No culpability as children drown in manholes, sewers

October 09, 2017 - 10:00

It was raining heavily as Nguyễn Tấn Trường, an 11-year-old fourth grader at the Chu Văn An Primary School in Đồng Nai Province, walked home.

Residents gather at the manhole where Nguyễn Tấn Trường fell into and with hope to find him. — Photo
Viet Nam News

In the spotlight

By Nguyễn Hằng & Thu Trang

It was raining heavily as Nguyễn Tấn Trường, an 11-year-old fourth grader at the Chu Văn An Primary School in Đồng Nai Province, walked home.

When one of his sandals came off and he bent to pick it up, he fell into an uncovered sewer that was under construction.

The “accident” happened in Vĩnh Cửu District’s Thiện Tân Commune in the afternoon of September 27.

After strenuous efforts by local police, rescue teams and residents, a day later, the ill-fated boy’s body was retrieved from a section of the Đồng Nai River, about 10km far from where he fell. Trường’s parents were devastated by the sudden loss of their son.

This is not the first time that such a tragedy has happened. But in each case, the cries of grief, of parents, relatives and friends, and laments of society fade away into a deafening silence.

No responsibility is fixed for the accident, and no compensation paid to the deceased’s next of kin.

Are we to conclude that such deaths are acts of God?

What the law says

Nguyễn Thị Thúy Kiều

Nguyễn Thị Thúy Kiều, head of the Bắc Nam Law Co Ltd, said that in Trường’s case, the individual or organisation, assigned to manage the construction site can be prosecuted for “negligence causing serious consequences” under Article 285 of the current Penal Code.

The penalty ranges between six months and five years in prison or probation for three years.

Under Article 605 of the 2015 Civil Code, the individual or organisation that manages and owns the construction site have the responsibility to compensate Trường’s family.

As per the Article 591 of the 2015 Civil Code, the compensation will include the fee for the victim’s funeral and the fee for psychological damage and mental trauma of Trường’s family.

The fee for psychological damage or mental trauma depends on negotiations between the construction site’s owner and Trường’s family.

If the negotiation does not reach an agreement, compensation will be not beyond 100 times the current basic wage per month, a meagre sum by standard. The current basic wage per month is about VNĐ1.3 million (US$52).

Việt Nam News contacted several agencies to find out the person or institution responsible, to find out why the problem of uncovered manholes has persisted for so long, and to find out what is being planned to fix the situation. But no agency, including the provincial Department of Transport and the Vĩnh Cửu District’s Project Management Unit, responded to our queries.

The day Trường’s body was found, Mã Thái Thành, chairman of  Thiện Tân Commune, had told local media that the construction site was under the purview of Vĩnh Cửu District’s Project Management Unit.

Water from an uncovered sewer floods a road at the Phú Nhuận Market in HCM City. — VNA/VNS Photo Mạnh Linh

Missing figures

As noted earlier, it is not the first time such a tragedy has occurred in the country. In September alone, at least three children lost their lives to open manholes or sewers. In recent years, the deaths of dozens of children in similar fashion have been reported by the media. However, there are no official statistics on this tragedy.

Đặng Hoa Nam

Đặng Hoa Nam, head of the Child Care and Protection Department under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs – the State agency that oversees all children-related affairs, said the department had no separate statistic about children who drown after falling into uncovered manholes or sewers without metal grids. They only have figures on children’s death by drowning, he said.

Nam said according to the department’s latest statistics, nearly 800 children drowned across the country in the first six of the year, 252 more than the same period last year. Of these, about 22 per cent of them died in the vicinity of their homes.

Dragana Strinic – Country Director of Save the Children, an international non-government organisation (INGO) – said they also do not have specific statistics on such deaths.

However, Strinic provided links to some recent research reports that deal with this subject.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Report on Drowning (2014) identifies drowning as one of the top five causes of death for children aged 1–14 years. More specifically, in the United States, drowning was the second leading cause of unintentional death in children aged 1–14 years and in China, it was the leading cause of death.

