by Ngoc Bich
If a husband neglects his wife while she is pregnant or her babies are young, he must pay a fine of VND1.5-2 million (US$71-95) under the decree on administrative punishment in social safety, order and security and family violence prevention that was recently drafted by the Ministry of Public Security and circulated for public opinion.
After reading this piece of news in the local paper, I asked some of my friends what they thought. Few agreed with the regulation.
Nguyen Mai Chi, a friend who works at a bank, did not believe that the regulation would be effective.
When she was pregnant a year ago, her husband had to go abroad for two years to pursue a postgraduate course. This meant he was absent when she gave birth and during the first year of his child's life and could not help her with anything. So would he be punished?
"My husband had a reasonable excuse, but I see many other cases where wives have to take care of their children alone without support from their husbands, who just want to live a life of leisure. They don't complain," Chi said.
Lawyer Dang Quang Thang from the Viet Nam Lawyers Association said that lawmakers must consider the necessity and feasibility of regulations based on factors such as socio-economic conditions and habit before promulgating any law.
If authorities wanted to punish anyone, they would have to produce evidence of the violations.
The regulation would be impossible to enforce because it would be very difficult to determine whether the neglect was intentional, as well as to define neglect, Thang said.
My friend Chi said that in remote and disadvantaged areas, husbands had to go far from home to earn a living, so the law could not require them to stay beside their wives. In those cases, leaving home was the only way they could provide for their families.
"We can't punish them," Chi said.
Hoang Ba Thinh, Director of the Centre for Gender, Population, Environment and Social Affairs Studies and head of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities's Department of Gender and Family, said that Viet Nam had issued many legal documents to protect the rights of women, such as the 2007 Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control and 2009 decree of administrative punishment for domestic violence.
However, while domestic violence continued to be a major issue, many violators were not punished because very few women who were victims of domestic violence denounced their husbands, Thinh said. Even if they wanted to do so, they found it difficult to obtain proof.
Another problem for lawmakers was that when a guilty husband did not have money to pay the fine, his wife would be obligated to pay for him.
Thinh also warned that the punishment would probably not change the husband's behaviour, but would only worsen the atmosphere of disagreement in the family.
Ngo Van Minh, member of the National Assembly's Legal Committee, used to compare the making of unrealistic legal documents to sitting in heaven to make laws. Many ministries and agencies claimed that when they drafted a law, they consulted those who would be affected, he said, but it turned out that they just posted the draft on their websites.
Minh reminded legislators that for any regulation to be popularly accepted, it must conform to reality and the level of development of society and there must be a practical way to implement it.
In my opinion, administrative punishments cannot be applied to most family affairs, such as when a husband does not fulfill his responsibility. Such a punishment would not help raise men's sense of responsibility or awareness.
Family members in both western and eastern countries are attached to each other by love and a sense of responsibility. However, men in eastern countries like Viet Nam often have a traditional mentality about gender roles, believing taking care of babies and doing housework are the tasks of women.
Therefore, what the Government should do is change men's mindset by raising their awareness of gender equality and promoting women's empowerment. This will be more practical and effective than trying to enforce a law! — VNS