CHILDREN IN VIETNAM

CHILDREN IN VIETNAM

More than a quarter of Vietnam’s population is below the age of 15. Parents are generally permissive towards young children. As the children get older they are more strictly disciplined and controlled. Boys have traditionally had more freedom. A greater portion of family’s resources and energy was devoted to making sure boys got a good education. Children with red bandannas are members of the Pioneers organization. In villages, school-age children shoulder a lot of the child-rearing duties for the little ones. It is not uncommon to see a seven -year-old girl with infant slung on her hip.

Interest in having children is strongly reinforced by Confucian culture, which makes it imperative to produce a male heir to continue the family line. A couple with numerous offspring has traditionally been envied. If there were sons, it was assured that the lineage would be perpetuated and the cult of the ancestors maintained; if there was no male heir, a couple was regarded as unfortunate, and a barren wife could be divorced or supplanted by another wife. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Fostering filial piety is of overriding importance in child-rearing . Children are expected to be polite to their parents and older persons, to be solicitous of their welfare, to show them respect through proper manner and forms of address, and to carry out prescribed tradition with respect to funeral practices and the observance of mourning. After the deaths of their parents, it is incumbent upon surviving children (and their children in turn), to honor their parents' memory through maintenance of the ancestors' cult. *

Confucianism promotes marriage over celibacy, and defined women's happiness in terms of her ability of having many children. Women are generally expected to be married at a relatively young age and to have children frequently thereafter. Out-of-wedlock children are not generally approved; their birth is severely censored: in a family-centered society as Vietnam is, the place of such children is quite difficult. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division , 1967]

The number of children in a family and its economic status are unrelated in Vietnamese thinking. There is a proverb which translates, "God created the elephant and He created the grass", meaning that the size of the family is not humanly regulated. This may be related to the Confucian concept that the chief purpose of marriage is to insure sufficient sons to perpetuate Ancestor Veneration. One of the greatest worries to the Vietnamese is the possibility that there will be no male descendents to preserve and honor the family name. ++

Vietnam has made exceptional progress in regards to child care and child health, an official of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said. In November 2007, Xinhua reported: UNICEF representative in Vietnam, Jesper Morch, cited as an example that infant, child and maternal mortality rates have declined substantially. Between 1990 and 2006, the under-five mortality rate fell from 58 to 27 per 1,000 live births, and the infant mortality rate decreased from 44 to 22 per 1,000 live births. Children in Vietnam are better educated now. Around 95 percent of children are enrolled in primary schools. He also highlighted the country's consistently high immunization coverage and effort in reducing the poverty rate as well as the level of malnutrition, local newspaper Vietnam News reported on Tuesday. [Source: Xinhua - November 20, 2007]

According to the U.S. Department of State: By law the government considers anyone born to at least one Vietnamese citizen parent to be a citizen, although persons born to non-Vietnamese parents may also acquire citizenship under certain circumstances. Not all births were registered immediately, sometimes due to a lack of knowledge among the populace. A birth certificate is required for public services, such as education and health care, and the choice by some parents, especially ethnic minorities, not to register their children affected the ability to enroll them in school and receive government-sponsored health care. [Source: 2011 Human Rights Reports: Vietnam, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,U.S. Department of State; 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Report, May 24, 2012]

See Child Labor.

See Education, School.

Spiritual Beliefs About Having Children in Vietnam

While neither Confucianism or Buddhism makes much of an issue of childbirth, the Vietnamese varieties seem to offer both help and solace to women. The woman who is eager to have children may petition Buddhist divinities in especially auspicious temples, or appeal to family ancestors for help. Hannah, in the Old Testament, did a similar thing in appealing to God for the birth of Samuel. Just inside many Vietnamese homes is a niche for the figure of Doai Cung Thanh Mau who is regarded as the patron of Vietnamese mothers. There is also a goddess of procreation and birth as well as one who is the patron of "wet nurses". This latter goddess, whichever of her names is used, is consulted to protect the baby once it is born.[Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division , 1967 ++]

