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Protecting children in Vietnam

In a recent update by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) - ‘An Analysis of the Situation of Children in VietNam 2010’ – the country is reported to have made huge progress in improving the lives of its children.

In a relatively short space of time, there has been a significant reduction in under-five mortality rates and a huge number of children have been raised out of poverty. However, the report notes key areas where improvements are still vital, in particular highlighting disparities in social care; where children come from ethnic minorities, have disabilities or are infected with HIV/AIDS, they often lack access to the required social services. UNICEF also notes “an unfinished agenda” with issues such as hygiene, sanitation, child poverty, nutrition, child protection and education. The report therefore welcomes the introduction of a National Programme of Action for Children 2010-2020 and a new National Target Programme on Poverty Reduction.

Experts in the country have also raised another key area of concern in the protection of Vietnam’s children. Each year, thousands are killed or injured in motorcycle-related accidents. Statistics from the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation (AIP) reveal that over 6,000 children under the age of 10 die on Vietnam’s roads every year. And of the country’s 18,000 cases of severe head injuries annually, 90 per cent involve children.

According to the Ministry of Transport, all but 5 per cent of Vietnam’s 31 million registered vehicles are motorbikes. All motorcycle users must wear a helmet and almost all adults comply with the law. But only a third of children are estimated to wear helmets when they travel, despite recent legislation to impose fines of between 5-10 US dollars where children over six years of age are found to be without a helmet. AIP would like financial penalties imposed for any age of child. The organization also believes that more education is needed among parents, teachers and caregivers. There is a widespread belief in Vietnam that the throat strap of a helmet can cause injuries to a child’s neck in an accident. According to the Worldwide Health Organisation (WHO), there is no evidence of any connection between helmets and neck injuries and a spokesperson for AIP stressed “a helmet is the only known prevention to save a child’s life or brain from head injury”.

Last year, the United Nations General Assembly launched its framework for countries to save lives on the roads. The ‘Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020’ has already been published, but will be launched more widely in May this year. The Plan provides each country with a framework for activities, including the changing of behavior among road users. One key area of safe behavior is listed as “compliance with laws…and rules for motorcycle helmets to reduce head-injuries”. This is now recognized as a growing issue for countries such as Vietnam. It is therefore no co-incidence that the front cover of the Global Plan has a picture of over fifteen smiling Asian children on their bicycles, all wearing helmets.

Laurinda Luffman signature