Between 1,600-1,800 Vietnamese children fell victim to abuse this year, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
Up to 65 percent of the victims were sexually abused and 28 percent were repeatedly abused, according to a report released at a recent conference in Hanoi.
A survey conducted by the General Statistics Office found nearly three of every four Vietnamese children between the ages of two and 14 have suffered violence from their relatives or caretakers.
During the conference, experts called for better enforcement of the country's child protection laws.
Tran Thi Thanh Thanh, chairwoman of Vietnam Association for the Child Rights Protection, said that child sexual abuse and violence remain major problems despite the fact that relevant agencies have issued many laws and implemented a number of projects to address them.
“The cases of abuse continue to grow in number and include many brutal cases involving young children,” she said.
“The abuse doesn't just leave children with physical wounds, but also inflict serious psychological trauma that can last a lifetime. This is a big challenge for people working for the protection of child rights.”
Pham Thi Thoa of the Vietnam Women’s Association said the home, which is supposed to be the safest place for children, is actually the most likely place they will suffer sexual abuse and violence.
“Our survey found 85 percent of child sex abuse and violence is perpetrated by those familiar to the victims, such as their relatives.”
Thoa said many families have concealed the cases or accepting negotiations and compensation without appealing to judicial mechanisms--mostly due to shame and fear of social stigma.
“This has created favorable conditions for the situation to get worse because the culprits don't get their comeuppance,” she said.
A call for children's courts
Tran Thi Bich Hoa of the Vietnam Jurists’ Association said that a lack of punitive measures and transparency in relevant regulations accounts for Vietnam's persistent child abuse problems.
“For example, governmental management agencies (like the people’s committee) can only request a police investigation, but aren't authorized to limit a suspect's parental rights by remanding potential victims into the care of shelters or relatives.”
Hoa said the 2004 Law on Child Protection, Care and Education has grown increasingly outdated and should be amended to better protect children.
“Besides, there should be courts at central and provincial levels that can try crimes against children,” she said.
Le Thi Xuan Lang, a Ho Chi Minh City-based child rights expert, concurred.
“Judicial officials have not been trained to work with children during legal proceedings. Many cases of child rape have been delayed because it would force officials to use ‘adult language' with the children,” she said.
“Some courts have called on child victims to repeatedly testify about their abuse, causing further psychological trauma.”
Truong Thi Mai, chairwoman of the parliamentary Social Affairs Committee, said that the agencies charged with protecting child victims are very poorly coordinated.
“We hear new stories of child abuse reported in the local media every week, every month. But it is unclear which agency is responsible in each case,” she said.
“The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs and the Social Affairs Committee will have to thoroughly study three child protection bills before submitting them to the National Assembly [Vietnam's legislature] for approval.”