VIET NAM: CRC 20 years on - children better off but new challenges emerging

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[HA NOI, 02 March 2010] – Viet Nam, the first country in Asia and the second in the world to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), celebrated 20 years since ratification yesterday at a high profile event in Ha Noi organised by the Vietnamese government with UNICEF support.

Government leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister and Politburo member Nguyen Sinh Hung, noted that over the past two decades the State of Viet Nam has made great efforts to implement the CRC, including awareness-raising activities on child rights, harmonisation of the CRC with national laws, enhancement of state management over children’s issues, and provision of increased resources for child development.

Experts, including Mr. Nguyen Thanh Hoa, Viet Nam’s Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Mr. Jesper Morch, UNICEF Representative in Vietnam and Ms. Diane Swales, UNICEF’s Regional Advisor on Child Protection, discussed the interdependence between child rights, the country’s economic growth and increased opportunities for all of Viet Nam’s children.

Since the CRC ratification by Viet Nam, child mortality has declined substantially. Between 1990 and 2008 the under-five mortality rate fell by over two thirds, from 56 to 14 deaths per 1,000 live births. The country’s consistently high immunization coverage resulted in the eradication of polio in 2000, and the elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus in 2005. Children in Viet Nam are also better educated now, with around 94 per cent of primary school-aged children attending primary school.

At the same time, Viet Nam faces many challenges in ensuring the rights of every girl and boy. Significant disparities among regions and ethnic groups prevail. In 2006, the poverty rate for ethnic minorities was over 50 per cent, compared to about 10 per cent for the majority Khin and Hoa ethnic groups. Maternal mortality rates are up to four times higher than national average in remote ethnic minority areas.

Too many children still on the margins

“Viet Nam is now on its way to becoming a middle income country. It is a fact that while most children in Viet Nam are much better off today than children 20 years ago, there are still far too many children who are not. Their lives have not improved in noticeable and sustainable ways, and they are essentially on the margins of Viet Nam’s impressive socio-economic development,” Jesper Morch reminded the audience. “I would like us to remember these children – they are not here, they are in the remote rural and mountainous areas of the country, they are in the over-crowded urban sprawl of Viet Nam’s major cities, they are working in fields and factories, they are forgotten in social protection centres.”

Several speakers remarked that Viet Nam has paid greater attention to the participation of children and adolescents in issues that affect their daily lives, and in 2009, despite challenges posed by the global financial crisis, spending on social welfare – including on protection, care and education of children – was given the necessary attention.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Khanh, who was instrumental in Viet Nam’s ratification process 20 years ago, said progress had been made but that “care and protection, intrinsic to Vietnamese culture, were not enough. Universal child rights need to prevail.”

Invest in girls and boys to realise their full potential

“As a country now considered middle-income and striving for industrialized country status in ten years, Viet Nam must invest in all its women, men, girls and boys in order to realise their full potential as active and engaged citizens both today and tomorrow. It can no longer be enough that most children are in school, that most children have clean water and a toilet, and that most children are not working in harmful conditions”, Jesper Morch said.

Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung also highlighted the importance of investing in children: “Viet Nam has recognised that investment for the implementation of children’s rights to survival, protection, development and participation is investment in the future.”

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