We want to put children’s rights – not least the rights of girls – at the centre of the development agenda. Violence is one of the major challenges, not only here but in all societies. And to make change happen we need to rethink. Listen to children and address their concerns.
This was said by Staffan Herrström, Ambassador of Sweden in Vietnam, at the discussion on the rights of the child held recently – at Lucia-day – in Hanoi by the Embassy. He quoted a story by the Swedish author of books for children Astrid Lindgren on the theme “never ever violence against children”.
Possible solutions to further protect the rights of the child in Vietnam as well as the sharing of experience and values on the issue between Sweden and Vietnam were explored at the discussion, which drew the participation of more than 50 representatives from the Vietnamese Government agencies, international and national non-governmental organisations who are active in child rights protection in Vietnam. Major media in Vietnam also followed the discussion with great interest.
Among the participants were Ms Ngo Thi Minh, Deputy to the National Assembly and Vice Chairwoman of the Culture, Education, Youth and Children Committee of the National Assembly; Ms Tran Thi Thanh Thanh, Chairwoman of the Vietnam Association for Child Rights Protection; Mr Nguyen Van Huu, Chairman of the Administration for Child Care and Protection of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs; Mr Pham Sinh Huy, Country Director of Save Children Vietnam; and Ms Lotta Sylwander, Country Director of UNICEF.
As the chairman of the discussion, the Ambassador of Sweden, Mr Staffan Herrström stressed that one of his concerns as the Ambassador is to contribute to better implementation and protection of the rights of the child in Vietnam. He also shared his particular concerns over the rights of the girls. He said: “Our children, especially girls and the children from the ethnic minorities have the right to be seen, the right to participation. Child rights –based approach should always be put at the centre and in any decision making, children’s concerns must be addressed. This is also the purpose and the set up of the discussion. We invite three Vietnamese children and one Swedish boy to the meeting to first listen to their wishes. The discussion on the rights of the child will be based on the wishes of the children.”
The discussion tried to get the answers to the questions such as: What is the situation of children in Sweden and Vietnam? What are possible solutions and initiatives to help better implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? What are the common things between Swedish and Vietnamese teenagers? If you, the children have power, what do they wish to change?
The children both from Sweden and Vietnam shared the participants with both the positive and negative things from their own countries. Their wishes for change ranged from simple things such as having school uniform to serious ones including fight against sexual exploitation; safer environment for better education; warmer families in order to reducing the number of homeless children; and equal treatment among children by reducing the gap between the rich and the poor.
All the participants acknowledged Vietnam’s efforts in ensuring the rights of the child but they also emphasised major challenges ahead. They included the awareness and full understanding of the rights of the child among the families, parents, government officials and all other stakeholders. Vietnam is one of the countries which signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child at an early stage. Vietnam has also adopted many laws and regulations ensuring the protection of the rights of the child. However, better implementation of these legal documents is more important.
The Country Director of Save Children Vietnam, Mr Pham Sinh Huy shared the participants that Vietnam can achieve most of the MDGs by 2011 but a lot still need to be done to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor and to support children from the minority groups. He called for more efforts to protect some significant rights such as the right to survival, the right to development, the right to play, the right to education and the right to participation. Children from rural and remote areas, and the minorities need to be protected and to be heard.
Ms Lotta Sylwander from UNICEF added that in Vietnam’s rapid economic development still many children have been left behind. She stressed that some 60% of ethnic children in Vietnam live in poverty. Malnutrition; lack of clean water, hygiene and sanitation; child abuse, child exploitation, child labour and illegal migration are among the major challenges for Vietnam in the coming years.
International experience and solutions were shared at the discussion with focus on more efforts to make sure that children’s voices are heard. Behaviour-changed communication and education are needed to raise the public awareness. The involvement of the NGOs and individual family were emphasised as significant and important contributions to actions taken by the Government.
In his closing remarks, Mr Staffan Herrström said that child participation and listening to the voices of the children constitute the bottom-up approach to get messages upward in protecting the rights of the child. He pointed out: “Let’s join efforts in opening up for creativities and opportunities for our children. We need to contribute to developing a safer environment for our children. Gender equality is needed. Domestic violence is must be stopped because it is the children who are the victims of domestic violence. Among various development cooperation projects funded by the Embassy of Sweden is the project with CSAGA, an NGO of Vietnam in which Swedish experts share Sweden’s value and experience in involving men in preventing domestic violence.”