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Child abuse case causes public outrage

Update: September, 29/2014 - 08:51
A recent incident in Binh Duong Province in which a four-year-old girl was beaten brutally by her mother and stepfather has stirred public response on the issue of child abuse in Viet Nam once again. Thu Van talks to representatives of non-governmental organisations, experts and local authorities about the matter.
David Knight

What do you think about how four-year-old girl Ngan was brutally beaten by her mother and stepfather in Binh Duong recently?

David Knight, IOM's Chief of Mission in Viet Nam

It was tragic and inexcusable that this young child was so brutally mistreated. I trust she is receiving the necessary care so she can swiftly begin physical and mental recovery. However there will be lasting trauma from her experiences and she will require a great deal of ongoing support and care if she is to move forward.

Trinh Hoa Binh, Institute of Social Science

This is a very special case. We know that parents in Viet Nam still use violence against their children because they believe it's a way to teach them. The way these two people beat the child - the way they hit her even when she had almost fainted - it's like they don't have hearts. It's very strange. I just think the mother does not deserve to have a child. That's intolerable.

What problems can victims of child violence face as they grow up?

Gunnar F. Andersen: Country Director, Save the Children in Viet Nam

Violence can cause serious physical and psychological harm to a child. It teaches them that violence is an acceptable and appropriate strategy for resolving conflict or getting people to do what you want. This affects their character and behaviour.

Children growing up should be healthy in physical terms. They should also live in a healthy environment where they can receive love and care from their parents. This gives them a much better chance of living a fulfilled life.

A child's character is formed through awareness and interactions with adults around them. If they are brought up in a violent environment, they will learn to be violent and react violently.

If children suffer regular violence both psychologically and physically, they could be psychologically affected. This may lead to disorders such as drug addiction. More seriously, they could suffer mental disorders.

In short, the consequences could be severe. They could lead to a lack of self-confidence, distrust and difficulties in concentration. It's like a scar. The initial wound can heal, but the scar will last for life.

Trinh Hoa Binh

Binh: Children who are victims of violence tend to be closed off as they always feel insecure and unsafe. Apart from physical pain, the psychological damage it can cause can stay with them throughout their lives. That's a point I want to note.

These children are so damaged by violence they eventually have to find a way to "adapt".

As a long-term consequence, they might even become the same as the ones who mistreated them, and inflict the same pain on others who are weaker than them.

How should we help the victims of child violence after they have been rescued?

Gunnar: Counselling is important. Allow children to speak about the experiences and not carry the burden by themselves.

We should then identify the levels of violence and degree of vulnerability that the child suffered, examine the frequency of violence and the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator to develop appropriate measures of intervention.

Victims may need to be taken to a safe place under special care. They should also be provided with a psychological specialist trained to protect them from mental disorders.

In addition, the child should be monitored for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorders so timely intervention can be made.

Binh: Theoretically, we need psychologists to talk to them and social workers to help them, but in practice, it is not feasible in Viet Nam for every case of child abuse. I think in this case that community help would be more effective.

Like Ngan, it's usually the neighbours who know what's going on and take the children to hospital. Local authorities have to be very sensitive, and parents have to equip themselves with knowledge of legal issues.

The usual approach to domestic child violence is to raise awareness among parents because many Vietnamese parents think it is okay to physically punish their children. However, when it comes to intentional harm, such as incidents where Vietnamese parents knowingly hurt their children, what is the proper approach?

Gunnar: Adequate laws and law enforcement are important, but also is awareness. Many adults are not aware of the severe consequences of child abuse and the longer term consequences. Research has shown that an abused child often also becomes an abuser. The more attention given to the issue of child abuse can help end the brutal cycle of abuse.

From Save the Children's perspective, there are unfortunate education techniques in many places in the world. The use of physical punishment to educate children affects them negatively.

In Viet Nam, Save the Children has developed positive discipline training which excludes any physical or psychological form of violence. In our projects, we provide training for teachers in schools and caregivers in orphanages on positive education, child protection and the rights of the child.

Gunnar F. Andersen

Apart from the State's responsibility, we also need strong collaboration among big organisations, civil societies and NGOs to improve child protection awareness and the rights of the child.

