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Children lack space to play in capital

Update: September, 07/2014 - 20:09

Road games: Children play in the street because they have nowhere else to do so. — VNS Photo Doan Tung

by Hong Thuy

There is a small yard sandwiched between two apartment blocks in Ha Noi's Ngoc Khanh, but the children living in the building are seldom found playing here.

For years, the yard has been used to park vehicles and dry clothes. Almost every person living in the area is not likely to notice the absence of a playground, except the children who are pleading for one so that they can play after school hours.

Hoang Anh Minh, 13, is among them.

Minh and his friends have been scolded quite a few times by some adults in the same living quarter for making noise when they play badminton in the yard.

"They said it was not a playground and told us to go somewhere else to play and to stop making noise," Minh recalled, pointing at the 10-square-metre balcony on the second floor of an apartment building where five children were taking turns to kick a shuttle cock.

"We have no choice but to find empty space in our apartment building to play or stay indoors to watch TV or surf the Internet," he added.

This is worrisome for his mother, Nguyen Mai Lien.

"I worry about my son's future. It is not only college rejection letters that haunt me, but also the long hours he is spending in front of screens instead of playing outside," she said.

Believing that play is essential for kids, Lien has been trying to find ways to help her children engage and interact with the world around them, no matter how difficult it is for her to find playing fields in Ha Noi.

She takes her children to Hoan Kiem (Returned Sword) Lake almost three times a week so that they can run about and enjoy the fresh air there.

Alternatively, they go to a pagoda near their house where the children can play patin on its grounds when there are no visitors.

"I don't know where to take my children to play, except to the above-mentioned places," Lien said.

Play is so important for optimal child development that it has been recognised by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. But lack of space for children to play is a hurdle towards fulfilling and protecting this right.

Statistics released by the { Viet Nam} Committee of Population, Families and Children show that about 700,000 children under the age of 16 in Ha Noi are sharing 2,200 playgrounds, 1,700 of which are mini-playgrounds located in communes and precincts.

About 70 per cent of the playgrounds are deserted or are rarely used because they are in poor condition and are badly equipped with entertainment facilities.

The rest are neither in very good nor very bad condition, though they are still considered as ideal places for kids to play, according to the committee.

Institute for Social Development Studies Co-director Khuat Thu Hong said that children are increasingly spending their time in front of screens to play games, watch movies, and chat with their friends because their parents can't satisfy their demand for outdoor entertainment.

"Parents and their kids do not know where to go, apart from parks, supermarkets, and shopping malls, though the last two places are not very suitable for low-income earners," she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) claimed that play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.

Play is important for healthy brain development. It is through play that children engage and interact in the world around them from an early age.

AAP also believed that play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers.

As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and resilience that they will need to face future challenges.

Other benefits derived from play include allowing children to learn how to work in groups, to share, negotiate and resolve conflicts and to learn self-advocacy skills.

When play is allowed to be child-driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own space, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.

No doubt, there are numerous benefits derived from play. Ha Noi Mental Health Hospital Director Ly Tran Tinh asserted that playing to learn or learning through play is very essential to child development.

"Children are in such dire need of time to play that they are actually involved only when they are playing in natural surroundings and in outdoor activities with their friends, rather than when playing with their own laptops in their rooms," he said.

"Because the time for outdoor play has been markedly reduced for children, many have become lonely right in their homes."

Lack of playgrounds

Ha Noi is facing a severe shortage of playgrounds for kids, especially the free or low-cost mini-playgrounds that are built in residential areas so that children can play what they like.

Talking about recreational activities for children living in Tu Lien precinct, Tay Ho District, deputy chairman of Tu Lien Ward People's Committee Tran Van Bach said that five out of seven cultural houses were used to bring kids there to practice singing and dancing, as well as doing gymnastics during the recent summer holidays.

There are neither parks nor recreation places in Tu Lien, whereas funding constraints are deterring the authorities from mending its two damaged cultural houses and football ground, Bach said.

Another football ground was being used by street vendors as a make-shift market, he added.

Tu Lien is not exceptional. Almost all wards and communes, even newly established ones in the capital city, are short of playgrounds for children.

This is a concern of many parents whose wish is simply to have safe, unoccupied spaces for children to play that they no longer have to fear that their kids could be involved in traffic accidents while playing on busy thoroughfares.

Ngo Bich Hau, a mother of three, said it would be very convenient to have a recreation place nearby her house so that her children and other kids could go there to play in the afternoon after they return home from school.

"Though I know that play is beneficial to my children's development I cannot take them out to play often because my work keeps me very busy," Hau said.

Living in the newly built Viet Hung living quarter in Long Bien District, Hau said she was willing to contribute money along with other parents to help the local authorities build a playground for children in the area.

"I hope the authorities will pay attention to investing in recreational places for children, who will be able to enjoy their childhood in a happy and healthy manner," Hau said.

It is undeniable that Ha Noi has some places of public recreation for children, such as the Ho Tay Water Park, the Bach Thao Botanical Garden, the Children's Palace, and the Bao Son Paradise, among others.

Although they are exciting places with entertainment activities that attract many children, the high entry fees and other services in these centres make them accessible to only middle-income families and upwards.

Meanwhile, children, by and large, are in urgent need of mini-playgrounds for playing on a daily basis.

Considering this, National Assembly Vice Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan recently raised her opinion on revising the Housing Law, while mentioning the absence of playgrounds for children, senior citizens and other people in many apartment buildings.

"I want the law to carefully stipulate common areas in apartment buildings. There are several storeys in an apartment building so each will need space for community activities," the vice chairwoman said.

Deputy Director of the Child Care and Protection Department of the labour and social welfare ministry Nguyen Trong An agreed, adding that it is necessary to earmark a part of the land area for building a library and a playground for children in each apartment building.

"Developers should stop ignoring investment in children. It is sustainable, efficient, and meaningful when we invest in children in a comprehensive manner," An added. — VNS

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