Young girls working as street vendors are the most vulnerable to sexual abuse due to their innocence, lack of knowledge, and habit of talking to potentially dangerous male customers.
Part 1: Child street vendors are victims of sexual abuse in Vietnam
Part 2: When children must work to support their families
The risk increases at night, when men go out to eat and drink after work.
The long dark alleys characteristic of Saigon are considered “full of risks,” but contain the most potential clients for street vendors.
Cases of abuse
At 10:00pm on a weekend, Ngoc—a young girl aged 11—wandered the alleys of district 5, the epicenter of blue-collar workers in the city, to sell lottery tickets. The alleys are dimly lit with yellow electric lights.
A group of three men chatting in front of a house in the alley waved to call her over. While she held out a wad of lottery tickets to one of the men, another man gently rubbed Ngoc’s hand and pulled her close to him.
She struggled violently in fear and escaped him. However, Ngoc returned to the alley the following day simply because she knew there were many customers there.
Despite her youth, Ngoc is 1.5m tall and has the facial and body features of a beautiful woman.
Ngoc is one of thousands of female vendors on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City who face sexual abuse daily. A recent survey carried out by the Research Center for Management and Sustainable Development (MSD) and Denmark’s Vietnam-based NGO Fontana showed that 92.5 percent of 120 street children aged 8-18 said they had been sexually abused.
Ngoc said, embarrassed, “My grandmother told me to run away and shout for help if a man touches me. I think that man attempted to embrace me but did nothing, so I just ran away.”
The young girl recalled that a man once snatched the bag of money she was wearing around her neck when she was hawking in an alley in the city.
Older girls who work on the street occasionally interact with male customers to earn extra money.
A street vendor in Ho Chi Minh City (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
Long, a 9-year-old boy who works on the streets of the Backpackers’ area in District 1, pointed at a girl while she was leaving a bar with a man. Long said the girl is Ty, 10. Infatuated with her natural beauty and rosy complexion, the man is Ty’s regular customer.
“Initially, she hawked gum and candy with me. She met him and he said he would buy her candy if she showed him her private parts. Later, he often gave her cakes, candy, and money and took her with him.
“He introduces her as his adopted daughter. They sleep together every night,” Long said.
However, Long believes, “That is not a violation because she voluntarily did it for money. Some other men asked her to go to their rooms to watch films and let them touch her. That’s all, it’s OK.”
It is a lack of knowledge that allows street vendors to be so susceptible to abuse. According to the above survey, 14 of 15 sexually-abused street vendors have never heard of sexual abuse. Many of them have no knowledge of contraception, safe sex, or sexually transmitted diseases.
Some street vendors who are homeless orphans fall in love with each other and often get together in a park or under a bridge to use drugs or have sex.
“No one loves me on the street. That boy cares for me and I certainly love him,” said Trang, a 16-year vendor who started hawking at the age of 13.
Other girls are raped after they are convinced to enter customers’ houses. Boys have also been victims of sexual abuse.
Last year’s report by the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs showed that Vietnam has over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse a year on average, and this number is increasing. 65 percent of the abuse cases were child rapes, with 28 percent raped multiple times.
Last year, Ho Chi Minh City had 1,500 homeless children, according to the report.