Drowning in vain

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Boys jump into the water while cooling off on a hot day in Thay Village outside Hanoi. Approximately 3,500 children drown in Vietnam each year, according to the Children Protection and Care Department, a division of the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs.

When Le Van Cuong and Vo Thi Phi Phung returned Tuesday afternoon from working their fields, their daughters (aged six and nine) were not there to greet them at the door.

After searching the house, the couple from Dak Mil District in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong noticed their daughters' sandals and hats floating on the surface of a fish pond in the front yard.

The bodies of the Le Thi Kim Nhi and Le Thi Uyen Chi were later recovered from the pond. Neighbors reported having seen the girls flying a kite in the front yard an hour earlier. It is presumed that the girls accidentally fell into the pond, and drowned. It was the fifth incident of children drowning in Dak Nong since March, local authorities said, adding that 12 children have lost their lives.

One day earlier, police in the south central province of Phu Yen reported that a seven-year-old girl drowned in a swimming pool belonging to Thuan Thao Eco-Tourism Area in Tuy Hoa Town. Dinh Tran Bao Ngan, a first grader, had been given a ticket to swim at the resort as a reward for getting good grades in school.

More than 200 children have drowned in Vietnam so far this year, Nguyen Trong An, deputy director of the Children Protection and Care Department under the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, told the press Tuesday (May 22).

Approximately 3,500 children drown in Vietnam each year, An said.

A majority of these children are less than six years old, an age group considered too young for swimming lessons, An said when asked why the department had yet to launch a national campaign to teach children to swim.

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More than 200 children drown in Vietnam

According to a report issued Wednesday by the United Nations Children's Fund, although drowning is a leading killer of children in many parts of Asia, highly effective and cost-efficient programs proven to reduce these casualties have not been sufficiently embraced.

The report surveyed four countries Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand and two provinces in China (Beijing and Jiangxi).

The research, conducted by The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) in collaboration with UNICEF's Office of Research, found that in these countries drowning was responsible for 25 percent of deaths among children between one and four years old - more than the number who die from measles, polio, whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria and tuberculosis combined.

In Vietnam, most of the tragedies take place in rural areas.

In many cases, children drown due to parental neglect and unsafe living environments. In other cases, children who can swim die trying to save those who cannot because they lack rescue swimming training.

The media has repeatedly issued warnings about drowning but these messages do not reach the demographic most severely at risk - the rural poor - people without access to radio, television or newspapers.

Teaching children to swim as part of a standard school curriculum sounds like a good solution, but would at present be impossible to implement effectively, as many schools are unwilling to build swimming pools, Tuoi Tre said.

In 2009, the Labor Ministry launched a project aimed at minimizing child drowning in 15 cities and provinces, but so far seven of the localities have not seen a reduction in the number of child drowning deaths, the paper added.

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