In Vietnam children who live or work on the streets are often called bui doi, which means children of the dust, or the dust of life. Street children are also referred to as wandering or roaming children.
While Vietnams policy of doi moi (the economic reform program launched in 1987) and its transition to a market economy have been credited with helping to lift many Vietnamese citizens out of poverty, economic reform has also been linked by Vietnamese government officials to a rise in social evils (te nan xa hoi). 6 The problem of street children is included as a target of mass mobilization campaigns by the government, along with drug abuse, prostitution, HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, gambling, and vagrancy.7
Street children have been described by a government official as one of the negative phenomena arising from the revival of state-sanctioned capitalism.8 A 1998 directive by the prime minister attributes the problem not only to poverty, but government inattention to factors pushing children onto the street:
Economic liberalization has widened the disparities between rich and poor and between rural and city dwellers. Rural families, and sometimes children on their own, are migrating to urban centers to find work. The removal of state subsidies and the disbanding of agricultural cooperatives in 1988, which had provided health, social security, and education services, has weakened traditional safety nets and led to disruptions in social service delivery in the countryside.10 Many forms of social assistance have been privatized, and user fees introduced for some of the costs of education, health care, and childcare. Individual households are shouldering more of the costs of services. While some families may be better off than in the past, many are less equipped or receive less support to deal with shocks such as crop failure, natural disasters, or the impact of regional and national financial crises on domestic goods and services.11
While poverty is a significant factor driving children to leave home to work on the streets, others reportedly come from families who have enough money to provide for them. These children leave home because of family or social problems such as death of a parent, domestic violence, alcoholism, divorce, or abandonment.12
Statistics vary as to the numbers of street children in Hanoi. The Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) estimates that there are 23,000 street children throughout Vietnam and 1,500 in Hanoi.13
While Hanois street children have become less visible since the police round-ups of 2003, organizations and individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch believe their numbers have not decreased. 14 According to interviews conducted in 2004 by the Vietnam Development Forum, the numbers of street children have not significantly decreased in recent years, although the children are now more scattered and less visible.15 Their numbers in Hanoi may temporarily drop after police round-up campaigns, as some rotate in and out of detention and others return to their homes in the provinces for a while before returning to the streets of Hanoi.16
In Hanoi, street children work in parks, markets, bus and train stations, and near temples and tourist attractions. While some support themselves by pick-pocketing and pilfering from shops, many earn a living by selling newspapers, postcards, and lottery tickets, begging, shining shoes, scavenging, and portering in markets. The primary occupation for boys is shoe-shining; for girls it is street vending.17 According to news reports and Human Rights Watchs own interviews, most street children in Hanoi earn about 20,000 dong (U.S.$1.25) or less a day.18
According to a 2003 study by the Youth Research Institute, 75 percent of street children in Hanoi are boys.19 Most of them originate from Thanh Hoa, an impoverished coastal province south of Hanoi (24 percent). Others come from provinces around Hanoi, including Phu Tho (12 percent), Hung Yen (9 percent), Ha Nam (9 percent), Nam Dinh (8 percent), Bac Giang (7 percent), and Nghe An (7 percent).20
In Hanoi, many street children work in Hoan Kiem district, although they keep their distance from Hoan Kiem lake, a major tourist attraction, because they are more susceptible to being picked up by police there. Some find work from local residents in other parts of the city, including markets north of the Old Quarter, in the back alleys around Long Bien bus station in Ba Dinh district, in squatter settlements in the flood plain near the river in Phuc Xa commune, or across the Long Bien bridge in Gia Lam District. They can also be found in Thanh Xuon district, where the citys largest bus station is located, near the stadium in My Dinh district and the train station in Dong Da district, and around Lenin Park and Bach Khoa University in Hai Ba Trung district.
A 15-year-old boy who works as a shoe shiner in order to support his family in Hung Yen province described a typical day:
Other shoe shiners, such as 18-year-old Hung, make less money:
Like most of the street children interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Hung said he sent a large part of his income home to his family in the countryside:
Similarly, 17-year-old Canh, who is from Hung Yen, said:
Several ministries and departments are responsible for protection of street children in Vietnam, with the stated aim being to return them to their homes and reunite them with their families.25 At the national level these include the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA), the Ministry of Public Security (police), and the Committee for Population, Family and Children.26
At the provincial and municipal level, the Department of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (DOLISA) and local Peoples Committees are responsible for care and protection of street children. This includes establishment and administration of Social Protection Centers.