Some barren women seek medical attention, others look to shamans, but it seems that an even larger number appeal to deities for children. It is doubtful that there is a non-Christian home in Vietnam that does not have its shrine. Many villages have a protective Spirit, and shrines dedicated to them and other Spirits are found in abundance. So serious is the lack of posterity to Vietnamese women, that few would hesitate to lodge appeals to the spirits which reside in such places. To obtain the intervention of these supernatural figures, tradition provides definite ritualistic activities. ++

The supplicant woman must prepare herself for communication with the "gods", and to promote rapport refrains from using meat, onions, garlic, etc., for strong odors-save those of burning incense are not acceptable. A number of baths as well as repeated washings of hands and face are part of the ritual also. Then wearing their finest apparel and carrying The traditional offerings of vegetables, fruit, flowers, votive objects, betel nut, chicken, glutinous rice, incense, etc., they go to the temple. Having lighted their joss sticks, clapped their hands and bowed, they enter the temple from the courtyard and follow a standard pattern in bowing, reciting prayers, and expressing solemn wishes to have a child. Sometimes they have the monks write prayers on paper which is then burned so that the spirits may receive them. ++

Among the "gods" called upon in particular are Lieu Hanh, Tan Vien, and Hung Dao. These gods are the most frequently visited at the beginning of the lunar year. In the town of Huong Tich of Ha-dong province, now in North Vietnam, there is a grotto which has a number of vaguely human-shaped rocks called "Young Girls' and Young Boys' Rocks". After paying proper devotions, the supplicant woman chooses one of these "children of Buddha" and caresses it with exhortations to follow her home. She then goes home convinced that "Buddha's Child" is accompanying her, and in attempts to please it, she buys both sweets and toys, and will even pay double bus fare so that "it" can ride beside her. ++

From that day forward, a place for "it" is made at the family table, with a cradle being prepared at night until the day when the "invisible visitor" finally decides to become a member of the family. Such a child is referred to as a "prayed-for child" because he is an answer to fervent prayer and the parents tend to spoil it. ++

In Vietnamese homes may often be seen three porcelain or painted figures symbolizing happiness, wealth and long life. Long life is shown as a kindly old man with white snowy hair; a mandarin in fine robes symbolizes wealth; happiness is characterized by the figure of a father affectionately holding a smiling healthy child in his arms. The last is typical of the Vietnamese delight in children. The expectant mother often purposefully wears clothing which will call attention to her hopes, especially if it is her first baby. In accord with this, it is proper at Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, when meeting a lady near delivery time to wish her "a boy at the beginning of the year and a girl at the end" implying a large family of course. ++

Traditional Practices and Superstitions Related to Pregnancy

Pamela LaBorde, MD wrote: "Chinese culture has strongly impacted Vietnamese medical beliefs. The balance of the equal and opposite forces of yin and yang can provide explanations for illness. Yin is the female principle and is associated with cold, the breath, the right side and even numbers while yang is the male principle and is associated with heat, the blood, the left side, and odd numbers. The harmony of these forces can be affected by different foods and behaviors. Yin and yang are very important and are believed to be able to affect the pregnant women and her child (Bodo & Gibson, 1999). [Source: Pamela LaBorde, MD, Ethnomed ethnomed.org/culture/vietnamese <+>]

"In Vietnam, particularly in rural areas, prenatal care is lacking, but there are many traditional practices that women follow to ensure an easy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Overeating is discouraged because it can make the delivery complicated. There are certain foods that will disturb the woman’s yin/yang balance including "hot" foods such as alcohol, coffee, unripe fruit, red meat, spicy soups, garlic, ginger and red pepper or "cold" foods such as ice cream, ice water, bananas, oranges, and gelatins. Foods that are acceptable include poultry, fish, pork, ripe fruits and vegetables, rice, chicken eggs and ginseng. Physical activity is encouraged throughout the pregnancy, while reclining for long periods is discouraged to prevent the fetus from growing too large. Sexual relations are believed to lead to respiratory illness or mental and physical deformation of the child. <+>

