Children at a kindergarten in Binh Duong Province. They usually have to stay until midnight to wait for their worker parents.to pick them up Photo by Bao Thien
"Ms. Thuy's Kindergarten," as it is known around the neighborhood, was crowded with children before the first light of day.
Some cried, some were still asleep and few expressed any excitement for a new school day.
Hang, a baby girl of one and a half years old, came first.
She was sleeping on the baby chair in the front of the motorbike when her mother stopped and picked her up, which startled her and caused her to drop the sticky rice she was holding.
She cried like she did every day she arrived at the nursery, although she has been in the routine for a year now.
Her mother bent to pick up the sticky rice, handing the child to Thuy. She only had time to scold the baby for making her late, and not for a goodbye.
Thuy was trying to calm Hang down when five other babies arrived and she had to leave Hang for a girl of seven months old who was still sleeping. That made Hang cry again, inspiring other babies to do the same.
It’s a common story for many children of migrant workers in the industrial province Binh Duong, which neighbors Ho Chi Minh City. Some have to be at school at around 5 in the morning and others stay until midnight due to their parents’ strict schedule.
Thuy said companies in the area have tightened their punctuation policies recently, and now fine workers VND200,000-300,000 for every one minute late.
“That’s why most parents leave immediately after dropping off their children, and only call to check on them during lunch break,” she said.
Thuy is in charge of 12 workers' babies at Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Zone. Most of them have been sent there since six months old. Vietnam’s maternity leave was raised to six months from four months last May.
Hers is a home nursery and an unregistered private one, as the ones getting government permits cannot afford to open for such a wide timeframe and few public nurseries receive babies below one and a half years old.
It is cleaner and larger than others of its kind in the area, and thus charges top prices of VND900,000-1.2 million (US$42.68-56.91) a month.
Babies below one year old will be charged more as she has to cook their breakfast and lunch, and dinner as well if their parents have to cover extra shifts.
Extra hours are charged VND8,000 each, and she usually only closes at 11 p.m.
Most companies at the industrial zone divide their staffs into two shifts, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. But on Friday and Saturday, the shifts are extended to 6 a.m.- 6 p.m., and 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next day.
And anytime their parents go to work, the children have to be at school.
Nguyen Thi Linh, a worker at Fashion Line Company at the park, said the company used to pay VND4,000 for each extra hour, and no one was interested in working extra then.
But it has changed policy to pay on extra products, and she sometimes could earn VND50,000 an extra hour, so she had to accept to leave her child to make more money.
She started sending her 2-year-old baby to Thuy’s since the baby was six months old.
There are many nurseries like Thuy’s in the area.
At a nursery run by Ms. Nam in the province, some children could be seen standing at the door in tears near midnight, waiting for their parents, who work the second shift.
Among them are Minh, 3, and his 2-year-old sister Na.
Their parents moved to the province in February to escape poverty in their hometown in the central mountainous province of Nghe An.
When they don’t have extra shifts, the father runs a xe om (taxi motorbike) service while the mother washes dishes at restaurants. So the children have to wait almost every day.
Nam said her opening hours are supposed to last until 11 p.m. but Minh and Na are usually picked up early the next day.
She charges VND500,000 a month, no matter how many extra hours, and only receives a maximum of six children due to space limitations, although many worker parents want to leave their children there.
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