Social Protection Centers thus fall within the locally-controlled administrative system (see below) rather than the juvenile justice system. 27 In theory, Peoples Committees and DOLISA are responsible for managing these institutions, although it is clear that the Ministry of Public Security also plays a key role in the centers workings.28
The Committee for Population, Family and Children (CPFC)is the ministerial-level state agency with national responsibility for child protection, care, and education of children in need of special protection, including those who have been separated from or unable to live with their parents or guardians.29 It is also responsible for monitoring the operation of all child support establishments, which presumably include Social Protection Centers, to ensure that their operation is consistent with their purposes and legal requirements.30 Together with the Ministry of Public Security, the CPFC is responsible for overseeing the protection of childrens rights.31
Street children come in contact with government authorities in various waysthrough the social welfare system, as social relief beneficiaries; through the administrative system if they have not violated any laws, or committed only minor infractions; and through the juvenile justice system.
Human Rights Watchs research indicates that none of these systems or governmental bodies is fully meeting its obligations to protect and care for street children and to ensure their rights are protected.
Vietnams social protection system, put in place after de-collectivization in 1988, is responsible for the care of vulnerable people, including homeless children, orphans, children with disabilities, and street children. Social relief policies are developed centrally but implemented at the local level.32
Vietnams social relief policies call for provision of safety nets in poor areas and in localities that suffer from periodic environmental, economic, or agricultural shocks. MOLISA, along with the ministries of finance, health, education, and agriculture/rural development, exercises state management over social relief work. Peoples Committees manage social relief beneficiaries, who are sent to local Social Protection Centers (as already noted, these are also called Social Charity Establishments or Social Relief Centers), when they face exceptional difficulties or are unable to support or house themselves.33
The regular social relief regime covers the needs of orphans, lonely elderly, seriously disabled persons, and chronically-ill mental patients.34 The irregular social relief regimes covers people who fall into hardship because of natural calamities or death of a family member, as well as wandering beggarswhich includes street children. Wandering beggars are to receive assistance during the time they are gathered and waiting [to be] sent back to their residence place.35 Wandering beggars are to receive 5,000 dong per person per day for no more than 15 days during the time they are held in Social Protection Centers.36
Vietnams Penal Code establishes the age of criminal responsibility at 14 for criminal offenses and 12 for administrative offenses.37 It provides for certain exemptions for juvenile offenders under the age of 16, and allows early release of juvenile offenders who have shown progress and served half their sentence.38
The Penal Code calls on courts to consider sanctions that are educative and preventive when dealing with juvenile cases. Locally-based education measures aim to create conditions for such persons to labor and study in the community and prove their repentance right in the normal social environment under the supervision and with the assistance of the [local] Peoples Committees, social organizations, and families.39
Vietnams Law on Child Protection, Care and Education (Law on Child Protection), promulgated in January 2005, calls for law enforcement institutions to work with families, schools, and society to educate children who have violated laws:40
In relation to street children who are not found to have violated any laws, the Law on Child Protection calls for Peoples Committees at all levels to create conditions for street children to live in a safe environment, not affected by social evils.42
Street children who have not committed any crime (or only minor offenses) are usually dealt with through Vietnams administrative system when they are picked up by the police, rather than the criminal justice system.43 As an administrative matter, the children are not formally charged with a criminal offence, and thus the due process rights that normally precede someones detention, such as court proceedings and a hearing, are not required by Vietnamese law in order for children to be sent to the Social Protection Centers.
The administrative system provides that penalties for offending behavior can include warnings, fines, community-based re-education, and other sanctions, such as placement in a Social Protection Center.
A Vietnamese researcher explained how Social Protection Centers work in reality:
A child deprived of his or her liberty, whether via criminal law or administrative procedures, is entitled under international law to the same basic rights. While diverting children away from the criminal justice system is an appropriate goal, dealing with children in conflict with the law by way of administrative measures does not deprive them of or in any way diminish their rights. The practice documented by Human Rights Watch of placing children picked up on the streets in detention in Social Protection Centers without judicial or other independent oversight is fundamentally incompatible with international human rights law.
