Street Children Workshop (Nov.2004)

Street Children in Vietnam
Interactions of Old and New Causes under Economic Growth

Ms Duong Kim Hong (VDF)


The problem of street children is one of the most pressing social problems in Vietnam in general and in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in particular. Recently the sight of children selling chewing gum in restaurants or shining shoes in street corners has become familiar. People sometimes call them roaming kids or gdust of life.h However, the dynamic mechanism that prompts these children to drop out of school and go selling in the street is not analyzed deeply or comprehensively. Some causes such as dire poverty and parentsf divorce may be common to all developing countries, but other causes may be unique to Hanoi and HCMC, the two cities undergoing an enormous social and economic transformation.

Children end up on the street for a variety of reasons. For some, the street is an escape from broken families or domestic violence. For others, street life is a means of supplementing family income, passing time and even having fun. In addition, the breakdown of traditional family values and community structure leaves a large number of of children without the care and support they need for sound growth and development.

Children who work or live on streets do not have the full knowledge of their rights and are often unaware of various risks in unguided urban life. Many of them are under the stress of day-to-day living. Some use alcohol or illegal drugs to relieve the stress and to forget the painful experiences. Others are trained to become professional beggars. Still others commit crimes individually or join anti-social gangs. Disabled children may be sold to strangers who force them to beg on streets. Girls seem to be in particular danger as the target of sexual assault and exploitation.

Thanks to gdoi moih policy, the peoplefs living standard has improved dramatically since the late 1980s. The national statistics show that GDP per capita rose from VND 3,179,000 in 1995 to VND 6,724,000 in 2002 . With these acheivements, Vietnam is one of the best performers among the low income countries. Despite this, fast growth and global integration have also intensified certain traditional problems as well as create new ones. As the average income rose, some social problems got much worse and more visible, and the problem of street children is one of them .

Vibrant cities like Hanoi and HCMC generate new opportunities and demands for jobs like house cleaning, shoe shining, and selling petty goods to residents and foreign tourists which urban people are unwilling to perform. However, the expectation of cash income encourages rural labor to migrate to the city and supply such services. Working on the street may be more dangerous and tiresome than tilling paddy fields in the countryside, but it is more profitable. Rural people come to cities even though they have to live separately from their families. In addition, the excitement of urban life attracts young people like a magnet. These are the gpullingh forces of rural-urban migration.

With the rapid growth of the national economy, rural life in Vietnam has also changed substantially, sometimes for the better but other times for the worse. The living condition in villages has generally improved thanks to better roads, schools, electrification, medical service, and so on. However, new troubles also arise. The way of thinking and the education level of many villagers cannot catch up with the speed of economic growth. Traditional values are weakened while new values to support rural life are slow to emerge. Each farmer has increasingly less land to cultivate due to population pressure and transfer to other uses, which accelerates labor surplus in rural areas. These are the gpushingh forces of rural-urban migration for both adults and children.

This is a very complicated problem which needs researching more analytically. Based on the existing works and studies, the author of this paper would like to analyze the problem of street children with a special attention on the dynamic implications of industrialization and global integration of Vietnam.

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