Pain of the nation

TN News

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Endemic poverty hurts children the most and undermines the country's future.

Nguyen Hung Vi is recovering from a heart surgery done early this month, and is lucky to be alive.

But it is not the worsening of a congenital heart condition two years ago that almost killed him.

It was poverty.

Living in a remote area in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai, poverty and the lack of healthcare pushed 17-year-old Vi to the edge of death. All his family could afford was VND200,000 for a bus ticket to Ho Chi Minh City.

Arriving penniless in the city, Vi, with his heart condition, and his mother walked almost 10 kilometers from the Mien Dong Bus Station to the University Medical Center to seek treatment, said Dr. Nguyen Hoang Dinh, head of the cardiovascular surgery department.

Vi eventually received the free surgery thanks to Operation Healthy Hearts, a charity program initiated by the US-based East Meets West Foundation. He was discharged two weeks ago, Dr. Dinh said.

Sixteen-year-old Luong Van Tinh was fortunate as well, but it took four years of eking out a living on HCMC streets before he was saved after he was sold by his father.

"We were so poor that my father was forced to sell me to a couple for VND5 million in 2000. The couple promised that they would find me a good job in HCMC," Tinh, who belongs to the Tay ethnic minority, told Thanh Nien Weekly.

"But I ended up making money by begging on streets or selling lottery tickets."

For Tinh, abuse and maltreatment from the couple was routine and continued until "I managed to escape and was admitted to Maison Chance in 2004." Maison Chance Charity House was founded in 1993 by Swiss woman Aline Rebeaud.

"I have no idea where my father or my mother are living now. I have no idea where my hometown is."

The only thing Tinh remembers is that his house was located in an area "very far" from the northern Thanh Hoa Province and it would take three to four days to go there.

"My parents divorced and I had to live with my father and his second wife. Every day I ate fruits to save enough rice for my little brother," Tinh said.

"Now I just want to bring my brother to HCMC where I can take care of him."

Poverty is perpetuated from generation to generation in Vietnam and it is children who are now increasingly bearing the brunt of their household's financial hardships.

Children are forced to drop out of school to help the family make ends meet, either by working the farm or hiring out their labor.

Child poverty in Vietnam today is almost certainly more prevalent and severe than is commonly believed, the United Nations (UN) said in a statement in the lead-up to the International Day for Eradication of Poverty falling on October 17.

The theme of this year's observance is "Children and Families Speak out Against Poverty."

Existing methods and techniques used to measure child poverty in Vietnam, focus on children living in households defined as poor according to the national monetary poverty line. These are inadequate and have important limitations, the statement said.

They do not take into account children's multiple and distinctive basic human needs, which are different from those of adults, it added.

"Child poverty is about more than money. Child poverty is not just the children who live in poor households. It is also the children who are deprived of health, education, shelter, nutrition, sanitation, recreation, protection and social inclusion," Bruce Campbell, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Vietnam, told Thanh Nien Weekly.

"It means looking at all the dimensions of children's lives and not only at how much money their parents earn."

The UN cited two Vietnamese national survey data from 2006 which show that about one third of all children below 16 years-old, roughly seven million children in Vietnam, can be identified as poor.

"If we deprive children today of education and health care, we compromise their ability to live up to their potential and fully contribute to their country's development," Campbell said.

Wrong attitude

Aline Rebeaud from Maison Chance said she was worried about the way poor people educate their children nowadays, saying it could push them deeper into the vicious cycle of poverty.

"The bulging rich-poor gap has been aggravated the complex of poor people, pushing them into their own world with worsened mental health," Rebeaud said.

"From what I've learned from my charity, more and more people have tended to take advantage of their poverty to look for donations and neglect their parental responsibilities."

Rebeaud said she had once offered to help a disabled beggar in the backpacker area in HCMC with a wheelchair so that he could find a new job.

But she was refused.

"That beggar kept avoiding me the next few times. He was afraid that my offer would affect his 'business'."

Many other parents, upon learning Maison Chance offers support for disadvantaged children, had phoned Rebeaud to ask for her help.

"They even don't care that the center is just admitting orphaned children or those who have no idea about their parents. They call just to alleviate a burden.

"If the adults keep thinking that poverty is a cause to ask for alms from others, not a motivation to struggle to conquer their hardships, what would the future of their kids be?

"Who would educate them about the real value of life and about the dignity of a human being - that you always have to strive to fend for yourselves?"

URBAN CHALLENGES

UN Resident Coordinator in Vietnam Bruce Campbell said without effective urban management, urbanization can contribute to problems such as urban poverty, inadequate provision of infrastructure, urban sprawl, environmental pollution and degradation.

"City governments tend to impose policies and rules to restrict informal activities with the main purpose to improve urban law and order," he said.

Hanoi enforced a partial ban on street vendors in July last year and HCMC prohibited the operation of modified three-wheeled vehicles, destroying the livelihoods of many poor people in January this year.

"However, it needs to recognize that the informal sector contributes remarkably to a city's employment and economy. Informal businesses are not only the main supply system for a city's poor but also important supply system for everyone else in the city," Campbell said.

Reported by An Dien

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