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|A child collects wood after finishing school in Mù Căng Chải District in the northern province of Yên Bái. – VNS Photo Việt Thanh|
Statistics from Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affiars (MoLISA) showed that nationwide there are more than 1.75 million children doing tough labour or working in an unhealthy environment.
Some 67 per cent of the children work in agriculture, 16.6 per cent work in services and 15.8 per cent work in the industry-construction sector.
Under current regulations, child labourers are defined as having specially disadvantaged circumstances but few of them have been received social support. They receive little support in education and healthcare, Nhân dân (People) newspaper reported.
The newspaper’s reporters went to Ú Market – one of the biggest cow/buffalo markets in the central region –in Đại Sơn Commune, Đô Lương District, Nghê An Province.
The market is open six times a month, starting from sunrise and ending around mid-day.
Besides adults who come to buy or sell cattle, school-aged children can be seen at the crowded market. They come to seek jobs, with the most common towing bought cattle to their new home.
Most of them are in old torn clothes, bare feet, sunburnt and spattered with mud.
Some do a little work and leave the market early so they can go to school, while others work all day to make more money..
Nguyễn Cảnh Hưng, 12 years old from Nghi Văn Commune of neighbouring Nghi Lộc District said that he has worked as a buffalo tower for two years to earn money for his family.
Buffalo towers were usually paid VNĐ 5,000 –VNĐ 10,000 to take a cow/buffalo from the market to the buyers’ house in the same commune. If they have to go farther, they charge more, Hưng said.
“On good days, I can earn up to VNĐ 50,000 -60,000,” he said.
The boy said he went to work early, without breakfast and with just a bottle of water along to quench his thirst.
In Quỳnh Văn and Quỳnh Thạch - two other communes of Nghệ An Province, children work at a brick making establishment.
They work with no safety equipment, carrying bricks and loading them on trucks.
An owner of a brick establishment told Nhân dân that he knew the work was too hard for children but they wanted a job and he wanted labourers.
In the central province of Hà Tĩnh’s salt fields, children and the elderly make up the majority of the workforce, as most healthy adults have moved to cities for work.
A man said that he reluctantly let his son work in the salt fields.
“What else can he do? I’m not often at home. He works there with his mother so that she can keep an eye on him,” he said.
Đặng Hoa Nam, director of Child Care and Protection Department under Ministry of Labour, said that child labour was common among poor families in disadvantaged areas.
Parents, care givers and children do not have proper awareness of the problems of child labour and nor do they care about the long-term impacts, Nam claimed.
“Child labour is accompanied with dropping out of school, resulted in a low education level, few skills and fewer job opportunities, making it hard to escape from poverty,” he said.
Employers, especially in the informal sector, often hired children without knowing they are breaking the law.
Last year, the National Assembly approved the Child Law which takes effect next month, with child abuse defined clearly.
Forcing children to work in harmful, dangerous conditions that affect to their development is a form of child abuse, Nam said.
The law also identified the responsibilities of agencies in controlling child abuse, Nam said.
However, experts recommended that besides a legal framework, strong law enforcement is needed to ensure that offenders are punished.
They also called for an improved system of social services for child labourers and their families so that negative impacts are reduced.
Child labourers need care to re-integrate into normal life in terms of their physical and mental health.
According to the International Labour Organisation, the fight against child labour requires coherent policies to back child labour legislation – quality education, social protection and decent jobs for parents.