Vietnam requires children to wear helmets

AP – Saturday, April 18

HANOI, Vietnam – Vietnam has closed a legal loophole that exempts children from wearing motorcycle helmets when they ride with their parents, state media reported Saturday.

Under a revised Transport Law that will take effect July 1, adults transporting children under age of 16 without a helmet will be fined up to 200,000 dong ($11), the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper said.

Currently, children under 16 or the adults responsible for them cannot be penalized if youngsters riding as passengers do not wear a helmet.

The World Health Organization has urged the Vietnamese government to amend the law to include penalties.

The loophole had weakened a generally successful helmet law that Vietnam enacted in 2007.

Motorbikes are the main mode of transport in Vietnam, with 24 million of them in a country of 87 million people. The WHO has said that even with the exemption for children, the helmet law has helped to save more than 1,000 lives per year since it was introduced.

Vietnam recorded 13,000 road deaths last year, one of the world’s highest rates per 100,000 with the majority of accidents involving motorbikes.

Vietnamese Female Workers Need More Maternity Leave

HO CHI MINH City, Oct 30 (Bernama) — A survey done at 34 textile and garment, leather-shoe, seafood processing and other factories in 10 provinces has shown that labour policies for women workers are impractical, Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported Thursday.

The Vietnam General Confederation of Labour’s Women Workers’ Welfare Division, which did the survey, found that policies regarding maternity leave and wages during this period were not women-friendly.

Pham Thi Thanh Hong, deputy head of the division, said children were not fed properly during their first six months because their mothers, who were unable to rest or take care of their health, did not secrete enough milk or were at work.

The survey found that with the current four-month leave for women post-delivery, almost 50 percent of women workers were unable to nurse their babies for a full six months.

Nguyen Trong An, deputy director of the Child Care and Protection Department, warned this was causing malnutrition among children in Vietnam.

During the four-month leave period, the employees only receive a salary of 700,000 VND (US$43.7) to 1.2 million VND (US$75) a month. As a result, almost 32 percent of workers want to return to work before the four months are up.

Some enterprises pay an allowance for raising children below one year. Griee River Wood in Binh Duong province pays 50,000 VND per month, Yamaha Motor Vietnam (Hanoi) , and Good Top (HCM City), pay 100,000 VND.

Women workers have asked the division to increase their maternity leave to six months to better care for their children.

Another problem facing women returning to work after delivery is entrusting their children’s care to someone else.

Public kindergartens only take in children aged 18 months or more, Private kindergartens demand 500,000 – 700,000 VND a month, not much less than their mothers’ wage of 1-2 million VND.

Vietnamese Female Workers Need More Maternity Leave

Carly Zalenski decided to build a school for children in Vietnam. It took her two years. She was 12.

Carly Zalenski’s eyes filled with tears as the dusty bus rattled down a dirt road in southern Vietnam. The 14-year-old and her family had traveled by plane from Canton, Ohio, to Ho Chi Minh City and then by bus deep into the Mekong Delta. Now, as they approached the village, hundreds of cheering schoolchildren lined the entrance to the Hoa Lac School, a two-story concrete building that Carly had raised money for.

Carly started helping others when she was eight, handing out Thanksgiving baskets at church to families in need. It was a snowy day, and she saw that one girl was wearing flip-flops and others didn’t have warm coats. The next November, she went door-to-door asking for used coats, hats, gloves, and scarves, then handed them out with the baskets.

But Carly wanted to do more-she wanted to “change lives,” she says. She remembered that her grandmother’s Rotary club had, years earlier, raised money to build a school in Vietnam. That was it, she decided. She’d build a school too.

She put together a PowerPoint presentation on the people and culture of Vietnam. At 12, barely able to see over the podium, she gave her first fund-raising pitch. Though her new braces made it hard to enunciate, she spoke with enthusiasm. “The kids in rural Vietnam don’t have decent schools,” she told a room of 200 Rotarians. “That’s not fair. I want to give them a place to make their lives better.”

