|Safe and sound: Children of low-income migrants need a secure environment like the one offered by Dong Xanh 2 Kindergarten in the Hiep Phuoc Industrial Zone in HCM City's Nha Be District. — VNA/VNS Photos An Hieu
A socially responsible private sector can turn around a serious failure to meet the basic needs of low-income migrants' children in HCM City, Khiem Vu reports.
Their throats are squeezed, their noses pinched, and their mouths denied food. As their faces are repeatedly slapped, their heads sink toward their chair seats.
"Enough!" says Nguyen Thuy Linh, who can watch no more of the surreptitiously filmed YouTube footage.
"So terrible," she says.
The victims at the receiving end of the physical abuse were children aged six months to six years.
This behaviour occurred at a site paid to protect children: unlicensed daycare centres.
News reports of such conduct have shocked the public, especially migrant workers who depend far more on on childcare than other population segments.
|Bare care: A babysitter children takes care of several children in a private facility in Thu Duc District, HCM City. — Photo congly.com.vn
Living far from their hometowns, and often low on disposable income, migrant workers without official residential permits are forced to turn to childcare centres that often offer substandard care.
Linh, a native of the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, who has a two-year-old daughter, moved to HCM City for a job in a garment factory, where she has worked for three years.
"I send my kid to a family-run childcare nearby that has two nannies," says Linh, wearing her weathered but clean blue uniform. "I can only hope that the people will be kind to my child."
Linh earns approximately US$140 a month, and her husband, a fitness trainer from her hometown, earns twice that much.
Like other blue-collar parents, Linh worries about the future of her child's education and whether her child has a safe place to learn and play. She is unable to aspire higher.
"We have no choice," Linh says.
Student openings at public daycare facilities in big cities like HCM City and Ha Noi are restricted, and admission of local residents' children is given top priority.
|Horsing around: Children play at Dong Xanh 2 kindergarten at Hiep Phuoc Industrial Zone in HCM City's Nha Be District, one of the few privately-owned kindergartens for migrant workers in the city.
This limits access to children of migrant workers, most of whom do not have a residential permit that would allow them legal access to public kindergartens, which are cheaper than private ones.
However, if a migrant worker's landlord is willing to agree to sign a document verifying their address, the worker will then have "temporary residential" status.
This would then allow the worker to apply at a public school or facility. However, such agreements are not that common.
The workers then have to turn to licensed private schools, which are scarce and unaffordable.
If Linh were to enroll her daughter in a licensed private school, she would have to set aside more than half of her monthly pay towards childcare.
She has no choice but to send her daughter to less expensive private facilities that often offer low-quality food and poor care.
With no other option, Linh and her husband have to choose these facilities, and if not, they would quit their jobs and return to their hometown.
The number of such childcare centres is unclear. Not all unlicensed centres abuse children, but these facilities are the most commonly used by low-income workers.
Parents of better financial means often do not need private daycare as they have other choices, such as a private nanny.
"Our (public) school can accept children from the age of six months old. But many local residents in the district don't have a great need for this," says Tran Thi Ngoc Dung, principal of the public Hoa Quynh Kindergarten in HCM City's District 1.
"Many of them have the financial capacity to hire nannies to take care of their children at home. Also, some of them have flexible work hours," she adds.
|Once upon a time...: A teacher at the Dong Xanh 2 kindergarten shows children how to tell a story as part of a Vietnamese-language lesson.
Dung says, however, that for areas around industrial parks and export processing zones, the demand is from migrant workers for childcare (after the six-month state-granted maternity leave) is especially high.
"These kids can't be admitted because their parents are migrant residents," she says. "That is why more private childcare centres have emerged around those areas, and most of them are unlicensed. School fees can be more or less the same as public schools, but they eat into the children's food portions."
In Viet Nam, private childcare centres are often illegally opened in old residential houses. While externally colourful inside they are usually low-standard and shoddy.
In-house nannies, mostly untrained and unemployed women, advertise by putting up temporary signboards or by word-of-mouth to avoid government watchdogs, claiming to have extensive childcare experience.
Nguyen Thuy Van, a mother of a seven-year old boy, says she has no idea if her son is harmed during the day.
"We pick them up and check if they're safe and sound. Then we're happy," she says.
Local authorities know these centres exist, but have not found effective measures to tackle them. A lack of adequate childcare in the country has also contributed to the problem.
Viet Nam, with more than 300 industrial parks and export processing zones employing more than 26 million migrant workers, remains a low-cost original equipment manufacturer (OEM) global-production centre for garments, textiles and footwear.
Manufacturers tend to hire workers from remote provinces because the employees are willing to be flexible and work for low pay. Businesses, in turn, benefit from lower costs and higher production capacity.
The provision of daycare for migrant workers' children has become a thorny issue for both businesses and government.
HCM City's local authorities have encouraged investors to reserve land to build their own daycare facilities and kindergartens for workers' children.
The city government has also reduced taxes and offered long-term, no-interest loans and free teacher training as part of its pre-school education privatisation policy.
This has recently enticed several big manufacturers, mostly businesses in the FDI sector, looking to build kindergartens near their factories sites.
The establishment of these kindergartens has been driven partly in response to rising consumer interest in corporate social responsibility.
One company pioneering business-backed educational daycare is the Taiwanese footwear manufacturer Pou Yuen with a workforce of 90,000.
Last year, it opened a 5,000-square metre kindergarten, Mat Troi Nho in Tan Phu District. The school cares for 700 of its workers' children aged two to five.
The non-profit making 2.5 million kindergarten charges workers a low $35 monthly fee for their children's three daily meals.
"From Monday to Saturday, from 6:30am to 7:30pm, our kids are cared for here," a Pou Yuen worker, Pham Minh Quan, says. "We feel peace of mind. The school has a flexible schedule and keeps our child when we have overtime work."
Managing schools, however, is not the same as making products, manufacturers point out. Many of them have looked into opening schools but are reluctant to move forward due to managerial workload, stress and paperwork.
Another issue is the conversion of production-purposed land to school-purposed land.
Although socially responsible, these businesses are concerned that building kindergartens near manufacturing sites would not enhance their competitiveness. Some companies with limited capital are also afraid of losses on their balance sheet.
Offering adequate childcare for migrant children is not a new idea. Companies in China for years have set up various kinds of childcare facilities, depending on the age of children.
But for emerging markets like Viet Nam, India and Indonesia, where the need for low-cost workers is increasing, this could be an opportunity for investors.
Novice investors, when looking into new ventures, however, consider risk factors, such as viability, investment returns, competition and operations, among others.
But the demand from workers and consumers, the willingness of enterprises and government support in Viet Nam indicates that businesses offering childcare could be the best option for addressing the daycare shortage.
Linh, of Dong Thap Province, is not as fortunate as others to have an employer who can help secure a safe place for her daughter to grow and learn.
"What will be will be," she says, hoping for a better future for her and others' children. — VNS