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Street Children in Vietnam

1. Introduction
Street Children are children living on streets to earn their living. According to Canada’s International Policy Statement (Canada International Development Agency, Street Children 2008),the street children population worldwide is likely well over 100 million. The problem of street children exists in both, the developed as well as developing countries, with differences in its size and magnitude. However, this issue is especially serious in such poor or developing countries as Cambodia, Somalia, Sudan, etc. As a developing one, Vietnam is not an exception. The statistic of the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) (Bo Lao dong- Thuong Binh va xa hoi 11 February 2009), indicated that there were approximately over 20,000 street children in Vietnam ( U.S. Department of State, Vietnam, March 11-2008). Although the Government has made a special effort to reduce this number, it seems that the general status has not been improved remarkably. This paper is made for a particular purpose: bringing out an overview of street children in Vietnam by giving the clearest definition of street children, the reason why they end up on streets and also some advice to solve this global issue.

2. Discussion of findings
2.1. Definition of street children
Different countries describe street children in different ways. The Terre des homes (Terre des homes 2004) brings out the definition that street children are “the children who live on streets and are not taken care of by parents or other protective guardians”. In Vietnam, the street children are called as “dust of life” (Human Right Watch, Children of the Dust 2006). In other words, today, it is widely understood that the term ”street children” encompasses children living in a wide range of situations. However, as stated in “Street Children” (Seal of Approval, Street Children), two general categories below have been frequently used to describe them: the children living and working in streets and the children working on streets who maintain regular contact with their families. In this paper, the definition of street children above continues to be used for the clearest meaning.

Many of the children ending up on the streets struggle to make a few VND by shining shoes, sorting rubbish to sell salvaged scraps or selling lottery ticket….However, there is not a small number of these children who gain money from pilfering, pickpocketing, or even selling illegal drugs. Some, particularly girls, get forced into the sex trade. Street children mostly live in urban areas, especially the areas attracting foreigners like Hoan Kiem Lake, around ancient streets (in Hanoi) or Pham Ngu Lao (Ho Chi Minh City). Furthermore, the street children also go to some crowded local residents to find a job, such as in some big markets ( Long Bien, Dong Xuan in Hanoi and Ben Thanh,Cau Muoi in HCM City), fishing area in Phuc Xa commune or Thanh Xuan District (Hanoi)…. (Human Right Watch, Children of the Dust 2006)

2.2 Why they are on the streets
The youth end up on the streets for a variety of reasons including war, poverty, urbanization, natural disasters, and so on . But in Vietnam, the factors pushing children to live on streets in the great part are related to the below ones:
a. Broken family
As a result of an increase in the number of divorce cases in Vietnam society, the number of children –the first victims – is also going up remarkably in recent years. Being hurt of the break-up of parents, such children are always under stress and of course, easily discouraged from study (Terre des homes 2004).
Besides, the children whose one or both parents are dead are also affected by psychological damage, which may bring them the state of being street children (Terre des homes 2004). The feeling of loss makes them undergo a great emotional shock, even if they are still brought up by close relatives. As a result of being too young to have mature thoughts, such poor children are also no longer interested in studying.

Therefore, those children are easily lured by bad friends to leave their homes and becoming street children is an inevitable consequence for them (Duong Kim Hong and Kenichi Ohno 2005). The recent survey of the Committee of Population, Family and Children in Hanoi (2004) bore out this above statement by discovering that 12.3% of the interviewed children were from a broken family (cited in Duong Kim Hong and Kenichi Ohno 2005). According to MOLISA data (ibid) for 2001,there are estimately 4,000 abandoned children that become street children all over the country.