“We find a similar situation in Việt Nam,” Strinic said.

Drowning accounts for about 50 per cent of deaths from injuries in children and adolescents aged 0–19 years, she said.

Why they drown

Nam said there are two major reasons leading to children’s drowning: inadequate supervision by parents, schools and community; and children lacking necessary skills to survive.

Children are not told about certain areas that are dangerous and should be avoided when it rains heavily, and about the skills they need to get out of dangerous situations, he said.

Dragana Strinic

Strinic, however, said uncovered manholes and unprotected drains were death traps especially when it rained heavily or there was flooding.

“We all know that there are an increasing number of construction sites in Việt Nam. Unfortunately, often there is a lack of warning signs and other safety measures that results in increased risk of injuries and even loss of life,” she said.

“For example, according to media reports, in August 2011, four children died after falling into water at a construction site in Hà Nội. Two months later, three children died because of the same reasons.

“Most recently, two children died in the south of Việt Nam in one week alone, including this boy. There were also cases of adults who died because of open manholes, but children are at greater risk, so we all need to be more vigilant in protecting children from these hazards,” she said.

What they should know

Nam said the most important solutions to fixing the problem is for teachers and parents to equip children with basic skills and knowledge so that they can protect themselves better.

For example, they should tell children that if it begins rain heavily when they are on the way, they should find some shelter and wait until the rain stops.

As a long-term measure, Nam said his department is joining hands with other organisations, including the Việt Nam Sports Administration, the Việt Nam Aquatic Sports Association and the Việt Nam Central Youth Union to conduct programmes on educating children in safety skills, including teaching them to swim.

Strinic said application of high safety standards around construction sites should be “an absolute and urgent priority.”

Children should also be able to recognise the risks and gain basic survival skills, with adults in their surroundings also being aware of risks and taking appropriate prevention measures, she said.

It is important to understand the causes of drowning and address them through targeted interventions. People need to understand the scope of the problem, and the importance of drowning prevention, she added.

A fireman joins the work of searching for Nguyễn Tấn Trường after he fell into the uncovered sewer. — VNA/VNS Photo Sỹ Tuyên

Multi-sectoral prevention strategies were needed to ensure that children’s homes, schools, communities and surroundings are safe.

Fencing around water and risky areas and ensuring proper adult supervision of very young children when they are around water are important preventative measures.

Building children’s resilience and survival skills such as swimming, educating them on drowning prevention and rescue skills so that they can keep themselves and their peers safe, is another extremely important action, Strinic said.

Save the Children in Việt Nam has worked to develop the risk reduction capacity of children as well as teachers and communities, she said.

In high-risk areas, campaigns, competitions, awareness raising, and drills are implemented in communities and primary schools in co-operation with the Youth Union, the Women’s Union and the Red Cross, she added.

In flood prone areas, Save the Children is working to see that children learn life-saving swimming skills, and has introduced floating backpacks (school bags) to protect children in the event of flash floods, she said. — VNS


Đoàn Trọng Hiếu, 35, Hà Nội’s Thanh Xuân District.

Đoàn Trọng Hiếu


As a father, I worry a lot for my children’s safety. I have heard a lot about children dying because of uncovered manholes in many places throughout the country in recent years.

I regularly warn my eight-year-old daughter that she should be very careful when she’s on road. I also try to avoid letting her go out alone.

I have told her not to step on manholes, even if they are covered, because the cover turn over if they are wrongly installed. My daughter is not allowed to go out in the evening without adults.

My daughter is a second-grader at the Thanh Xuân Nam Primary School. I have not received any notice thus far that school has taught her survival skills for such cases.

I think relevant agencies, including traffic police, transport inspectors, should join hands to fix the problem, to avoid the stealing of manhole covers because they are made of iron. They should also make sure that the covers are not damaged by overloaded lorries for the safety of children in particular and road users in general.

Hotlines should be set up so that residents can inform authorities of uncovered manholes. — VNS