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VietNamNews

Definition of childhood under debate

Update: May, 13/2013 - 09:14
Illustrative image.— VNS/File Photo

The Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA) has proposed raising the age limit defining a child from 16 to 18 in its draft amendments to the Law on Protection, Care and Education of Children issued in 2004.

The move is intended to conform to the United Nations' International Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and has been greeted with much applause but also some opposition. Viet Nam News reporters Ngoc Bich and Nguyen Hang interviewed relevant agencies about the issue.

Why have MoLISA proposed raising the age limit used to define a child?

Doan Mau Diep

Doan Mau Diep – Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs

Under the Law on Child Care, Education and Protection that took effect in 2004, a person is considered a child in Viet Nam if they are under 16. However, the United Nations' International Convention on the Rights of the Child defines that a person aged under 18 is a child.

Some 193 countries were reported to ratify the convention. Ninety per cent of the countries defined that a child is a person under 18.

The difference between Vietnamese law and the other countries makes it difficult for Viet Nam to treat foreign persons aged 16-18 entering Viet Nam because they are children in their country but not in Viet Nam.

Besides, the United Nations Human Rights Council and some international organisations working in the youth field in Viet Nam have often recommended Viet Nam should raise the age limit from 16 to 18.

Ngo Thi Minh – vice chairman of the National Assembly's Committee for Culture, Education, Youth and Children

Viet Nam, despite being the first Asian country ratifying the International Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, is one of the six countries in the world (three in Asia) which has not defined a child as any human being under the age of 18.

Ngo Thi Minh

In fact, the amendment to the age level regulation to suit the International Convention has been discussed by legislators since they amended the 1991 law.

At that time, the Law on Youth was about to be promulgated and it also included a chapter for juveniles, thus legislators agreed to preserve the regulation of a child's age as stated in 1991 law.

However, with the current development pace of society, we find it indispensable for taking more care of juveniles, especially those aged 16 to 18-years-old.

Therefore, I really hope the child age as regulated in the law will be lifted to 18 because it will help people from 16 to 18-years-old receive much more care and protection.

What do you think of efforts to protect, care and educate children in general and particularly people aged 16-18 in Viet Nam? Are there any shortcomings? Will the proposal increase the burden on the State budget? If the ministry's proposal is approved, what kind of benefits will it bring to Vietnamese children?

Diep: If the child age rise is approved, more benefits will be brought to persons aged 16-18. For example, they will be better protected from corporal punishment as both Viet Nam and many countries in the world have banned corporal punishment for children.

We've heard many people claim that raising the child age from 16 to 18 would cause difficulties for the State Budget. But in my opinion, the budget for child care, education and protection will not be affected by raising the child age from 16 to 18.

The country is home to nearly 23 million children. If the proposal to raise the child age is approved, the country will have an additional 2 million children.

Caring for children means caring for the future of the country, thus raising the child age means that we are taking more care over the future of the country.

Minh: Juveniles face many risks such as school violence, sexual abuse and labour exploitation. [According to the Labour Code, a person of at least 15 years age who is able to work can sign labour contracts], but few policies to protect their rights have been issued.

We also recognise that we have not paid enough attention to promoting children's rights, especially the right to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.

Their voices should be listened to and parents should not impose their viewpoints on them, otherwise they will have unexpected reactions. Vietnamese parents' awareness of ensuring children's rights should also be improved.

One issue is that the child protection sector is lacking in social workers, while their roles and competences have not been regulated clearly, thus their contributions are still modest.

Currently, we have 41,000 social workers but the payment for these workers is not worthy of their contributions. For example, in HCM City there are 9,000 social workers and they work as volunteers. They receive just VND200,000-240,000 (US$9.5-11.4) per month, meanwhile in some remote areas, one volunteer is in charge of 150 households.

Another problem is that State investment in these activities is too low. So far, the Ministry of Finance has failed to calculate the State budget funds set aside for children care, education and protection.

According to MoLISA, expenses for child protection are estimated to be VND4,000 per child per year. Furthermore, the State funds are not distributed equally between urban and rural children.

If the State seeks more private funds by offering incentives to organisations and individuals, then the State budget will be under less pressure. In Norway, each child under 18-years-old receives State investment equivalent to $200 per month.

Svens Coppens – Programme Director of Plan in Viet Nam, an NGO which promotes child rights to end child poverty

Svens Coppens

In recent years Viet Nam has achieved much in terms of child care and protection, especially through the issuance of law documents regarding children, including the National Action Plan for Children for the period 2012–20 and the National Action Plan on Child Protection for 2011-15, which bring Vietnamese laws closer to international conventions.

But we still see some shortcomings which limit the role played by society and family in the care, education and protection of 16 to 18-year-olds.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), juveniles are considered those aged 10-19. These youngsters are not yet fully developed in terms of awareness and health, thus not fully-equipped with the skills to become adults. These ages also experience extensive physical and mental transitions so they need special care and protection from the State, society and families.

Due to many reasons (including nutrition and social factors), the mental and physical development of persons aged 16-18 is growing quicker than ever before. Serious crimes related to children also seem to be increasing. Therefore, some people think the regulation change might cause levels of juvenile crime to rise and believe the child age should be kept at 16. What are your thoughts?

Minh: This is not worthy of concern, because the age limit increase means children and juveniles will receive more care, which will contribute to preventing juvenile crimes.

Moreover, families and schools should get the blame for juvenile crimes. It is their education process that influences those subjects' thinking and doing. The popularity of the internet, computer games and baneful cultural products is negatively affecting the generation.

The situation requires greater responsibility from schools, families and other authorities such as child law courts. As far as I am aware, the Ministry of Justice is planning to build a family and juvenile court. Out-of-school education through the legal system and communities is very important.

Coppens: We have to frankly admit this situation. But we must be aware that there are many root reasons for the increase in juvenile crimes, such as family ignorance, schools and society, plus the negative impacts of the internet or violent games.

To reduce juvenile crime, we have to implement many methods simultaneously, such as creating more playing platforms for children and juveniles, while appealing for more concern and responsibility from schools and society.

Pham Quoc Anh – Chairman of the Viet Nam Lawyers' Association

Pham Quoc Anh

I agree with the idea that the child age in Viet Nam should be kept under 16. People aged 16 to 18-years-old are too mentally and physically mature to be classified as children.

Moreover, under Article 18 of the Civil Code, the majority age (the age at which people can fully be responsible for their acts as adults) is 18 and under the Communist Youth Union's Charter, people who are 16-years-old are qualified to be admitted to the union.

If the regulation change is approved, it will be more likely that juveniles will be used for criminal purposes because they will not have to suffer the highest sanctions. Currently, many minors are ready to commit felonies since they know they cannot be given the death sentence.

However, the increase in crimes committed by underage people should be blamed on the following causes. Firstly, minors' civil capacity has yet to be assessed properly. Many people consider them immature, lacking understanding and with little life experience, while in fact, young people are living in a world with fast integration and multifaceted information. They also receive the information more quickly than before.

Thanks to their grasp of science and technology, many people aged 15 to 18-years-old have carried out offences that are complicated and not easily detectable. When we reset the child age, we probably will not be able to solve issues related to juvenile crimes and force them to be responsible for their acts.

People aged 16 to 18-years-old seem to be being ignored despite this period being crucial to their development. They are not young, but not yet mature enough to know how to protect themselves from cruelty.

Therefore, instead of considering them as children, we should raise their awareness and promote their capacity through educational activities.

The Youth Union's role in educating these people should be increased. Police and schools should seek better research of these subjects to gain more insight into their psycho-physiology and find suitable methods of education and protection. — VNS



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