Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Local Child Protection Committees are pivotal to identify and support vulnerable children

Nam sells lottery tickets five kilometres away from his house © UNICEF Viet Nam/2013/Truong Viet Hung
I had seen them before, children who are selling lottery tickets in the markets and on the streets. Yet I had never bought a lottery ticket from a child because I didn’t want to encourage them to keep selling lottery tickets instead of going to school. After my field visit to An Giang, I have realised that some children, without support, simply do not have the option of going to school.

It is Tuesday morning and we are driving in a minivan from Long Xuyen city alongside the river to Phu Tan district. It is almost Tet, the Lunar, a.k.a. Chinese, New Year, and in front of many houses the Vietnamese flag is proudly waving accompanied by a yellow Tet tree. I am part of a UNICEF team who is going to visit families to listen to their experiences with the local child protection authorities, in order to improve their functioning.

Nam’s rented house © UNICEF Viet Nam/2013/Truong Viet Hung

Once we have crossed the river with the ferry, the roads and the houses become smaller. We leave the main road and go from one side-street into the other. We stop at a white house with a roof from corrugated iron and a flowered canopy that provides some shade in front of the house. Ms. Nguyen Thu Trang is waiting for us and warmly invites us into her house. The house has only a bed, a closet and for the occasion a carpet is spread out. Each of us finds himself a spot on the floor, while neighbours are gathering outside curious to know what is going on.

Le Van Nam, Trang’s nephew seems very happy with all the attention but the atmosphere changes once Ms. Trang starts to share with us Nam’s story. Nam is 10 years old and is living with HIV. Both his parents died from AIDS when he was three. Together with his 13 years old brother, Pham Van Trung, he lives in the small rented house with his aunt. Trang’s husband ran away and now she is left with the two boys. She does not have a job. The money they earn comes from selling lottery tickets. For each ticket they sell, they make 1000 VND profit. On average Nam sells 40 tickets per day which makes 2 dollars per day. Trang, Nam and Trung work full time every day. “I don’t have friends”, says Nam “but sometimes I get 10000 VND from my aunt and then I go to the internet cafe and play online games. My favourite game is Farmville.”

It was very hard to hear the aunt telling how difficult it is to raise the two boys on her own.

Nam on his way to town to sell lottery tickets © UNICEF Viet Nam/2013/Truong Viet Hung

A local collaborator (community volunteer supporting local authorities) trained with UNICEF’s support, heard about the situation and found out that Nam was not attending school. S/he visited the family to learn the details and referred the case to the local Child Protection Committee who discussed ways to help the child and his family. The Committee is currently discussing with the local People’s Committee to find a piece of land for them to build a small house for the family, so that they don’t need to rent anymore. The Committee also informed Mrs Trang on Nam’s right for a school fee waiver and helps her with the paperwork and other formalities to make sure Nam will be able to go to school.

Until a few years ago there was no official mechanism to identify children who are in need of protection and assistance. Since then, UNICEF has supported the Government to develop a National Child Protection Programme, which includes the strengthening or establishment of Child Protection Committees, consisting of different sectors, such as social welfare, education, health and public security. UNICEF further assists local authorities to implement the child protection system, by providing training in child protection, case management and basic child protection services, such as counselling. Hence, with the support from UNICEF teachers, health workers, police officers and child protection officers among others, now meet systematically and discuss how they can assist the most vulnerable children in their communities. It was very interesting to see how the different actors work together: from the identification of a child who needs special protection, over the reporting of the case to the commune Child Protection Committee, to the delivery of or referral to services. If necessary, extra support can be obtained of the district and provincial Child Protection Steering Committees.

Unfortunately Vietnam does not yet have sufficient child and family welfare workers to adequately support each child in need, but with UNICEF’s advocacy and technical assistance the system will slowly but surely become stronger and more effective.

Nam and his aunt Trang © UNICEF Viet Nam/2013/Truong Viet Hung

Nam has a tough life in front of him but with the help of the commune Child Protection Committee he will get a better start.

The Author
Nele Bostoen is a junior child protection officer who joined UNICEF Viet Nam nine months ago. She is part of the UNICEF Child Protection team who assists the Vietnamese government to strengthen the child protection systems at national level down to community level to make sure that children who are at risk or are victims of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect are identified and supported in a timely and professional manner.

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