Pregnant women often observe many taboos in order that the strains of pregnancy be eased and that birth may bring forth well-formed children without deformity. They must not eat "unclean" foods such as the snake, rat, mouse, dog, or beef lest the child be retarded; this does not preclude the use of tobacco or betel-nut. Because her presence might create "bad luck" for a bridal couple, a pregnant woman is not supposed to attend weddings, nor is she to take part in funerals as this may cause her child to be a "crybaby". She is to also shun places of worship including the pagoda and shrines to avoid angering the resident spirits of these places: since the spirits often promenade at twelve and five o'clock, she must not be outside her house so the evil spirits will not see her and create harm for her or the baby. Within the house, she must always take care to avoid stepping over a sleeping place or the unborn child may be infected with lethargy so that it will take seven days after birth for its eyes to open. Moreover, stepping over her sleeping husband can afflict him with sleeping sickness even as drinking from a cup which he is using may create many problems for him. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

In Vietnam it is considered shameful and dishonorable to the family if an unmarried woman is pregnant. Therefore, women who are pregnant outside of marriage may try to keep the pregnancy secret from family members for as long as possible. Abortion is also a common solution to this problem. It os very common in Vietnam (See Separate Article on Abortion).

Child Birth and Post Partum Practices in Vietnam

Pamela LaBorde, MD wrote: "Traditionally in Vietnam, husbands are not present during delivery. Only the nurse or doctor is in attendance. The husband and male relatives are required to wait outside until the baby is born. The baby’s first cry proves it has a soul and is therefore a moment of celebration. In rural Vietnam, midwives or women experienced with assisting in child birth deliver babies. But if a hospital is accessible it will generally be used. (Bodo & Gibson, 1999). [Source: Pamela LaBorde, MD, Ethnomed ethnomed.org/culture/vietnamese <+> ]

"According to the Chinese calendar, when a child is born it is considered one year old. This form of tracking time is not practiced by all, but some Vietnamese in the U.S. continue to honor it. Therefore, if someone is seven years old, they may report they are eight years old. This is commonly referred to as the "Vietnamese age" or the "real age." The hour, day and year of the baby’s birth are of astrological importance because they can signal future details of the child’s life (Bodo & Gibson, 1999). <+>

"In Vietnam, women whose medical beliefs are based on Chinese medicine and the harmony of yin and yang often refuse to bathe, drink cold juice or water, or wash their hair in the post partum period so as not to upset the hot/cold balance of their body. The theory is that blood, which is hot, is lost through delivery, so the body is at risk of becoming too cold or of getting too much air. Traditionally an herbal solution is used to wash the mother and child after birth. If this is not possible, even though water cannot be applied to the woman’s body, she is allowed to partake in a sponge bath (Bodo & Gibson, 1999). This abstinence period, called the sitting month, traditionally lasted for about 3 months or 100 days. Vietnamese women in the U.S. may abide by these rules but will limit this period to about 1 month. It is more likely the women in the U. S. will continue this practice if receiving pressure from the older generation. <+>

"During this cold period, Vietnamese believe the woman needs to be warmed up (Bodo & Gibson, 1999). This is accomplished through the ingestion of spicy foods and drinks. In rural Vietnam a fire was lit next to the mother’s bed. Therefore, after birth in the U.S. it might be beneficial to offer the woman heated blankets. Another belief is that if the female is weak and the husband strong and powerful they should not share a bed. If they do sleep in the same bed the female will incur damage to her immune system making her ill. This is related to the yin/yang balance. Another post-partum practice consists of applying cooked rice to the breasts. The warmth of the rice will cook the milk, if this is not observed it is believed that the child will have a stomachache from ingesting raw milk. <+>

Ceremonials and Names for Infants in Vietnam

Pamela LaBorde, MD wrote: "In Vietnam it is not customary to have a baby shower. Instead, there is a "One Month Ceremony." Friends and family gather at the house of the child when it is one month old and will bring presents for the child and family. The "One Year Ceremony" is similar to the One Month Ceremony. Once again, friends and family gather at the house of the child with a gift to offer the child. This celebration is different than a birthday party. The family arranges objects like a pen or a comb on a tray, which is presented to the child. Each object has a different meaning that is associated with the child’s future endeavors. For instance, if the child chooses a pen it could be surmised that the child might be a teacher. This is practiced in Vietnam but less commonly in the U.S. [Source: Pamela LaBorde, MD, Ethnomed ethnomed.org/culture/vietnamese <+> ]