b. Poverty
Poverty is also considered as a major cause of an increasing number of street children in Vietnam. In a survey conducted by VDF (cited in Duong Kim Hong and Kenichi Ohno 2005), nearly ¾ of the interviewed children mentioned that the reason why they have to end up on street is that their family don’t afford to live without their working and earning money hard. The causes of poverty have been attributed to several factors, such as natural disasters, joblessness, illness, lack of education, and so on. Due to the poor state of family, the children have to work hard for many hours each day instead of having the basic human right of being educated. Furthermore, as stated in Plan Australia, in some under-developed areas, as a result of gender-based discrimination, the girls in poor families may be abandoned, or even be sold by their own parents. These are only a few salient points that indicated the reason why the kid whose family is poor also hold a quite large amount in street children.

c. Domestic violence and abuse
Domestic violence and abuse are also factors creating conditions whereby children decide to run away from homes. Based on Friend- International’s figures, about 10% of street children in Vietnam escaped from homes due to being hit unreasonably by their parents, especially by the father, frequently. Home violence is said to hurt children dangerously by making them always be scared of strangers and skeptical of other people’s kindness. Based on a research of Childhope Asia Philippines, the children who used to be treated violently also have the tendency to treat others violently.

Child abuse is the maltreatment of children, which consists of 4 types: emotional abuse, physical abuse, child neglect and sexual abuse. All these types lead to long-term effect on children’s behavior and characteristics. Some of the many consequences are children’s difficulty in school or concentration, behaviors of lying or stealing, manipulation or uncontrollable actions, and so on . (Terre des homes 2004)

2.3 The risks to street children
As an inevitable result, once on the streets, these young people are exposed and vulnerable to a number of risks.

A recent research about Street Children (Children of the Andes) noted that the children are vulnerable to be attacked by such chronic diseases as TB, leprosy, typhoid, malaria, jaundice and liver/kidney disorders. They also easily suffer from dirt, smoke, other environmental hazards, and even HIV & AIDS.
Another research (Terre des homes 2004) showed some facts about Vietnamese street children’s risks when he asked the street children what the biggest dangers to them are at the table below:

Risks Girls
(% mentioning)
(n=116) Boys
(% mentioning) (n=221) Total
(% mentioning)
Drug addiction 48.3 49.8 49.3
An accident 23.3 20.8 21.7
Being beaten by other children 12.9 22.2 18.7
Being rounded up by police/other authorities 16.4 17.2 16.9
Being robbed 13.8 10.9 11.9
Being fined by the police/other authorities 12.1 8.1 9.5
Turning to crime / going to prison 4.3 11.8 9.2
Getting HIV/AIDS 7.8 7.2 7.4
Being exploited 6.0 5.9 5.9
(Sexual abuse) 10.3 0.0 3.6
(Source: Terre des homes 2004)

As we can see from the table, street children have a high risk to be sexually abused or otherwise exploited. Furthermore, being dependent on drugs is also a problems among these kids (nearly 50% of those who were conducted in this survey is in the state of drug addiction). Besides, without education, they have little hope of getting a decent job or building a better life in the future. Children may be lured by the prospect of a more exciting life in the city or a chance to earn money. The reality is that they usually live in terrible conditions with no-one to protect them and often no record that they even exist. Therefore, they can easily end up working for little pay in dangerous conditions. Such ways of making money among street children like sex work, beggar, thief, etc. lead to the state of increasing social problems in our country, including rising illiteracy rate, decreasing in social morality and even preventing these children’s humanity development.

3. Conclusion and recommendation
This investigation indicates that behind the definition of street children, there are a variety of conditions, both for what concerns the motivation that brings young people to work on the streets and their ways of surviving dependently on streets. The research also implies that the children should be taken care of more by society for the best developments. To deal with the illiteracy among street children, establishing vocational training centers and schools is important. Projects should also improve the quality of street children’s living conditions by building houses for them or allowing adequate families to adopt the children who lost protection from guardians. In addition, the people who are responsible for this field are advised to strengthen the network of promoting children’s rights and child protection between urban and rural areas of street children’s origin to facilitate family reunification and community integration and to prevent children from running away from home. Last but not least, it is necessary to promote child-friendly environments in the business community and factories in order to exploit job opportunities for street children and to help them stay longer with jobs. This is essential to ensure a stable life for street children or adolescents and also their long-term inclusion into society.