Church frets as Vietnam's child workers risk life and limb

Catholic groups building homes for poor families, helping to plug hole in welfare system
Church frets as Vietnam's child workers risk life and limb

Vietnamese children from poor families enjoy some activities on the beach organized by nuns in Phu Vang district of Thua Thien–Hue province on June 3. (ucanews.com photo)

ucanews.com reporter, Hue City
Vietnam
July 5, 2018
Thirteen-year-old Catherine has found it hard to eat since a motorbike hit her while she was serving coffee to customers at her part-time job in Hue City in Vietnam's central Thua Thien-Hue province in May.

She lost four teeth and spent a month in hospital recovering from her injuries before she was able to return home to her 36-square-meter rented shanty house, which she shares with her parents and sibling in Phu Vang district.

"It make me sad to think about it," said the shabbily dressed sixth-grader, whose Vietnamese name is Huynh Thi Anh Quyen.

Her initial medical bills amounted to 7 million dong (US$305), or 10 times what she earned from the coffee shop in the week before the accident.

Catherine said she used her family's savings to pay for the rest — money that had been tucked aside to pay her tuition fees and buy a new uniform ahead of the new school term in September.

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When asked how she would come up with the 20 million dong needed to replace her missing teeth, she said nuns from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres (SPC), a Catholic charity, were working with a local dentist to arrange dental implants.

Catherine Huynh Thi Anh Quyen, who is still recovering from a recent traffic accident, at her house in Thua Thien-Hue province on June 30. (ucanews.com photo)

 

Church groups claim there is too little protection for impoverished and orphaned children in Vietnam, where many scavenge for a living or risk losing a limb hunting for unexploded ordinance that they can later sell.

The province launched a project on June 25 aimed at preventing the rise in child migrant labor in the country and to stop them from being exploited at such an early age.

The project is being sponsored by the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which is based in Australia, to help reunite child workers with their families and get them reintegrated into their communities in a more healthy way.

Sister Mary Vu Thi Ngoc works for a charity committee run by sisters from the Daughters of Mary Immaculate in Hue City.

She said the body seeks donations from benefactors and builds three to five houses a year for poor families to prevent their children from dropping out of school early to assist in paying the bills, among other church-assisted charity programs.

Nguyen Van Hieu, also 13, left school a while ago and now collects garbage from nearby refuse dumps. His parents are dead and he works to support himself and his grandmother.

He used to work illegally on a construction site but since sustaining severe injuries to his right arm and leg last year when some rocks fell on him, he has been unable to go back there.

"Now I can only walk slowly and it’s hard to walk," he said. I don’t know what I’ll do in the future or what my life will be like."

Other kids risk losing their lives scrounging for mortar bombs half-buried in the jungle as a legacy from the 1955-75 Vietnam War.

James Nguyen Dinh Hanh, from Son Thuy parish in A Luoi district of Hue, said scores of children in the district engage in this dangerous undertaking during the summer to earn just enough pocket money to stay alive.

Hanh, 75, said one child was killed from shrapnel after one of these bombs exploded last August. About 30 children in the district have died of similar causes since 2008.

On average, 220 children a year are injured in the province working jobs few people would consider suitable for an adult let alone a child, and 20-30 are killed, said an official from the Women’s Union in Thua Thien.

And this could just be a fraction of the total victims as many cases go unreported, said the woman, who declined to give her name.

She said many orphans follow their relatives into manual labor in big cities or neighboring Laos, exposing them to occupational hazards, exploitation and the health risks associated with choking levels of pollution.

About 250 kids drop out of school each year in the province to support their families, she added.

Sister Ngoc said the nuns offer injured children wheelchairs, vocational skills, health insurance — and enough basic food supplies to live on.  

Paul Truong Tien from Phu Cam Cathedral in Hue said local parishioners donate rice, offer scholarships and pay tuition fees for students from very poor families or orphans who show promise.

He said others from nearby parishes raise money at flea markets and bring food to those who are injured in work, traffic or other accidents. The church also runs educational classes and outdoor activities in the summer, he added.

Catherine said her family receives 10 kilograms of rice and instant noodles from the nuns every month.

She has received church-sponsored scholarships since the first grade and got a new bike from local Redemptorists in April so that she could ride to school. 

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