Whenever the family has a newborn baby, his parents have to refer to the family annals to get a name that is not yet on the family tree. In Vietnamese’s perspective, it is not respectable to give a baby a name that is similar to the name of his or her ancestors. The family tree serves as a good reference for this. According to the old custom, the ceremony of baby name announcement to the ancestors is very simple. It requires only incense, betel and a glass of wine arranged on the family altar. Normally this ceremony takes place annually on the anniversary of the ancestor’s death. All parents with newborn babies are invited to announce their kid’s name at once. The following information is collected and recorded on a family tree: name, parent, generations, branches of family, first-born child or not, date of birth and the date of recording this information. According to Vietnamese tradition, a daughter is the child of her husband family so her name is not recorded in family annals. However some families recently started recording the names of daughter as well as sons. [Source: Vietnam-culture.com vietnam-culture.com

Many Vietnamese families have a service within the first twelve years of a child's life which is suppose to cleanse the child from the evils of its birth and allow intelligence while promoting a healthy adulthood. This service may consist of a small altar dedicated to the goddess of birth--usually Quang An--on which are placed twelve bowls of sweet soybean and sugar soup. Twelve pieces of paper with pictures of the calendrical cycle is then burned. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

Why a Newborn Baby is not Given a Name

Vietnamese do not name their newborn babies when they were born. The reasons for this are traditional beliefs, old government policies and old society and family customs. Normally, a Vietnamese has many names from birth to death. When a baby is born, it is called as "thang Cu", "thang Cò", "con Him", "thang Muc", "con Cún", "thang Chatem", "con Chat a"… These are general names to call a newborn baby. "Thang" is for male and "con" is for female. In Vietnamese belief, if the name of the baby is more ordinary, the baby is easier to nourish. After getting married, he or she is called as "Anh o" for male or "Chi Xã" for female. When he or she has children, we can call him or her the name of her first-born child. When his or her first-born child has a first-born, he or she is called by the name of the first-born grandchild. After passing away, he or she has a taboo name for worshiping. If the person has social standing, he is called by his family name like "Cuo", "Cu Tam Nguyên Yên o","Ông Trang Trình"…It is also a way of addressing people of Chinese descent. [Source: Vietnam-culture.com vietnam-culture.com

With the many names mentioned above, only the taboo name is the main name. This name is recorded in family annals and accepted by government. In the past, each village had a communal council which managed the registering of vital statistics but not strictly. The government only cared about the people who were 18 or above because from this age, a person had to pay head-money, be conscripted into the army or be recruited to be a laborer by force. The registering of a name later is better for this person because he does not have to pay head-money and can postpone other duties maybe for several years.

According to some family customs, the naming of the child is avoided until the taboo names of his ancestors are carefully checked in the family annals. This is why a baby has a temporary name first. After checking the name of his ancestors, he is given his own taboo name.

Infants, Young Children and Superstitions

Because childhood is the time when the evil spirits are most zealous, the little ones must be carefully guarded. It is now that little boys especially must be protected and brass bracelets may be placed on the small child as the spirits do not like the feel of metal, or an earring may be worn by the male-baby to fool the spirits into thinking it is a girl. Likewise, the small children are sometimes cautioned not to play under the trees where the spirits "rest" for fear they may anger the spirits.[Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

Among the Vietnamese some spirits are feared because they might steal the baby away. These spirits must be either avoided or appeased in some manner. Sometimes the shaman or the various goddesses of the Taoists, Confucianists, or Buddhists are utilized. Even seeking the protection of the "Christian" God until their children have passed the critical age is not uncommon. While these customs vary depending upon geographical location and economic class, they are still practiced in Vietnam. ++

This concern for children has an interesting taboo in that a baby is never supposed to be carried across the threshold lest it should be stunted; rather, the baby is handed to someone already across the threshold and then taken back again after crossing. Because of the high mortality rate of children, the common Vietnamese folk take great care to guard their children while small from all possible types of evil spirits. For instance, any deceased maiden aunt is given a special place on the ancestor shelf during the time the child is small, for if her spirit is not appeased it may carry the child away. ++

