Families worsen child sex abuse by protecting perpetrators

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Drive to uphold the reputations of men and fathers takes precedence over protection of children from lustful relatives

The 13-year-old girl from Kien Giang Province, identified only as M., who has been taken away from her home and placed in a shelter in Ho Chi Minh City after being raped by her father. Child sex abuse, including incestuous, is increasingly being reported in Vietnam.  

Police in Bien Hoa Town in Dong Nai Province are pressing charges against Hoang Van Hung for the alleged sexual abuse of his 13-year-old stepdaughter.

According to investigators, Hung, 51, lives with his wife, 39, identified only as D., and her daughter in the town's Long Binh Ward.

He has committed "obscene acts" on the stepdaughter several times, with the latest incident occurring on February 9, the police said.

On that occasion, D. caught him in the act and called the police. Hung was arrested the same day.

With the number of child sex abuse cases reported to be increasing in the past few years, particularly by family members, experts are calling for improving awareness of the issue and an uncompromising attitude within families.

"The family should not conceal the case for any reason, not even if the culprit and victim are related," Phan Thanh Minh, a former official at the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, said.

In many instances a child had been abused several times even after the abuser was caught by other family members who did not report to police for fear of hurting family relationships and reputations, she said.

"Thus, some offenders began to abuse other children because of [this]."

A 13-year-old girl from the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang, identified only as M., was allegedly raped several times by her own father because her mother did not report it, she said.

Last year, after returning home from a party badly drunk, the father stripped his daughter and tried to rape her when his wife came home.

The mother agreed to keep it a secret after the man swore never to repeat it, she said.

M., who is now staying at a shelter in Ho Chi Minh City's District 7, said: "She told me not to tell others because it is shameful."

Her father left home for two weeks before returning and raping her, but she had been too afraid to tell her mother, she said.

One time, when they were at a relative's house, he even took her to a nearby cemetery to rape her, she said.

He then began to rape her often until a neighbor caught him red-handed and reported to the police. The father was arrested and M. was sent to the shelter.

According to a report in 2012 for the national program to tackle child sex abuse [and teenage crime], between 2006 and 2011, 8,426 children were abused, 59 percent sexually, and 9,655 were found guilty.

The number of child sex abuse cases recorded in 2005 was 200, a figure that increased to 833 in 2009 and 1,453 in 2011, the report said.

Le Thi Thu, director of the southern office of the Vietnam Association for Protection of Child Rights, said child sex abuse is prevalent nationwide and there should be urgent action to protect children.

"In recent years younger children have been victimized. Some victims are just three years old, and one was just 20 months old."

She said many families are often not vigilant enough.

"Meanwhile, ethical norms in society have degraded to alarming levels."

It used to be rare but more such cases have been reported recently, with the culprits being grandfathers, fathers, and brothers of the victims, she said.

A major problem is that it is a taboo topic not only for families but even experts.

At a recent conference held by the Hoa Hong Nho (Small Roses) Shelter in HCMC, some attendees bizarrely claimed that discussing and raising concern about the problem of men abusing their children would hurt the good image of the father in the society since the incidence is very small.

In response, the shelter's chairman, Nguyen Kim Thien, said: "Even if there is only one child being abused [by the father], it is a human being who is in sorrow and we should not let it go. Anyway, there are no studies of this and so we do not know if it is small."

Minh, the former official, said there should not be a generalization of the father's image.

"There are good examples of fathers besides those who abuse their own children. We cannot have a stereotype of a good father."

This could give families a wrong impression that the image of the father should be protected at any cost, she warned.

"There have been cases where the mother concealed an abusive father, and the man was only arrested after the child reported to the police."

Luong Thi Thuan, chairman of the HCMC Children Sponsor Association, said all child sex abuse cases should be investigated and brought to justice.

"I know some cases where ward/commune authorities shied away from seeking criminal investigation and handled them like a minor family issue."

According to the Vietnam Association for Protection of Child Rights, the awareness of protecting children from sexual abuse is even lower in the case of boys.

In a case reported on the association's website, a three-year-old boy in Quang Ninh Province's Mong Cai Town was allegedly raped by his neighbor Nguyen Dinh Viet, 44.

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This happened last September when the child was playing in Viet's house and the man took him to a toilet and raped him.

The child told his mother that he was in pain, and she complained to the police.

The report said there are innumerable cases of male children being sexually abused and the abusers getting away because their families failed to report to the police.

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