Crazy and dangerous

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Vietnam should act now to minimize threat posed by increasing numbers of mentally ill people prone to committing crimes, experts say


  Parents wait to take their children home from Kindergarten 10A in Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Binh District. Cao Quoc Huy, 28, (inset photo) held two children from this kindergarten hostage for nearly two hours on October 11. He has an alleged history of mental illness, having killed a schoolmate 10 years ago, following which he was admitted to a mental health institution and released two years later.

On October 11, a 28-year-old man with an alleged history of mental illness and murder held two children hostage for hours after failing to get money from a kindergarten school principal in Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Binh District.

The children, both three years old, were rescued by the police eventually, but the incident has raised concerns about the management of people with mental disorders who cannot be held responsible for their behavior.

Experts are warning that increasing numbers of mentally imbalanced people capable of causing great harm are left unmonitored in Vietnam.

On October 14,Tan Binh District police said they would press charges of "illegal detention" and "threatening to murder" against Cao Quoc Huy.

Colonel Le Quoc Thuc told Vietweek that his division has requested the Criminal Science Institute under the Ministry of Public Security to assess whether Huy is mentally sound.

The incident happened at around 8:30 a.m. on October 12. Huy sneaked into the kindergarten when the guard was assisting the school kitchen staff to move bowls to the classrooms.

He demanded money from kindergarten principal Tran Thi Kim Thuy and when he was refused, pointed a knife at her throat.

Teacher Nguyen Thi Vinh was taking children out of her classroom for morning exercises when she saw what was happening and cried out for help. She quickly took the children to the back of the school, but Huy freed Thuy to chase after them and managed to get hold of two boys.

When police arrived at the scene, Huy demanded a car, VND3.5 million, an air ticket and a gun.

However, five police officers managed to apprehend Huy when colonel Thuc was pretending to instruct him on how to check if the gun has any bullet. He had let go off the children he had been threatening with a knife to free his hands.

Huy was taken to the police station while the two children, who suffered minor injuries, were taken to the hospital for treatment.

At the police station, Huy said he needed the money. However, investigators said he showed signs of having mental problems.

Huy's mother Tran Thi Tu said Huy had stabbed a classmate to death in 2002 due to some money dispute, but charges were dropped after investigators found he suffered from a mental illness.

He was admitted to the Bien Hoa Mental Hospital and was released in 2004, she said.

Increasing danger

According to Mai Khac Phuc, a lecturer in criminology at the HCMC University of Law, a person without cognitive abilities cannot face criminal charges even if he/she commits a crime.

"But mentally ill people can still face criminal charges if they were found with limited cognitive ability," he added.

No matter how Huy's case is dealt with, experts say an increasing number of people with mental illnesses are committing and are likely to commit crimes, given lax management of the issue till date.

According to the most recent data released by a Health Ministry survey in 2010, there are 94,000 people with mental illnesses who can engage in disruptive acts that endanger others and another 40,000 living with their family considered not dangerous to others.

The survey found up to 60,000 people with mental illnesses are leading a vagabond like existence, although many of them have families.

According to a report released last year by Luong Bich Thuy, a lecturer at the Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities, around 6,000 mentally ill patients are being treated at 17 asylums nationwide.

However, the asylums have been unable to meet the high demand for their services and many patients fail to receive proper treatment. The number of people with serious mental illnesses is increasing and many of them do not receive any treatment for a long time because they come from poor families, the report said.

The Da Nang Mental Hospital recently reported that it had admitted three patients who had killed other people and many others who had injured other people since the beginning of this year.

The hospital's deputy director, Tran Van Mau, said that among these patients was Tran Hung Vu of Hoa Vang District who stabbed his father to death. Vu had killed his mother three years ago and was treated at the hospital before being discharged, he said.

Lawyer Nguyen The Truyen, chair of the Hanoi-based Blue Sky Law Firm, said the number of mentally ill patients has risen alongside the nation's economic development, suggesting there were flaws in the process.

"The number of crimes committed by these people has increased to alarming levels and threatens the safety and security of society," he told Vietweek.

Truyen said that as of now, compulsory treatment was only given to people with schizophrenia and not those with other mental illnesses who may also commit crimes. The center/hospital was responsible for the behavior of those undergoing mandatory treatment until relevant agencies took the decision to discharge them based on medical advice.

He said there was a dire need for improving awareness among the relatives of people who have been diagnosed with mental illness so that more timely interventions are possible. Increased awareness is also necessary to help people fight social stigma, he said.

A recent report by Khoa Hoc va Doi Song (Science and Life) newspaper said the Central Mental Hospital 1 has proposed that the Health Ministry issue procedures for treating people with mental illnesses, including compulsory treatment for those judged by experts to have the potential to cause harm to others.

"If the proposal is approved, local authorities will have a legal basis to take them to treatment centers and thus the risk of their harmful behavior can be reduced," the report said.

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