About two weeks before the new school year started, at least 17 children drowned in rivers, lakes and construction pits across the country. The latest incident was reported in Hanoi, where six children, all 12, drowned when their boat capsized in the Red River on September 2.
Although two big rivers, the Red and Mekong rivers, flow through the country which also has a coastline of 3,444 kilometers - drowning is still one of the top causes of death for children here.
According to an international conference on drowning prevention that was organized by the International Life Saving Federation in Hanoi last may, 6,000 children drown in Vietnam every year, making the country one Asia's top three drowning "hotspots," along with Cambodia and Bangladesh.
As much as the figures and news reports are scary and concerning, the problem isn't new. It arose many years ago and has already prompted actions from local agencies.
However, the problem is still getting worse. For example, according to the Department of Children Protection and
Care under the Ministry of Labors, War Invalids and Social Affairs, 329 children drowned in 2008, a 5.8 percent increase over 2007.
While parents have to take blame for neglecting their children, leading to accidents, we have been talking about teaching our children to swim at younger ages for years.
This plan makes sense: when you can't provide your children proper protection, teach them how to protect themselves. But, what have local agencies done so far to accomplish this?
Last year, the Ministry of Education and Training ordered education departments across the country to launch anti-drowning programs and pilot swimming training programs at local elementary schools through 2015.
But, so far just a few departments have taken action in response to the ministry's order. It's understandable, considering many schools in Vietnam are still struggling to provide children with proper classrooms due to overcrowding and lack of funds. So, it's almost impossible to ask them to build a swimming pool or set aside part of their budget for swimming courses.
While the ministry stated clearly in its order that fourth graders should be the initial pilot program's main targets, it failed to issue regulations along with strong measures to enforce the order. Indeed, the ministry's order just said that those departments which failed to do so would be given low marks in annual achievement reviews.
Other agencies have tried to deal with the problem, but once again, all our actions thus far have been either ineffective "awareness-raising" campaigns, or small-scale projects that don't last long.
In short, the fact that drowning remains a deadly blight on our society and our children, it is not only because of lack of money. More importantly, the problem is the lack of determination on the part of our leaders and the lack of real initiatives from concerned agencies.
Without strong action and financial support from governing agencies, children in Vietnam will never be safe.