The mother and the stepfather in the Binh Duong case are both migrant workers and the maternal grandmother of the child told reporters they had certain financial difficulties. Do you think the pressure to earn money and a hard life led to the mother treating her daughter like that?

David: Many low-income families live in difficult conditions, but there is simply no excuse for the punishment meted out to this young child.

With that said, migrant workers in general face a lot of challenges and obstacles, such as job and income insecurity, long work hours, poor housing and working conditions, lack of access to social security, public school, affordable medical care, community support and social discrimination.

Local social organisations could play a more active role in supporting families and protecting children - and in providing social integration support to migrant workers

Binh: I understand that migrant workers are under pressure. Migrant people in the past who moved to new areas to earn a living did not have land to build a house, and couldn't marry local women.

Nowadays, migrant workers may face the same problems, and they don't have a lot of money. They have to lead unstable lives because work might not be permanent. They don't have access to basic social welfare services such as healthcare and education.

Stories of domestic violence among these migrant workers are not surprising due to these disadvantages. However, these workers have to take responsibility for their lives. At the end of the day, it's up to them to make a good life for their families.

I don't think any pressure or difficulties can justify the violence in the case we're talking about, or any other cases of violence.

Gunnar: Again, I think it starts with awareness and knowledge. Family, neighbours, teachers etc. must be are aware of the signs of child abuse and not be afraid to report to the proper authorities if they suspect that a child is being abused.

The violence in migrant families has been problematic of many societies including Viet Nam. There is lack of information and social supports on issues of reproductive health, parenting education for young migrant people that also leads to such violence against children in migrant families that requires investment in both human resources and finance to improve the situation.

In Viet Nam, families tend to be close. But as the media reports, the grandmother of the little girl didn't even know her name. Do you think that's the consequence of people being forced to travel to strange places looking for work?

David: The movement of people is a natural part of human history. Migration offers both opportunities for development as well as challenges. The benefits of migration include the ability to send cash remittances back home and acquiring new skills.

At the same time, we need to recognise that migration also brings with it some challenges and this is where community and social support are important, both for the migrant and for family members left back home.

As communications and transport become more affordable, staying in touch with family members has become easier. The way family members take care of and keep in touch with one another may change, but family ties remain.

Binh: If we only look at this story we might think the pressure to earn money makes families fall apart, but it's not comprehensive I think. Vietnamese family traditions are very precious, and the connections are close.

When the maternal grandmother said she didn't know the girl's name - she is to blame - the mother is. It's not right that she took the child away without telling the grandmother or father. It's not justifiable that the pressure to earn can allow the mother to do such things to her own child. Again I still think this is a very special case, but I don't think we can say traditional Vietnamese families are so badly affected by economic developments.

Regarding the challenges migrant workers face looking after their children, what policy recommendations do you advise?

David: One of the largest uses of remittances received from labour migrants is for children's education. This points to an improvement in education outcomes for many children as a result of their parents' migration.

However, the departure of a family member who migrates affects those remaining behind in many ways. The absence of one or both parents can impact on health and school performance and this needs to be recognised.

Children of low income migrant workers generally lack access to affordable education, healthcare, and community support. When parents spend long hours at work, children away from their family network and home community may receive less attention. The host community might not be able to provide much support.

Due to the ho khau (household registration) system, many children who migrate to another place with their parents cannot attend public school because their place of abode is still registered in their home town. For low income migrants, the issue is particularly fraught, as the parents may either stress their income to send their kids to private school, or choose not to send them at all.

Hoang Le Chi, Vice Chairwoman of Di An Township's People's Committee, Binh Duong Province (Chi was put in charge of taking care of public donations and welfare policies for Ngan after the little girl was taken to hospital for treatment).

We have set up a fund to receive public donations for Ngan after her case went public.

Di An Township has a lot of migrant workers, and though we have policies to support these people, managing and taking care of them as well as their children is still a challenge.

I think community support is very important in child protection work - especially in migrant worker communities like this.

Chu Thi Dien, Population-Children-Family of the Noi Hoa 2 Resident Group, Binh An Ward, Di An Township

We have more than 1,000 children who are under 16 years old in the area, so managing them is really a challenge. We have asked the Women's Association and local authorities to take care of child protection, but there are just too many migrant workers. — VNS

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