence and corporal punishment, any act that harmed members of the family, including children, was prohibited. Teachers were prohibited from using corporal punishment against pupils in schools. Sanctions were applied to each specific violation.
It was true that there was no juvenile justice system yet but the problem had received serious attention. A collaborative project between Viet Nam and UNICEF, in combination with the 2010 – 2020 Action Plan, aimed to establish family and juvenile courts. Six juvenile-friendly interrogation rooms had already been opened in cities as a pilot project. Another pilot project established separate court rooms for juveniles with video transmission: the court room would be very different to ordinary adult courts and would first be established in Hanoi and other cities. It was Government policy to avoid punishment for children and do all it could to ensure the reintegration of children in legal conflict back into society. Training was carried out for people who worked in juvenile justice, including prosecutors and social workers and over 500 workshops had been held.
Regarding adoption, strict procedures had been implemented and every adoption was licensed by the Ministry of Justice. When a child was adopted bilateral agreements with the adopted country provided for close regulation by Vietnamese diplomatic missions around the world, so that Viet Nam could monitor the situation of the adopted child in the destination country. Cross-country adoption from Viet Nam was not for economic benefit. The figure of 1,000 adoptions per year was incorrect: in fact in 2011 there were 44 cases of Vietnamese children adopted by foreign parents. For example, the adoption agreement between Viet Nam and France was very strictly regulated.
A Committee Expert intervened in the dialogue and said she did not want to fight over figures, but the Committee had reliable information pointing to an annual average adoptions of 1,000 per year – in fact there were 1,100 adoptions in 2010. It seemed strange, given Viet Nam had agreements with nine countries and was under enormous pressure from foreign couples for adoption, that the State party said there were only 44 cases. Did the 44 cases refer to domestic adoptions?
A delegate replied that the figure of 1,100 adoptions in 2010 and 44 adoptions in 2011 could be possible. The Government had been trying to find alternatives to international adoption and encouraged Vietnamese families to adopt children, thus reducing cases of cross-country adoption.
Child labour was a complex issue, a delegate said, and one of great concern to the Government. The minimum working age for children was 15 years. The National Assembly, which was currently in session, was preparing to adopt a revised Labour Code which had a chapter on child labour which was drafted with assistance from the International Labour Organization and UNICEF. The revised Labour Law would strictly prohibit employing children in the worst forms of child labour, as listed by the Government. In some cases children were allowed to participate in career development activities, but employers would have to ensure their physical and educational development was not affected. The revised Labour Law would also provide sanctions. There was no child labour in the formal sector, although the informal economy in remote areas saw gaps in implementation of the law. Nobody wanted children to work, and all children who did work belonged to families living in poverty. The Government endeavoured to support those families and help them send their children to school. Families received financial benefits on condition they sent their children to school.
The Government would continue its communication programme to explain the new regulations to employers, communicate the law to parents, and deploy more labour inspectors to detect and apply sanctions to violations of child labour. As to forced labour in drug addiction centres, there were very few children kept in them, and if they did work it was for no more than three hours per day of supportive employment to help rehabilitate them and speed up their treatment. There was supportive vocational training for them. Children in those centres were accepted from a minimum of 12 years old, but according to the law they must be 15 years old.
The Government endeavoured to protect unborn babies and were running campaigns to reduce the practice of preference for boy babies. There were sanctions for aborting a foetus based on its gender. All Government agencies were responsible for collecting data. The General Statistics Office of Viet Nam conducted monthly household indicator survey which included indicators on children, nutrition and health.
Concerning Agent Orange and unexploded ordinance in children’s play areas, there were difficulties in supporting children affected by Agent Orange as there were a high number affected. Every child had the right to leisure in Viet Nam, but accessible entertainment centres for children affected by Agent Orange were still limited. In cooperation with international organizations, and in particular the United States Government, activities on bomb and mine clearance were being carried out. A new programme on injuries caused by landmines would soon be launched. However, at least US$100 million was needed to totally de-mine all areas in order to ensure a better quality of life for children. Community-based rehabilitation opportunities were created for children to exercise their right to leisure.
It was compulsory for all children of five years of age to go to school and generally there was no difference between public and private institutions. However, in some cities there was a gap between quality with private institutions having slightly better quality facilities and teaching, although they charged higher fees. The wish to teach all children in all of their ethnic languages was very important, and there was currently a UNICEF-led review on how that would be possible, and how to overcome challenges of financing and human resources.
In Viet Nam 86 per cent of the population had access to clean water and good sanitation, but disparities still existed between developed and under-developed areas, which were tackled by the national programme of clean water and sanitation. Schools must provide clean water and latrines had been built in them. Cases of diarrhoea had been significantly reduced. Drowning and traffic accidents remained the key causes of infant mortality, but the infant mortality rate had been reduced to 16 per 1,000. Campaigns to raise awareness about road traffic accidents were in place. Health clinics had been established in every district, although it was true that infant and mortality rates differed between urban and remote areas. The immunisation campaign was being strengthened, particularly to reduce polio.
Viet Nam had a programme to encourage breastfeeding, but surveys showed that only 19 per cent of babies were breastfed. One reason for that was that mothers had to go to work earlier, so a key measure was to increase maternity leave from four months to six months. The Government prohibited any advertising of breast milk supplements or infant formula. That was not only a problem for Viet Nam but was also seen in other countries.
Children living with HIV/AIDS were discriminated against, but that was being tackled. In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the issue was addressed firstly by legislation and also by awareness-raising to promote understanding of the situation those children were in. Training of officials and regulations to provide stricter punishments for discrimination had also helped. The Government recently approved a national programme to support children living with HIV/AIDS while a proposed support programme to address the needs and stigmatisation of such children had been submitted to the Prime Minister. Mother to child transmission was being significantly reduced by informing mothers of risks, including the risks of breastfeeding if they were HIV positive.
JORGE CARDONA-LLORENS, Committee Expert acting as Country Co- Rapporteur for the Report of Viet Nam, thanked the delegation for providing a great deal of information the Committee did not have and noted how sincerely the State party was addressing the issue of children’s rights. Although there was not enough time to ask all questions, the Committee’s concluding observations would hopefully help to improve the situation of children’s rights in Viet Nam.
KIRSTEN SANDBURG, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Viet Nam, noted the State party’s genuine wish to improve the lives of children in Viet Nam and its understanding of the Committee’s concern for the situation of ethnic minorities.
DOAN MAU DIEP, Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, said the Government of Thailand wanted to fully implement the Convention in the best interests of children. A lot of progress had been made but difficulties and challenges existed. The Government wanted to find a way forward. Resources had to be mobilized and the disparities in society needed to be eradicated to make Viet Nam, the first country in Asia to ratify the Convention, fulfil all of its responsibilities under it. The Head of Delegation thanked the Committee for its advice, questions and feedback which was highly valued.
JEAN ZERMATTEN, Committee Chairperson, said he thought the pending revised Law on Protection, Care and Education was very promising and the Committee looked forward to its adoption. He thanked the delegation for taking part in the open and fruitful dialogue.
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