|UNICEF Representative Youssouf Abdel Jelil. — Photo UNICEF
Viet Nam's strong commitment and deep investment in its children is paying off, UNICEF Representative Youssouf Abdel Jelil shares his views to the public on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of UNICEF–Viet Nam co-operation.
Viet Nam and UNICEF have a long history of co-operation and trust. Since Viet Nam's reunification in 1975, UNICEF has been working closely with the Vietnamese Government and other organisations to support the war recovery and implement children's rights.
Our close partnership over the last 40 years has seen Viet Nam make some very important strides for the rights and well-being of its children. UNICEF is proud and privileged to have worked side-by-side with generations of Vietnamese children and families, providing support for their survival, development and protection over the past four decades.
Looking back at the past 40 years, without a doubt, Viet Nam has much to be proud of. As the first country in Asia and the second country in the world to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Viet Nam's strong commitment and deep investment in its children is paying off.
Today, in addition to achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals and reaching middle income country status, great achievements have been made for Viet Nam's children. Primary education is almost universal and gender equity has dramatically improved. Infant and maternal mortality rates have halved, and Viet Nam has witnessed steep increases in the uptake of the polio and hepatitis B vaccines.
Yet, this impressive overall success overshadows the growing gaps between the rich and the poor, the Kinh majority and ethnic minorities, and between urban and rural populations. Those who fall through the cracks are vulnerable children: the poor, those from ethnic minority groups, those living with disability and those of migrant parents.
These children are born vulnerable and grow up in vicious cycles of deprivation that affect their lives today and tomorrow, generating a serious unfinished agenda for Viet Nam's human development and economic prosperity.
Our recently launched Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) report has revealed persistent and at times, growing disparities, with ethnic minorities lagging substantially behind in terms of child mortality. The child mortality rates in Northern Mountainous areas and in Central Highlands are close to three times higher than the national average.
One in every five children under five years of age is stunted in Northern Midlands and Mountainous areas. There is also a worrisome level of disparity in terms of access to sanitation with less than half of ethnic minority households having access to adequate sanitation. Other vulnerable children are those with disabilities.
Half of Viet Nam's 1.3 million children with disabilities do not have access to education and only 6 per cent of them complete upper secondary school. Furthermore, only 30 per cent receive some forms of financial support from the Government.
Impressive successes in economic growth have been accompanied by rapid socio-economic and demographic changes like urbanisation, which have contributed to growing inequities. This is further exacerbated by the phenomenon of migration from rural to urban areas where 16 per cent of the urban population aged 5 or older are migrants.
Social issues such as family breakdown, drug abuse, commercial sex work and crime have become more prominent.
In recent years, UNICEF has made a resolute effort towards equity and inclusion.
Beyond this, we have pursued a consistent focus on an empirically proven inclusive education for ethnic minority children and those with disabilities. We carry out integrated community approaches to tackle malnutrition and sanitation in poor rural areas in focus provinces.
UNICEF has been working closely with the Government of Viet Nam in the development of child sensitive legal frameworks, which are essential for realising the rights of every child. Viet Nam took the important policy initiatives like the introduction of six months maternity leave and the ban on advertisement of breast milk substitutes for children less than 24 months old.
Some important children's rights milestones have also been achieved in recent times, including the recognition of social work as a profession, passing of the new Law on Child Adoption, the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the establishment of the country's first specialised children's court – the Family and Juvenile Court. I would like to congratulate the Government of Viet Nam on its determination and leadership to improve the lives of Vietnamese children.
Viet Nam's Authorities have also made commitments to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals and past performance indicates that the Government of Viet Nam is capable to deliver on key global priorities.
UNICEF will continue to support Viet Nam's focus on equity and social inclusion in response to the disparities and vulnerabilities affecting children in Viet Nam as a middle-income country.
We will continue to expand programme partnerships for children, including engagement of other UN agencies, corporate sector and civil society actors.
No children should be left behind in Viet Nam's extraordinary progress. The future of Viet Nam – the future of our world – depends on giving every child a fair chance at health, education, nutrition and protection. — VNS