Child drowning deaths continue to blight Vietnam

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A government program to teach swimming in school has yet to take off due to a shortage of pools


  A schoolgirl trains with a buoyant school backpack in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang. The World Health Organization has urged countries in the region to take action to prevent child injuries, especially drowning. Photo: AFP

Dam Thi Thao's only child drowned to death last week. The tragedy occurred one year after her husband was washed away by a flash flood while fishing in a stream near their house in Nghe An Province.

On September 22 her daughter Ngan Thi Hoai Phuong, 13, went to a pond in Chau Cuong Commune in the province's Quy Hop District with a friend to catch tadpoles.

She fell into the water and her 10-year-old friend did not know swimming either. No one heard her cries for help because they were too far away from residential areas.

Phuong and her father were among thousands of people who die in Vietnam every year due to drowning.

The Department of Child Protection and Care said in Vietnam around 3,500 children drown every year, and the number has increased over the years.

It is the second leading cause of death in Vietnam after traffic accidents, it added.

The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs said the number of child drowning deaths in Vietnam is ten times higher than in other developing countries.

The largest number of cases occur in Hanoi, the north-central provinces of Nghe An and Thanh Hoa, and the Mekong Delta provinces of Tien Giang, Dong Thap, An Giang, and Long An.

The country has 3,260 kilometers of coast and innumerable rivers and canals. In this scenario, the government has failed to provide the means for schools to teach their students swimming, experts said.

Nguyen Trong An, the department deputy director, admitted that a high ratio of children cannot swim.

The Ministry of Education and Training launched a program to teach swimming at school last year.

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Every province was instructed to trial swimming lessons in primary schools, especially for students in third to fifth grades.

But few have begun the program, mostly due to the shortage of swimming pools.

Until it is implemented, the tragic drowning deaths of youngsters are unlikely to abate. In one such accident recently, eight students of An My Secondary School in Hanoi drowned in nearby Tuy Lai Lake.

Le Xuan Van of the local police division said one of them fell into the lake, and the seven others also drowned in a failed rescue attempt because they could not swim.

The World Health Organization said childhood injuries, especially drowning, are a major threat to child survival in the Western Pacific Region.

"Drowning is the leading cause of death of children aged between 5 and 14 in the region," the UN agency said, calling for effective measures like installation of physical barriers to water bodies.

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