|Sadly, the parents are not even aware of what is happening. One of them said: "I do not feel that my children are being harmed." — Photo vtv
by Nguyen Thu Hien
HA NOI (VNS) — When I was pulled up by the police as I drove my six-year-old nephew to school in New Zealand's Hamilton City, I was worried and then grateful.
The police officers informed that I'd forgotten to put him on a booster seat.
I realised then the value of having someone else looking out for our children's safety and well-being. Then, I heard that one of my child's friends whose father once beat him had a social worker intervene and sort things out.
It increased my own sense of security, as an adult and as a parent, to have a system that almost constantly keeps an eye on children towards ensuring they have a safe living environment, even from abuses by parents and other adults.
The absence of such a system struck me harshly on my return to Viet Nam. It seemed that every other day, I was seeing or reading something that underlined the toxic environment in which many Vietnamese children live, ranging from being beaten regularly or violently at home to being killed in traffic accidents because they wore no helmet.
In Hung Yen Province's Van Lam District, dozens of children are exposed to heavy metals. This exposure, without treatment, can cause liver and kidney-related diseases, loss of memory and even death. Children here drink, eat and breathe lead dust because their parents have been earning their living for decades by collecting batteries and recycling its lead for dozens of years. Lead dust has permeated the environment and water sources.
Sadly, the parents are not even aware of what is happening. One of them said: "I do not feel that my children are being harmed."
It is exactly in cases where parents in disadvantaged situations are either unaware or helpless to do anything about the health risks facing their children that the social welfare system should step in. Instead, we have officials virtually saying it is not our problem!
The fact is that many children do not get the attention they need until really bad things happen to them. Such cases have been propping up all over Viet Nam like a Whac-a-mole game.
A child in northern Bac Giang Province is in hospital after being tied to a gas tanker and beaten by his dad. His father was basically unrepentant: "My son is naughty and I need to teach him."
Last week, a kindergarten teacher in Nghe An Province was forced to stop working after tearing the ear of a kid. Earlier last month, a nurse was sentenced to 15 years in prison for causing the death of three babies by administering wrong vaccines.
I doubt that such situations are included in the Labour Ministry's reports on child mortality, which seem to focus on traffic accidents and drowning. It is estimated that more than 7,000 children and juveniles are killed in accidents each year.
Viet Nam can be justly proud that it was the second country in the world to sign the United Nations convention on children's rights 25 years. Relevant Government agencies never fail to affirm that the rights of children are accorded the highest priority.
Legally, several steps have been taken. In addition to the Law on Child Protection, Care and Education operational since 1991, at least 12 decrees and decisions have been issued since 2010. Every year, one month is observed as an action month for children.
However, it is obvious that all the steps taken so far have not guaranteed a safe living environment for many children in the country. I feel a simple approach can be taken to this problem: Children need someone paying attention to them alongside and besides their parents.
In Viet Nam, there is also an obvious shortage of qualified social workers who can monitor children's well-being in a certain locality and guide parents, teachers or other adults in dealing with difficult situations. The existing cadre of social workers are stretched, with one person keeping an eye on more than 160 children. And they are not just responsible for children, but also for senior citizens, disabled citizens and other people. And as mentioned earlier, many of them are not qualified to do this job.
This problem has been spotted and mentioned several times, but the political will and determination to accord top priority to developing a network of social workers and social centres has not been much in evidence. I feel that there is a traditional mindset at work here that is at odds with the more modern family setting that lacks the previous social network of a larger, extended family looking out for each other.
In the newer, nuclear family setting, a sufficiently staffed and funded social welfare network is indispensable, particularly for children.
A failure to do this will hurt the future of this country. We need our children to grow up healthy in body and mind.
The lines from the song "Que sera sera" come to mind: "When I was just a little girl. I asked my mother what will I be... The future is not ours to see."
Maybe, but that is no excuse for not acting now for our tomorrow. — VNS