So far, it’s been a very tough year for kids around the world.
This year’s celebration of the rights and issues of children globally on International Children’s Day (June 1) will surely be more somber and clouded over due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sadly, many planned events may be postponed or canceled worldwide as lockdowns continue.
As UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore has pointed out very recently, lockdowns, no school for months, war and famine still displacing hundreds of thousands of children, parents out of work, and access to health services already under great strain are all complicating humanity’s ability to provide a better life for kids everywhere.
And that’s on top of all the other issues affecting children: the right of girls to access education, discrimination, human and sex trafficking, child labor, and education for the handicapped and disabled, just to name a few.
You could add to that the geographically unique problems for Vietnam — climate change, drought and salinity in the Mekong Delta, and rising air pollution.
It is to Vietnam’s credit and pride that it has managed to deal with the pandemic so far as well as it has — and here I mean protection for children against the virus.
And the nation is still very much focused on the educational and social needs of kids across the nation.
Vietnam was an early signee to international agreements and processes to improve children’s lives and across the country there are hundreds of organizations working together to provide aid, care and shelter, education, and medical help for the young.
This doesn’t mean everything is going well — there are lots of ongoing problems.
The shadow of COVID-19 has badly affected the fundraising activities of non-government organizations, for example, at a time when many Vietnamese need help as they have lost employment in tourism and other industries to the pandemic.
So, the call for people to donate and help out has increased dramatically.
Significantly, Vietnam is addressing the lack of legal protection for children (and women) in a number of areas that haven’t received much attention.
In 2016, the government launched a four-year program on the prevention and control of child labor.
For most of 2019, Vietnamese officials prepared new legislation dealing with child labor, particularly in the informal work sector where violations are sometimes hard to spot. It is even more difficult to prosecute anyone when it comes to children working, say, for the family on a farm, whereas they should be in school.
Even the definition for legal action is not clear — if the kid helps the parents on the farm during school holidays or weekends, is that illegal child labor?
As recently as December of last year, the Vietnam Association for the Protection of Children's Rights requested that police investigate an assault on an under-16-year-old.
Adult excuses and justifications are becoming less accepted by the public and police officers, with more frequent prosecutions against offenders.
There has also been more training for police in dealing with these situations, gathering evidence and securing convictions.
Not perfect? Not enough? Well, at least Vietnam is doing something positive.
Certainly, in Middle Eastern and northwestern Asian states the rights of the child barely exist so I applaud the Vietnamese efforts.
As recently as May, local authorities highlighted the need to protect women and children during quarantine as domestic violence and isolation-related issues were rising.
Vietnam’s Department of Child Care and Protection has run a child protection hotline since 2004, and in 2017 it simplified contact numbers to aid accessibility by children.
The number is ‘111,’ in case you’re wondering.
The government usually runs a number of events throughout the major cities and towns to promote different aspects of issues relating to children such as arts and crafts for the socially and physically disadvantaged, as well as health campaigns.
Once again, the government is also debating the addition of swimming lessons as a compulsory subject to school curriculums.
Although it would be hard to fund nationwide, the necessity of swimming skills becomes more urgent with each drowning tragedy.
But it is still a fun day for kids (as it should be) with parties at schools, homes, and public performances both for and by children.
It can be as simple as giving presents, a day out with the family or just a good meal at home, not to mention the pleasure of going to the park or beach with your family now that social distancing has been lifted almost everywhere in Vietnam. It promises to be a grand day out!
And one thing to consider: children teach us about patience, exploration, laughter, teamwork, smiling and not worrying about the big stuff — I wonder if we adults are really that smart...?