That summer, Carly set off with her family across Ohio, visiting three or four Rotary clubs a week. “We traveled like crazy people to all these meetings,” recalls her mother, Kris.

The first few sessions yielded no donations. But one night, Carly and her dad, Fred, pulled up to a rundown building in Minerva, Ohio. Carrying a laptop, a projector, and a portable screen, they traipsed through a bar to a darkened back room where 15 Rotarians were sitting around a long table. There was dead silence and blank stares after Carly had finished. Fred thought, This is never going to work. Then someone made a motion: “Let’s give this girl a check right now.” Minutes later, an elated Carly walked out with her first donation: $500.

Not everyone was wild about the idea of giving back to a Communist country. “Why should we help Vietnam?” asked one veteran. Carly replied simply, “They’re kids. And I’m just a kid who wants to help out.”

As word spread, individual donors sent checks for as little as $5. A restaurant chain contributed $1,000. Carly’s karate teacher organized a tournament that netted $4,000. A Bible camp chipped in to help buy 500 backpacks for the children.

In two years, Carly had raised $50,000, a sum that was matched by the Vietnam Children’s Fund.

At the dedication ceremony in Hoa Lac, the school principal was impressed with the ninth grader. “How wonderful,” he said through a translator, “that a girl her age wanted to do something for kids so far away.”

Vietnam’s children get ready for climate disasters

A boy paddles a boat past a damaged house in a flooded village in Vietnam\'s central Thua Thien Hue province, October 2007. REUTERS/Kham (VIETNAM) People take preparation for disasters seriously in Vietnam’s Tien Gian province. Everyone gets involved, because the country’s so vulnerable to disasters – typhoons, flooding and mudslides.

Local leaders ensure the village’s early warning speaker systems work. Plans are in places for hand-held megaphones to warn hamlets with no electricity. Dirt roads and dykes against rising waters are reinforced. Children help draw maps of the village so everyone knows where safe evacuation points are, learning ahead of time so they won’t be afraid.

All across Vietnam, a country with more than 2,000 miles of exposed coastline, people know about climate change and what they need to do to protect themselves. That’s why they are investing time and money in projects that help reduce the risk of disasters.

The government has a department devoted to it. Children are involved through schools, dance, drama and other community activities, so they and their parents will know what to do in the case of disaster. Children’s specific needs are identified, as smaller-sized life-jackets are shipped in and schools equipped with community boats.

I recently visited small villages in the Mekong Delta, travelling by boat at dusk to reach communities where Save the Children is supporting disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities. The children I spoke to seemed to think this was all normal – no panic involved. Last year’s flooding season involved thousands of people evacuating, yet no one died.

Disaster risk reduction saves lives. In Bangladesh, cyclones in 1970 and 1991 killed around 500,000 and 140,000 people respectively. The November 2007 cyclone, Cyclone Sidr, which was of greater intensity, killed fewer than 4,000 people.

While this is still a huge number of casualties, it represents a significant reduction in loss of life. The experience of Bangladesh contrasts strongly with Myanmar (Burma) in May, where there was very little preparation, and a much higher death toll.

The consensus on climate change is clear: it is already affecting the earth with more frequent, more severe and less predictable natural disasters.

Save the Children works in many of the countries already feeling the impact of climate change. We are seeing children and families struggle against drought, floods and other disasters that hit with such frequency there’s little time to recover.

We know that climate change, along with the global rise in fuel and food prices, threatens to undermine the Millennium Development Goals, pushing hundreds of millions more people into deeper poverty. But we also know that when you work with children and their communities on disaster risk reduction, lives can be saved and people can be inspired to achieve dramatic change.

The call to political leaders in this summer disaster season – as drought causes hunger across Africa and storms lash the coasts of Asia and Latin America – is to recognise the links between climate change, disasters and poverty. The poorest people in the poorest countries will clearly be the hardest hit.

Both climate change and poverty have deeply damaging consequences for all of us, and demand global solutions and strong leadership by the world’s richest and most powerful nations.

