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Sociologists say the increasing crime rate among Vietnamese youths reflects the glut of sex- and violence-based entertainment

Pirated children's discs with ads for porn can be bought for less than a dollar from street vendors in Ho Chi Minh City. Experts have blamed overexposure to "˜culturally toxic products' for the increase in crimes being committed by teenagers.

A court in the central city of Da Nang has sentenced ninth-grader Tran Duc, 15, to three years in jail for raping a ten-year-old girl on several occasions in 2012.

Duc told the court that he had talked the girl into having sex with him after watching pornographic movies online. When the crimes took place, Duc was over 14 the legal threshold for criminal liability for "very serious" and "extremely serious" crimes.

Experts have warned about the ease with which the nation's youth are exposed to "culturally toxic products" and have blamed such content for the increasing occurrence of crimes being committed by teenagers.

According to the parliamentarian National Defense and Security Committee, violations of the Penal Code committed by those under 18 have accounted for 15-18 percent of the country's total criminal activity in recent years.

The Penal Code stipulates that children from 14-16 can be held criminally liable for serious crimes, while those 16-18 are liable for all crimes. All convicted criminals under 18 receive more lenient penalties than their adult counterparts.

At an April 16 conference on teenage crimes in Ho Chi Minh City, the city's Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs reported that 1,223 underage crimes were recorded in 2012, up 11 percent from the year before. Underage crimes accounted more than a fourth of all crimes investigated nationwide.

Dang Hoa Nam, deputy director of the Department of Child Care and Protection under the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, said measures aimed at preventing children from committing crimes and those which support child criminals' reintegration into society have faltered.

"The rate of relapse was more than 34.8 percent," he said.

Internet poison

Sociologists have blamed the rampant presence of sex and violence on the Internet for the increasing number of crimes in which children are culprits, victims or both.

According to the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, 12 percent of the most commonly visited websites in Vietnam contained pornography.

The state-run Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Corporation has listed more than 5 million websites as having content that is deemed "unsuitable" for children.

By 2012, Vietnam had 30 million Internet users, three times more than in 2005.

Nam of the Department of Child Care and Protection said such online content is one of the major factors contributing to the increase of sexually abused children in Vietnam.

"A child can assess a world of information with a smart phone. Thus, risks of harmful impacts are greater than the benefits [these devices bring]," he told Vietweek.

"Internet cafés have become more harmful than beneficial. Many children have become addicted to [detrimental] online games," he said.

In a recent investigation, Sai Gon Giai Phong (Liberated Saigon) newspaper found that sexually explicit comic books were widely available in local bookstores and could also be purchased easily from street vendors.

The paper found many secondary students go to a bookstore in Thu Duc District to buy books with "adult" content.

A bookseller on Cach Mang Thang Tam Street said she sold comics with pornographic and violent content due to students' demand for such material. "It is difficult to sell normal comics," she added.

An investigation by Vietweek found advertisements for pornographic websites and phone sex lines on the covers of all pirated discs, which tend to cost less than a dollar.

Nguyen Trong An, another deputy director of the Department of Child Care and Protection, said discs with explicit content that target children must be pirated because no relevant agencies would have approved their distribution.

"The agencies assigned to screen and inspect cultural products are responsible for getting this situation under control," he told Vietweek.

An said his agency had proposed that the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism issue stricter punishments for such violations.

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Giau, a psychologist with the HCMC-based Hon Viet Applied Psychology Center, said parents should closely monitor their children to make sure they do not become obsessed with sex and violence.

"They should create opportunities for the children to share their feelings as well as help direct them toward healthier activities."

Nam, the child rights official with the social affairs ministry, said parents should control their children's access to the violence and porn available online and elsewhere.

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"There should be more products with healthy content that are attractive enough so children can eliminate their habit of visiting sites featuring porn and violence," he said, adding that many countries like the UK have used the Internet to protect children and track criminal activity.

"Vietnam should urgently take similar actions to cope with the rapid growth of the Internet. The Ministry of Health should have psychological counseling programs for children who have been affected by pornography and violence."

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