Sometimes the shaman advises that her bones be reburied in a more favorable place. Likewise the spirit of stillborn children is greatly feared lest life be snatched away to give one of them life. Similarly, a bad name might be given the baby to fool the spirits, or a boy might be called by a girl's name for the same reason. In contrast to the American custom of remarking how healthy or lovely a child is, the Vietnamese fear to do this lest it excite an evil spirit who will then harm the child. Many similar customs have also been found in European histories of past centuries, but due to a more scientific understanding of sickness, death and health, most Americans find these Vietnamese customs "quaint". ++

In a web forum posting viet364 wrote: "They say spirits often take new borns mainly boys especially if they are really cute/beautiful. So parents would give them girl names, dress them in girl clothes and/or call them names like, "you're ugly" and what not but usually doing so with lots of love. By doing this, the spirit thinks the baby isn't worth taking. Proof of this is my mom calling my nephew names when he was a baby but its always with lots of smiles, hugs and love from what I've seen. One of my father's friend dressed up his son in girls clothes. I would think after being in the US for so long they wouldn't believe in those superstitions but only having 3 girls and finally a boy, I guess they didn't want to take chances. Another friend of mine told me a long time ago since he was born in vietnam that when you are chased by a spirit, before you are caught, make a sharp turn in another direction. He said by doing that the spirit won't chase you because they can't turn. [Source: viet364, Sep 15, 2008]

Traditionally, infants and toddlers in many Southeast Asian countries have worn amulets or "protection strings" around their necks, wrists, or waists. A CDC report identified a case in which the likely source of lead exposure in a young child in the U.S. was a traditional amulet made in Cambodia with leaded beads that was worn by the child.

Story of Baby Savaged by Wild Animal Captures Vietnamese Hearts

In 2006, Phung Thien Nhan was abandoned after birth by his teenage mother in a remote and poor central mountain area. AFP reported: "Dumped outside the family shack and left to die, hidden under papaya leaves and bamboo, the newborn was mauled by a wild animal, most likely a dog, that chewed off his right leg and badly savaged his groin. Villagers found the boy, his pale and bloodied body crawling with ants. By the time he was taken by motorcycle to the nearest hospital, 72 hours had passed and yet, miraculously, the child survived. Hospital staff amputated his leg at the hip and stabilised his condition, and visiting Buddhist monks named him Thien Nhan or "good person". [Source: AFP, April 10, 2008 >><<]

"After two months local authorities, inexplicably, sent him back to his family, into the care of his grandparents. The case disappeared from the news. Many people presumed the boy had died. But Tran Mai Anh, a 35-year-old Hanoi journalist, couldn't stop thinking about Nhan, tormented at night by visions of what had become of him. Her worst fears would turn out to be true. When, after months of research, she tracked him down in December in his family hut, he was badly neglected, dirty, anaemic and suffering diarrhea. >><<

"She took him to a medical center and, a month ago, adopted him, together with her husband and fellow journalist Phung Quang Nghinh. They took him back to Hanoi, where Nhan was treated for free at the French-Vietnamese hospital. VietCot, a German-funded charity, hand-crafted a prosthetic leg, urgently needed to stop further damage to Nhan's body -- the first of many that he will need as he grows. His adoptive parents have contacted international hospitals about the plastic surgery and hormone therapy Nhan will need to lead a normal life. News quickly spread in the media, on Internet forums and in offices. >><<

"Many hundreds emailed and visited the family house in Hanoi's Old Quarter, bringing toys, baby clothes and their own children to play with Nhan. "Many people came just to have a look because they couldn't believe he was alive," said Mai Anh. "Everyone is offering to help. I didn't know there are so many good people. "One old woman from the countryside came and insisted on giving us the little money she could spare. She wanted to see Nhan before her eye operation, in case something happened and she couldn't see him afterwards." >><<