Unwed pregnant women have a haven in Vietnam

Chitose Suzuki / Associated Press
“Sometimes we have 10 mothers living here . . . sleeping on the floor,” says Phuc.

In a country with one of the highest abortion rates, Tong Phuoc Phuc single-mindedly works to offer options.

From the Associated Press
May 24, 2008

NHA TRANG, VIETNAM — Sitting cross-legged on a straw mat in the middle of the living room, Tong Phuoc Phuc sings a soothing Vietnamese lullaby. For a moment, his deep voice works magic, and the tiny room crammed with 13 babies is still.

Phuc giggles like a proud papa. He’s not related to any of them, but without him, many of these children probably would have been aborted. And to Phuc, abortion is unimaginable.

The 41-year-old Roman Catholic from the coastal town of Nha Trang has opened his door to unwed expectant mothers in a country that logs one of the world’s highest abortion rates. In 2006, there were more than 114,000 abortions at state hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City — outnumbering births.

Most pregnant unmarried Vietnamese women have few options. Abortion is a welcome choice for many who simply cannot afford to care for a baby or are unwilling to risk being disowned by their families.

The Communist government calls premarital sex a “social evil.” Abortion, however, is legal and performed at nearly every hospital. And unlike in some Western countries where the issue is hotly contested, the practice stirs little debate here.

But shelters for women who want to keep their babies are rare. Phuc promises them food and a roof until they give birth, then cares for the children until the mothers can afford to take them. In the last four years, he’s taken in 60 kids, with about half still living in his two houses.

“Sometimes we have 10 mothers living here . . . sleeping on the floor,” says Phuc, a thin man with dark, weathered skin and teeth stained brown from years of smoking. “The problem is that a lot of young people live together and have sex, but they have no knowledge about getting pregnant. So they get abortions.”

Phuc says he made a deal with God seven years ago when his wife encountered complications while in labor with their son. He vowed that if they were spared, he would find a way to help others. As his wife lay recuperating after the difficult birth, he recalls seeing many pregnant women going into the delivery room but always leaving alone.

“I was wondering, where are the babies?’ ” he says, cradling an infant in each arm. “Then I realized they had abortions.”

Phuc, a building contractor, started saving money to buy a craggy plot of land outside town. He then began collecting unwanted fetuses from hospitals and clinics to bury in graves on the property. At first, doctors and neighbors thought he had gone mad. Even his wife questioned spending their savings to build a cemetery for aborted babies.

But he kept on, and now about 7,000 tiny plots dot the shady hillside, many marked with bright red, pink and yellow artificial roses.

“I believe these fetuses have souls,” says Phuc, who has two children of his own. “And I don’t want them to be wandering souls.”

Vietnam was ranked as having the world’s highest abortion rate in a 1999 report by the U.S.-based Guttmacher Institute, which tracks the statistics. More recent reliable data for both public and private clinics are unavailable. The U.S.-based aid agency Pathfinder International says abortions remain high in Vietnam but appear to be declining slightly.

Dr. Vo Thi Kim Loan has run her own clinic just outside Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, since 1991. She says the number of young unmarried women seeking quick, discreet abortions has increased with more teenage girls having sex before marriage. She also still sees a steady stream of married women coming in for repeat abortions because their husbands disapprove of contraceptives.

Preference for boys is another factor. Vietnamese women with access to ultrasound sometimes terminate pregnancies after discovering they’re carrying girls in a country where couples are encouraged to have just two children.

Phuc isn’t sure why so many Vietnamese choose abortion and says more women need to understand that safer forms of birth control are available.

He says word of his unusual graveyard eventually spread, and women who had undergone abortions started visiting to pray and burn incense. Phuc urged them to tell others considering the same option to talk with him first.

Phan Thi Hong Vu looks lovingly at her chubby 7 1/2 -month- old baby boy sucking on a pacifier surrounded by all the other babies on Phuc’s floor. She shivers at the thought of how close she came to losing him.