According to the Implementation Decree of the Law on Child Protection, child support establishments, which include Social Protection Centers, are required to provide:
According to Decree 25, which regulates Social Protection Centers, the government is responsible for examining and inspecting the institutions adherence to the law, handling violations, and settling complaints and denunciations about violations of policies and regimes related to operations of the centers.46
Organizations and individuals found to have violated laws regulating Social Protection Centers are to be disciplined, administratively sanctioned, or examined for penal liability, depending on the nature and seriousness of their violations.47
6 The governments mass campaign against social evils became prominent after the Eighth Party Congress in 1996. There is a Department of Social Evils Prevention within the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA). See Directive 33/CT-TW on Heightening leadership against social evils (March 1994); Directive 64/CT-TW on Enhancing leadership and management, restoring order in cultural activities and cultural services and eliminating social evils (December 1995); and a Seventh Party Congress document, Eliminating social evils: Simultaneous implementation of education, economic, administrative and legal methods to effectively combat social evils.
7 While government policy is unclear, it appears that the children themselves are not considered social evils, only the factors that push them out of the protection of families and onto the street, and the abuses they face. (In fact, the government has identified street children as a population in special need of being shielded and protected from social evils.)
8 Nghiem Xuan Tue, director of the Vietnamese government's Programs for Protection for Displaced Children, quoted in Cameron Barr, Street Children Stand up for Themselves, Christian Science Monitor, December 14, 1994. Vietnams reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child have also acknowledged that the economic reform process and transition to a market economy have had a negative impact on the situation of children. Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 44 of the Convention, Initial reports of States parties due in 1992, Addendum: Viet Nam, CRC/C/3/Add 4, October 22, 1992.
9 Prime Minister's Directive No. 06/1998/CT-TTg, "On the Strengthening of the Task of Protecting Children, Preventing and Tackling the Problem of Street Children and Child Labor Abuse," January 23, 1998.
10 Dominique van de Walle, Testing Vietnams Public Safety Net, Journal of Comparative Economics, vol. 32, issue 4 (2004).
13 City tackles issue of homeless children, Vietnam News Service, August 1, 2006; Duong and Ohno, Street Children in Vietnam; US Department of State, Vietnam Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 8, 2006. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2005/61632.htm (accessed April 14, 2006).
14 Social workers, former and current street children, restaurateurs, and some journalists interviewed by Human Rights Watch in 2006 said the numbers of street children have not dropped during the last several years. In addition, most members of 12 agencies in Hanoi that work with street children interviewed for a 2003 study said they thought the numbers of street children were increasing. Tim Bond, A Study on Street Children in Hanoi and an Assessment of UNICEFs Street Childrens Project in Hanoi, Thanh Hoa and Hung Yen, The Youth Research Institute, 2003, p. 28.
15 Ibid, p. 9.
16 Ibid, pp. 13-14.
17 Ibid, p. 20.
18 According to Vietnam News Service, Some 42 percent of working children earned around 20,000 dong (U.S.$1.30) per day, 39 percent earned between 6,000 and 10,000 dong, while only 10 percent earned more than 20,000 dong. Survey on Street Children and Child Labor, Vietnam News Service, September 11, 2004.
19 Bond, A Study on Street Children in Hanoi, p. 5.
20 Duong and Ohno, Street Children in Vietnam, p. 18.
21 Human Rights Watch interview with Minh, a 15-year-old from Hung Yen province who works as a shoe shiner, Hanoi, March 2004.
22 Human Rights Watch interview with Hung, an 18-year-old from Hung Yen province who works as a shoe shiner, Hanoi, March 2004.
23 Human Rights Watch interview with Hung, an 18-year-old shoe shiner; Hanoi, March 2004.
24 Human Rights Watch interview with Canh, a 17-year-old from Hung Yen province who works as a shoe shiner, Hanoi, March 2004.
25 Prime Ministers Decision No. 134, Ratification of the Program of Action for Protection of Children with Special Circumstances in the 1999-2002 Period, (May 1999).
26 Prime Ministers Decision No. 134, Ratification of the Program of Action for Protection of Children with Special Circumstances in the 1999-2002 Period, (May 1999); Situation Analysis of Institutional and Alternative Care Programmes in Vietnam (Hanoi: MOLISA, CIDA and UNICEF, 2004).
