Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By Việt Dũng
The recent case of a Korean man beating up his Vietnamese wife in South Korea has reignited discussions about the unfortunate reality of domestic violence and abuse in Việt Nam.
Sadly, this reprehensible behaviour is still common even though news articles about domestic abuse, accompanied by comments angrily condemning the action, can be readily found in Vietnamese media.
Street posters about domestic abuse and its effects can also be seen throughout Việt Nam.
During mid-July, I visited a Young Entrepreneurs Adventure (YEA) Camp for youth held by YEA Vietnam, a non-profit organisation that fosters an entrepreneurial mindset among students.
This year the attendees gave presentations on innovative solutions about societal issues and defended their proposals in front of a group of panellists. Domestic violence was one of 12 topics addressed by 12 groups of students. The topics were related to three categories of mental health & wellness, gender & sexuality inclusion and environmental protection.
A member of one group that gave a presentation on domestic abuse, who was an actual victim of such violence, wanted to remain anonymous. The individual spoke about the serious effects that abuse has on children, including depression, low self-esteem, and lack of confidence around peers.
Another member of the same group, Trịnh Diễm Quỳnh, a 17-year-old female student, recalled the time that a student texted Quỳnh and her classmates about a possible domestic abuse incident at a house next door. She said they had no idea what to do and did not have the courage to call the police.
Nguyễn Nguyên Khôi, a 16-year-old male in the same group, said that domestic abuse incidents did not get the media attention they deserved, and that only the worst examples of abuse received coverage. He said that alcoholic consumption was a factor in some abuse cases and proposed heavy taxation on liquor or improved control of alcoholic consumption.
The group's business proposal was an educational game for victims of domestic abuse that included several scenarios on the warning signs of domestic abuse and recommended courses of action.
Outside the YEA Camp, one can easily find young adults in HCM City who have a lot to say about the subject.
My cousin, Vũ Quang Vinh, 17, observed that domestic abuse "not only harmed families but also society, and that it could warp children's views on society and lead to regrettable actions". Such abuse is triggered at times by divorce or the children's inability to meet parents' expectations, he said
Đặng Thị Thanh Uyên, a relative of mine who also lives in HCM City, said that poor education about gender equality in both urban and rural areas was partly to blame. In addition, financial dependency and old-fashioned male chauvinism in rural areas were other factors.
"When a child grows up in an environment in which the grandfather shouts at the grandmother or the father beats up the mother, and the woman simply endures it without retaliation, the child will inevitably gain a patriarchal mindset towards their future family," said the 20-year-old.
"The State should issue stricter regulations to protect women and children, and punish abusers. As for long-term solutions, gender equality should be taught in schools starting at a young age."
"Children need to know that physical assaults of women are unacceptable," Uyên said, adding that female students should also learn self-defence techniques.
Đoàn Nguyễn Nhật Vy, a 17-year-old classmate from my Chinese-language class, blamed the patriarchal and controlling mindset of some men in Việt Nam and other Southeast Asian countries. "Many men are taught that men have the most power in a family and that women are supposed to listen to them," she noted.
At a conference in April, Nguyễn Thị Nga, deputy head of the Children's Department at the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, said that a UNICEF study showed that 68.4 per cent of children in Việt Nam were physically abused by their parents and guardians.
She attributed this to poverty, gender inequality and outdated mindsets.
There is an old Vietnamese proverb that can be translated "spare the rod and spoil the child". While I do not necessarily disagree with the mindset, some parents in Việt Nam seem to overdo the rod part, or confuse physical discipline with acts of violence that can scar their children for life.
My cousin Vinh said that parents should understand the difference between light physical punishment for disciplinary reasons and hitting children just to relieve their anger.
Domestic abusers are often decried as "monsters" or "heartless" in comments that I have read on social media or news articles.
As a 23-year-old man, I believe that most of these people are not inherently heartless, but allow their emotion and anger to get the better of them. They end up harming their children or spouse much more than they realise.
Uyên noted that education about domestic abuse "should begin in childhood and the media should spread awareness about old-fashioned views".
Vy recommended that family members should try to recognise when they are getting out of control and end conversations until everyone becomes calmer.
Although all of us believe that abusive actions are never excusable, I would like to believe that, for the most part, they do not come from malice.
Then again, one of the more harrowing articles on this topic I have seen is one that described a father in Thanh Hóa Province who tied his daughter's hand to a pole and caned her because he believed that she was not as good in school as her older brother. He hit her with such force that her buttocks were bruised badly.
Such stories make me question whether some people are actually interested in the disciplinary part in the first place.
The Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Nguyễn Ngọc Thiện, speaking at a conference in December, said: "Research on domestic violence against women in Việt Nam shows that around 58 per cent of married women have suffered from some kind of domestic abuse. Statistics also show that nearly 80 per cent of annual divorce cases stem from domestic violence."
While the number of domestic abuse cases is gradually falling, the problem, unfortunately, continues. Increased awareness about what domestic violence entails and the best ways to help victims is badly needed.
This is why the YEA Camp and similar opportunities for young people to discuss societal problems are so important. After all, they will likely grow up and become parents, too.
Perhaps it is unrealistic to hope that domestic abuse will be gone for good 10 years from now, but it is great to see that young people are discussing the issue and debating ideas and solutions. VNS