"Friends set up an online diary at www.help-thien-nhan.blogspot.com and an account for donations to help cover the child's surgery and therapy bills, expected to run into the tens of thousands of dollars. At first Nhan hid in corners, cried and only slept sitting up. "He ate bananas and cold rice, that's all he knew," said Mai Anh. "He didn't know what toys were, they were meaningless to him. We put him in front of the TV, but it seemed like the television set was invisible to him." After a month with his new family, Nhan was cheerfully greeting visitors this week, playing with toys, and swaying on his new leg to the tune of his new big brother Minh, 8, playing the piano. "His emotions still change, but he's so much happier," said Mai Anh. "Now he eats everything," she added with mock exasperation. "He's getting fat!" >><<

Dead Baby Found in Vietnamese Man's Suitcase

In 2009, Associated Press reported: “Security screeners at the main airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, found a dead baby in the suitcase of a passenger about to board a flight for the northern city of Hanoi. The body was of a day-old baby girl and was found in a suitcase belonging to Vu Van Dat, 20. Dat reportedly told investigators that the baby belonged to one of his relatives, the AP says, and had died of natural causes. So, why was the body in his suitcase? Dat says his family asked him to bring the body to its home village, about 100 miles south of Hanoi and he was simply fulfilling the request. No word yet from Vietnamese authorities whether there will be a follow-up investigation, or whether Dat broke any law. [Source: Associated Press, April 2009]

Child Rearing in Vietnam

Most Vietnamese women breastfeed their infants for the first 6-12 months. Vietnamese women do not normally carry their babies on their backs, but in their arms. One of their sayings on the subject is, "Carry a baby as you would carry an egg and lift it as delicately as picking a lovely flower".

Obedience and respect are the traditional virtues which Vietnamese children are taught to exhibit in the family. Discipline and physical punishment are acceptable remedies for disobedience in the Vietnamese tradition. "Harsh discipline and beatings did not constitute abuse of a child, but its reverse: loving care, concern and attention" (Breeman). When parents grow old, children were expected to take care of them to compensate for the gift of birth and upbringing. [Source: Vietnam-culture.com vietnam-culture.com ^^]

"Boys and girls are not free to do what they want. Girls are under strict supervision" (John). Western style courtship and romance were seen as inappropriate for unmarried children. "Virginity is cherished. Pregnancy out of wedlock is uncommon, and it is a grave disgrace to the family" (Muzny). For their children's marriage, parents generally made decision because they could judge better. Vietnamese parents had a high regard for education. It was considered a way for family advancement. Parents encouraged their children to study and excel in their education. Vietnamese placed a higher value on education rather than on material success. In brief, "Depending upon the family for financial support, requesting permissions for expenditures, and having parents make decisions for them characterized the traditional Vietnamese child" .

In 1898, Jacobus X., whose observations as "A French Army-Surgeon" are regarded as quite reliable "although embed with racist and colonialist attitudes of superiority," observed that children were breastfed until they were 3 or 4 years old if a boy; and even longer if it was a girl. When the Vietnamese child could walk alone, he was allowed to run free, almost or quite naked, or roll in the dust, or wallow in the mire. After he was 12, he wore a ragged pair of pants and an old coat, the cast-off garments of his father, and then went to work, minding the buffaloes, helping his parents cultivate the rice field, or steering the sampan or junk. Children born to concubines had the same rights as the children of the legitimate wife. There was no distinction between "natural" and "adulterine" children in Cochin China. Girls and boys mingled promiscuously, "with the result that might be expected. That is why it is rare to find an Annamite girl, of more than ten years of age, a virgin." But that was a hundred years ago. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2.hu-berlin.de/sexology ]

One Vietnamese-American woman wrote: "My parents raised us with a moderately-high level of formality. Whenever there were guests in the house, we were paraded in front of them, made to stand in a row and bow. If we visited other people’s homes, we were expected to be quiet and polite, no matter how bored we got. When I misbehaved at the table, my mother would put a very very firm grip on my leg to convey her disapproval. With five children in our family, there was plenty of horsing around. However, we had to don our public faces when appropriate. [Source: Viet World Kitchen February 12, 2009]