27 Decree No. 25/2001/ND-CP (May 31, 2001) regulates the creation and management of Social Protection Centers. MOLISA, CIDA, and UNICEF, Situation Analysis of Institutional and Alternative Care Programmes in Vietnam, January 2004.
28 2004 Law on Child Protection, art. 42.2.
29 2004 Law on Child Protection, Care, and Education, art. 8.2. See also Salazar-Volkman, A Human Rights-Based Approach, p. 30.
30 Implementation Decree of the Law on Child Protection, Care, and Education, art. 24.1(b).
31 The 10th Draft Implementation Decree of the Law 25/2004/QH11 on Child Protection, Care and Education (June 15, 2004), art. 33.1. This draft is considered the final draft and was passed by the National Assembly on June 15, 2004, according to Spielmann, Summary Analysis of Significant Vietnamese Legal Normative Documents Dealing with Protection against Child Abuse, Plan (International) in Vietnam, 2005, p. 12.
32 Dominique van de Walle, The Static and Dynamic Incidence of Vietnams Public Safety Net, Policy Research Working Paper (World Bank: 2002).
33 Decree No. 07/2000/ND-CP on Social Relief Policies (March 2000), articles 17, 18, and 19; Decree No. 25/2001/ND-CP, Issuing the Regulation on the Setting up and Operation of Social Charity Establishments (May 2001). For a copy of Decree No. 25, see Appendix A; for Decree No. 7, see Appendix B.
34 Ibid, art. 7.
35 Ibid, art. 14.7.
36 Ibid, art. 15.
37 Penal Code of Vietnam, as amended in 1999, No. 15/1999/QH10 (December 21, 1999), articles 68, 69, 70. UNICEF, Briefing Note on Justice System for Children, Child Protection Section (UNICEF Vietnam, November 2005). See also Minh Spielmann, Summary Analysis of Significant Vietnamese Legal Normative Documents Dealing with Protection against Child Abuse, Plan in Vietnam, 2005, p. 14.
38 Penal Code, arts. 69.2, 69.3, 70.
39 Decree No. 59/2000/ND-CP, Providing for the Application of Commune/Ward/Township-Based Education Measure to Juvenile Offenders (October 30, 2000), art. 1.
40 Law on Child Protection, Care and Education, No. 25/2004/QH11 (Law on Child Protection), promulgated on January 1, 2005, official translation published in the English-language version of Cong Bao (Official Gazette), Nos 29-30, July 18, 2004, article 36.2. Spielmann notes an inconsistency between the English and Vietnamese versions of the Law on Child Protection. The English version of the law uses the term disadvantaged children, while the original Vietnamese version of the same law refers to children in special circumstances (tre em co hoan canh dac biet). Both the English and Vietnamese versions of the Laws implementing regulations use the latter term. Spielmann, Summary Analysis of Significant Vietnamese Legal Normative Documents Dealing with Protection against Child Abuse, Plan, 2005), p. 19.
41 Law on Child Protection, art. 36.3.
42 Ibid, art. 55.3.
43 Presidents order 14/2002/L-CTN, On the promulgation of the ordinance on handling of administrative violations, Standing Committee of the National Assembly (July 16, 2002). It states that children between the ages of 14 and 16 who commit administrative violations shall be sanctioned with a warning. Persons aged between 16 and 18 who commit administrative violations may be subject to fines, but the fines may not exceed half of the amount applicable to adults; if they do not have the money to pay the fines, their parents or guardians shall pay for them. Presidents order 14/2002/L-CTN, On the promulgation of the ordinance on handling of administrative violations, Standing Committee of the National Assembly (July 16, 2002). 1999 Penal Code, article 72. Minh Spielmann, Summary Analysis of Significant Vietnamese Legal Normative Documents Dealing with Protection against Child Abuse, Plan in Vietnam, 2005, p. 26.
44 Terre des hommes Foundation, A Study on Street Children in Ho Chi Minh City, p. 153.
45 Implementation Decree of the Law on Child Protection, Care, and Education, art. 23.1(a).
46 Decree No. 25/2001/ND-CP (May 31, 2001), Issuing the Regulation on the Setting up and Operation of Social Charity Establishments (May 2001), art. 28.3.
47 Decree No. 25/2001/ND-CP (May 31, 2001) and Decree No. 07/2000/ND-CP, On Social Relief Policies (March 2000).