“I actually went to the hospital intending to get an abortion, but I was so scared,” says Vu, who was 3 1/2 months pregnant at the time. “I decided to go home and think about it. Two weeks later, I met with Phuc.”

She moved into the 900-square-foot house soon after and remains there with seven other new or expectant mothers. They spend their days washing, feeding, burping, changing and playing with the babies — all but one are under a year old.

It’s a full-time operation that involves Phuc’s family. His older sister manages the chaos, mixing vats of strained potatoes and carrots and preparing formula for bottles, while shushing crying babies and chasing crawlers. The entrance to the single-level cement house tells the story: rows of bibs, booties, jumpers and spit-rags hang drying in the sun.

It costs about $1,800 a month to care for all 33 babies and the women. Phuc gets donations from Catholic and Buddhist organizations and from people who have heard about his work. On a recent day, a local family dropped by with an envelope sent from their daughter in California who had read about Phuc on a Vietnamese website. Two years ago, he even got a letter from Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet praising him for caring for women and children scorned by society.

Health authorities say they support what he’s doing, but also keep an eye on him to ensure that everything is legitimate in a country where baby-selling and child-trafficking are a problem. Some people accuse Phuc of condoning premarital sex.

Phuc’s operation is not a registered orphanage, which means he cannot put the children up for adoption. But he shakes his head and says that even if he could, his goal is to reunite them with their mothers or raise them as his own. So far, 27 babies have gone home.

“I will continue this job until the last breath of my life,” he says. “I will encourage my children to take over to help other people who are underprivileged.”

Unwed pregnant women have a haven in Vietnam – Los Angeles Times

Vietnam warns of hand, foot and mouth disease spreading among children

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnam has warned health officials nationwide to be on the lookout for an infectious disease that has killed 12 children in the country this year, a health official said Friday.

So far, Vietnam has reported about 2,800 cases of hand, foot and mouth disease, a common childhood illness that typically causes little more than a fever and rash, said Nguyen Huy Nga, director of the Preventive Medicine Department, under Vietnam’s Ministry of Health. Nga did not give the number of cases from previous years.

About 400 of those cases have been blamed on enterovirus 71, or EV-71, one of several viruses that cause the illness. EV-71 can result in a more serious form of hand, foot and mouth disease that can lead to paralysis, brain swelling or death.

Neighboring China has been particularly hard hit by the virus this year, with more than 25,000 cases among children and 43 deaths.

In Vietnam, state media quoted Trinh Quan Huan, vice minister of health, as saying the situation is becoming more complicated with the virus spreading in the north of the country.

The disease is usually characterized by ulcers in the mouth, rash and blisters on hands and feet. Since it mostly sickens children and is easily spread, the ministry has ordered that kindergartens should be closed for two weeks if at least two cases are reported.

6 Vietnamese arrested for allegedly trying to sell 2 newborn babies into China

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – Authorities in northern Vietnam said Wednesday they have arrested six people suspected of trying to sell two newborn babies in China as part of a baby-trafficking ring.

Police in the Chinese border town of Dongxing on Monday detained the six Vietnamese while they were transporting two 10-day old boys and returned

them all back across the border, said Nguyen Thai Binh, deputy police chief of Mong Cai in northern Vietnam.
The Chinese acted on a tip from the Vietnamese authorities monitoring a smuggling ring, he said.
Initial investigation showed that the four men and two women were paid by ring leaders in Ho Chi Minh City in the south to transport the two babies to China for sale, he said.

The suspects were handed over to Quang Ninh provincial police for further investigation while the two babies were taken to a social welfare center, he said.

Binh said police in Quang Ninh province will cooperate with Ho Chi Minh City police in investigating where the ring got the two babies, he added.

Last week, Vietnam announced it would stop processing new adoption applications from U.S. citizens from July following allegations of baby-selling, corruption and fraud.

The announcement came days after The Associated Press published details of a U.S. Embassy report that alleged rampant abuses, including hospitals selling infants whose mothers could not pay their bills, brokers scouring villages for babies and a grandmother who gave away her grandchild without telling the child’s mother.