Vietnam study finds street kids abused sexually, using drugs, urges help

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Photo courtesy of The Thao & Van Hoa

A., a street child living in Ho Chi Minh City's parks, was approached by some men who got him food and clothes and appeared kind.

They took him to a restaurant and a café for the first time, and around the city ostensibly for him to have fun.

"They treated me nicely," the 17-year-old said.

And then they raped him, something he did not know happened to boys.

But it was by no means an unusual happening. A study released at a conference in Hanoi Tuesday said that virtually all street children in HCMC (92.5 percent) have been victims of sexual abuse.

The victims usually do not report it to the police due to embarrassment, the feeling of doing something bad, or because they were warned not to complain, according to the authors of the study, the Hanoi-based Research Center for Management and Sustainable Development (MSD) and public health NGO Fontana which has offices in Vietnam and Denmark.

Hoang Thu Trang of MSD said the abuses include hugs and kisses, touching of private parts, and being shown pornography.

The abuse left the victims scarred, even suicidal.

The study also found that 98.3 percent of street children in the city have used substances like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, heroin, meth, adhesive, or even gasoline at least once.

Usually the sexual abuse and drugs went hand in hand.

A 16-year-old street boy identified only as T.V.H., a sex worker -- the study includes underage sex work in abuse -- told the study team that one time he shared a syringe with his customer.

"If I refuse, they would not pay me."

The study found that many children do not even realize they are abused.

T.V.H. and D.Q.C., 15, believed that sexual abuse was only when they were forced, not merely because they were underage.

"I worked as a prostitute because only if I worked would I get paid. That is not sex abuse."

But the boundary was not clear even for C., who became a prostitute because he had been raped.

"I felt ashamed, and decided to just go with it," he said.

Many children offer sex to get money for drugs.

Adhesive is the most popular addictive substance among the children since they can afford it.

Some children inhale three tubes of adhesive a day, each costing less than a dollar.

They also inhale gasoline since it gives them a higher high than glue.

The study, which approached 120 street children, found that there are around 22,000 of them in the country, most coming from poor provinces and living in large cities.

They are poorly informed and easily get embroiled in dangerous jobs related to prostitution or drug trade.

MSD and Fontana called for better measures to inform street children about rehab centers for addicts, support centers for sex victims, and orphanages.

But they admitted that the children have not received enough help from social workers to believe in them.

One child told the authors of the study: "Those people didn't help. They just asked questions."

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