The Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training closed an illegal school for autistic children on Monday just hours after Thanh Nien published an exposé on the staff's horrific use of torture and corporal punishment.
A Thanh Nien reporter who spent two weeks working undercover at the Anh Vuong Special Primary School captured footage of torture and abuse being perpetrated by adult staff against developmentally disabled students.
The families of the school's roughly 30 autistic students (aged 7 and up) each paid around US $370 per month for tuition and board. Students who lived with their families in Ho Chi Minh City paid nearly $200 per month to attend classes.
Images captured with a hidden camera showed that the disabled children were routinely beaten and tortured whenever they displeased school staff.
Tran Minh Sang, 8, arrived at the school in early July and, after a few days, continued to cry out “I miss daddy.”
After school staff refused to allow him to call his father, the boy attempted to run away on July 7. A Thanh Nien reporter observed Sang bolting from his classroom on the second floor of the building and heading toward the school gate.
Nga, a nursemaid, and Lam, a teacher, caught the boy before he could escape. After failing to flee, the autistic boy sat down and began banging his head against a metal classroom door. Instead of stopping the boy from hitting his head, Lam grabbed him by the hair and repeatedly rammed his head into the door before leaving him lying on the ground.
After Sang stood up, he wandered back to the school gate, where another teacher named Van rushed toward him and began striking him in the face.
“Go to the toilet to enjoy our protocol,” Van said as she simultaneously beat and dragged the boy toward the staircase.
Van stopped dragging the boy when she reached a play room on the second floor where she picked up an unfurled coat hanger and began flogging him while he shrieked in pain.
Sang was not the only pupil to be beaten by Van in this fashion. She was filmed while using her improvised “education tool” on other students.
Tran An Tuong, another autistic pupil, forgot where he put his shirt just before dinner, so he quickly decided to take one that belonged to another student.
When Van observed him doing so, she picked up her wire rod and began chasing him around the room, striking him on the head and back.
Tuong managed to hide in a pile of clothing and missed his dinner that night. He wasn't the only student to go to bed hungry and wounded, video clips taken by Thanh Nien reporter show.
However, those who did make it to the cafeteria can hardly be considered lucky.
Several who refused to eat were beaten by Van (known as the “iron woman”) before being force-fed by her and another teacher.
One day, Ky Nam (whose grandparents sent him to the school) was caught eating his lunch too slowly. So Lam pulled him out of his seat by the collar and dragged him to a fish tank outside.
“Go eat fish. Go eat fish,” she said as she dealt heavy slaps to his face.
Drinking while eating was also forbidden at the school.
A student named Phuong Nam who ran to get some water before finishing his meal, suffered a beating that continued even after he returned to his seat at the dining table.
Anh Vuong's smaller students got extra “help” cleaning their plates.
Footage covertly recorded by a Thanh Nien reporter showed that school staff pinned down the head, hands and legs of Danh Phuong, the youngest student at the school, while they shoved rice noodles into the his mouth. The little boy choked repeatedly as he tried to avoid the spoonfuls, but the more he struggled, the more food they forced into his mouth.
Another girl, being force-fed in the same way, was so traumatized by the experience that she peed in her pants.
That aid, the boys who made up the majority of the students suffered the most horrific tortures. Truc and Nga, two officials at the school, were filmed holding a boy down and roughly pinching his penis as he shrieked in pain.
Hours after Thanh Nien published its shocking findings, a delegation of city inspectors and Tan Binh District education officials arrived at the campus, which is housed in a two-storey house on Cong Lo street in ward 15.
There inspectors discovered that the owner of the school lacked a license to operate such a facility. Chu Van Viet, the owner of the Anh Vuong company, only managed to produce papers allowing him to provide health care services to the elderly and disabled.
Viet told the inspectors that his method of running the school was not wrong and admitted only that “I forgot to remove the signboard” which read “Special Primary Anh Vuong School”.
According to authorities, the district education department initially approved Viet's establishment of the school, but revoked their decision in 2013 after finding that it lacked a principal and that Viet had no license as an educator.
At that time, the authorities say, they asked Viet to shut down the “school” and take down his sign.
It is not known why or how the illegal school continued to publicly operate, particularly given its close proximity to the Ward 15 People’s Comitee building.
It appeared that the local authorities deliberately ignored the crimes being perpetrated at the un-licensed school.
“The local authorities’ role in this case is serious,” said Tran Thi Kim Thanh, deputy head of the city’s department of education and training told Thanh Nien. “They failed to discover such a primary school operating under the guise of a health spa for the old and the disabled.”
Deputy District Chairman Le Son said he was “upset” by images of the students being tortured and added that he would conduct a thorough investigation to ensure just punishment for any individuals who were aware of the crimes and failed to address them.
Vo Van Luan, the chief of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Secretariat and spokesman of the office told Thanh Nien that city authorities won't cast the case aside.
“Our purpose is to strictly punish individuals and offices related in the case. The city will now inspect every last school for the disabled, including schools for autistic children.”
The grandmother of Ky Nam drove in from the neighboring province of Long An to take her grandson home immediately after reading the story on Monday morning.
“Reading [the story in] Thanh Nien early this morning broke my heart. Saving every penny to send him [to Anh Vuong], we never would have dreamed that he would be badly beaten,” said the grandmother who has cared for the boy since his parents divorced when he was two. “He can only speak a little bit, maybe that’s why he couldn't tell us about the torture.”
Sang’s mother called Thanh Nien from Danang, saying that her husband had to take a job in the southern province of Dong Nai while she worked full-time in the central city to afford the tuition.
“The images of my son being tortured left me panic-stricken,” said the mother of the 11-year old boy, adding that she and her husband had looked at a number of places before choosing to send their him to Anh Vuong.
According to lawyer Nguyen Minh Thuan of the Sai Gon Law Company, clips and images recorded by Thanh Nien could serve as evidence in a case that charged the school's staff with torture and child abuse, both of which are criminal violations.