Poverty penalty

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Le Thi Chau, the current wife of Nguyen Van Dinh, who has been detained for failing to support the child from his  previous marriage. Neighbors say Dinh is  poor and punishing him will not solve anything.

The current wife of Nguyen Van Dinh has been lodging pleas to authorities of Tien Giang Province asking for his release, saying that her family is too poor to lose the breadwinner for their family with two children.

Le Thi Chau said she has not been permitted to even see Dinh for the past three months.

Chau said her unstable income at construction sites is not enough to feed the children.

Dinh and Chau work as assistants at construction sites, earning around VND300,000 (US$14) a month, but he is the breadwinner.

Without him for the past three months, she has been making money by picking fruits from people's gardens. She has to bring the younger child along while the older one attends school.

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A Tuoi Tre report on Tuesday said police have transferred the case of Dinh to prosecutors and proposed that he be charged for not complying with the verdict from his divorce. If Dinh is found guilty of the charges, the result would be three years probation or between six months and three years in jail.

Locals in Binh Phan Commune, Cho Gao District said they were surprised when the 39-year-old was handcuffed and taken into custody in late October of last year.

Bui Ngoc Le, a neighbor, said Dinh's being in jail does not help his child from the previous marriage, and "makes it even worse for his current family."

In 2001, Dinh sought a divorce at Tien Giang People's Court. His wife was granted custody of their child, 6 years old at the time, and Dinh was ordered to pay his former wife VND3 million, half the value of their house, and provide monthly financial support equal to 15 kilograms of rice until the child reaches the age of 18.

Police in Cho Gao said Dinh avoided local officials several times when they came to his house in an attempt to force him to abide by the verdict.

In 2009, the police came to confiscate Dinh's assets, which they listed as an old Chinese motorbike worth VND4 million ($192), and a cow and her calf valued at approximately VND10 million.

But neighbors tell a different story.

They said the cow and the calf belong to his new mother-in-law and that Dinh was merely taking care of them.

And the motorbike listed was actually purchased after the divorce with money from Dinh and Chau's combined savings, they said.

Nguyen Ngoc Quy, the hamlet head, said Dinh was not avoiding the officials, who just happened to come to his house when he was at work.

"He's a hired worker at a construction site. If he stays home one day, people would not hire him anymore," Quy said.

Chau told Tuoi Tre that she married Dinh in 2003, accepting that all he had was a house that had nothing but a bed, a table, some chairs and a wardrobe.

In 2008 when she was having their second child, she decided to borrow VND3 million to help fulfill part of the divorce verdict's requirement.

But the court refused, demanding the full amount.

Hua Van Bac, deputy head of Cho Gao Verdict Enforcement Department, explained that Dinh's previous wife refused to receive the partial payment, creating a situation his department did not know how to manage.

The department's estimations showed that the total support Dinh is currently required to pay is more than VND23 million ($1,100).

Dinh's neighbors said he would never afford fulfilling his obligation. "Dinh is very poor," said Nguyen Van Luong.

"There're many divorced parents in the area who also failed to support their children but there's no punishment," he added.

Nguyen Van Hau, vice chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association, told Tuoi Tre that Dinh should not be criminally charged for opposing the verdict because he is doing no such thing.

Hau said "Dinh's new wife was really proactive in enforcing the verdict by trying to pay VND3 million but the authorities have refused with an unconvincing reason that the previous wife did not take it."

The lawyer also said that punishing Dinh does not help anyone involved.

"The purpose of a penalty is to improve the guilty persons and make them do good things for their family and the society.

"Punishing Dinh will be the opposite of that as it will only place a heavier burden on his family, and his previous child will only receive less support."

Quy, the hamlet head, said Dinh's family had been under the official poverty line for three to four years, including the time his so-called assets were distrained.

In 2009, Dinh's new family was pronounced out of poverty as they managed to earn more than VND300,000 a month.

Quy said he is considering categorizing the family back below the poverty line now that Dinh is detained and Chau's job is unstable.

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