Pamela LaBorde, MD wrote: ""Children sit where their parents place them." This traditional Vietnamese expression characterizes the Confucian-based parent-child relationship. They take their responsibility to teach their children very seriously. The first priority is to teach filial obedience and respect; the second is to provide as much educational success as possible. In many homes, homework must be completed when arriving home from school and television is only allowed on the weekends. If the parents don't feel the teacher is providing enough homework, they may make homework assignments themselves, or write questions for the child to answer. In Vietnam, corporal punishment was the norm. In the U.S., parents are aware that this is not accepted and they have had to change methods of discipline. Some parents feel that their children are harder to control here than they would have been in Vietnam and are frustrated that their children seem to lack respect for their elders. (Bodo & Gibson, 1999). [Source: Pamela LaBorde, MD, Ethnomed ethnomed.org/culture/vietnamese <+> ]

Street Kids in Vietnam

Street children in Vietnam are known as bui doi , or the dust of life. In the 1990s there were an estimated 20,000 street kinds in Ho Chi Minh City alone. Many children in Saigon sell cigarettes, postcards and souvenirs to tourists. The youngest are five or six. They bargain with tourists and following them around. When they take a large dong note from a tourist to get change they leave their things behind on the tourist's table so the tourist doesn’t worry about the kid running off with his money. Some of the kids listen to tourists a bit to understand where you are from then speak your language.

There are a lot of street kids and shoeshine boys in Ho Chi Minh City, but no so many in Hanoi. Most street kids have either been abandoned or have been sent by their families to the cities to earn money. Some live in 10 to 12 to room in small flats, spend 30 cents a day on food and save the rest of what they earn for their families.

Tracy Dahlby wrote in National Geographic that he talked to one child who had lived on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City for four years. He didn't know who his parents were. For a while he lived with a foster family that "beat me everyday so I left. I went to work in an auto garage, but they beat me too. So I became a street boy...I'd just like to have an occupation where I can support myself...And, well, maybe a motorbike...a Honda."

In the late 1990s the Vietnamese government estimated there were has around 16,000 children under 16 living on the streets. Reuters reported: "Children selling newspapers, postcards or chewing gum, shining shoes, and begging are common sights in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Young female teenagers hired in from the countryside are commonly found working as domestic servants in wealthy households in return for food and little or no pay. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned that increasing numbers of street children are one of the most visible indicators of the increasing gap between rich and poor in Vietnam. "In light of the regional crisis, the impact of the economic slowdown on marginalised groups such as these will be felt even more strongly,'' the statement said. ''UNICEF is deeply concerned that the growing number of street children is not just confined to the major cities of Vietnam, but that the numbers of children living on the street are now growing in rural areas as well,'' it added. [Source: Reuters, October 8, 1998 |+|]

Child Injuries and Parent Ignorance, a Serious Problem in Vietnam

According to the Vietnamese government 80 to 90 percent of child injuries occur in the home. In 2008, there were more than 46,000 child injury cases, of which 7,300 died. Poor children are at a higher risk of injury than more privileged children while education and communication campaigns on child injuries remain lacking. [Source: Viet Nam News, January 2010 <:>]

In 2010, The Viet Nam News reported: "The country still has a lack of education and communication campaigns designed to help raise adults’ knowledge on child injury prevention, said Nguyen Trong An, deputy director of the Department of Child Protection and Care under the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA). "Many parents lack knowledge in dealing with child injuries, making the situation even worse," he said. <:>

"Minh Lien, a parent in Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi, said that when her child got burned, she applied toothpaste to the injury. "When I took my child to the hospital, doctors blamed me for doing such a thing," Lien said. It was popular among parents to use toothpaste, chicken eggs or boa’s fat on burns to ease the pain, An said. But in actual fact, all these substances might make the burns worse, he said. Nguyen Tuyet Lan, a doctor at Hospital E in Hanoi, said that she had witnessed many parents using incorrect methods when applying first aid to their injured children. "When children bleed, many parents blow on the injury without knowing that it increases the possibility of infection," Lan said. <:>

Vu Bich Thuy, who is in charge of a hotline providing advice on child injuries, said that when parents consulted experts working at the hotline, they were found to know little about child first aid. "For parents living in cities, it is easy to learn about child first aid through newspapers or the internet, but for parents living in rural areas, a different approach needs to be adopted," An said. He suggested publishing material on child injury prevention to deliver to parents and broadcasting the same content on radio programmes for rural communes. <:>

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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