As schoolchildren across Vietnam enter the months-long summer break, increasing drownings have been reported among minors in rivers, lakes and even swimming pools.
Vietnamese authorities are sounding the alarm on the old yet recurrent issue of child safety during the summer.
On Friday, eight people, including seven children and a sexagenarian, were reported drowning in two separate incidents in central Vietnam.
Just before the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, two sisters, one of whom was still in kindergarten, were found dead from drowning in southern Soc Trang City after they had slipped into an irrigation ditch.
A day later, two fifth-graders in the same city drowned while playing in a local river.
In Binh Phuoc Province in southern Vietnam, two cases of drowning also took the lives of five children last month.
Since the beginning of this year, 19 children have been reported dead from drowning in Dak Lak Province in the Central Highlands, while four minors drowned in southern Binh Duong Province in April and May.
Nguyen Thanh Giang, director of the Department of Education and Training in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, said provincial authorities have been active in warning families about the risks of drowning during summer time, though their efforts have yet to yield noticeable results in reducing drownings.
According to Giang, integrating swimming lessons into schools’ curricula has been a challenge due to a serious lack of swimming pools.
To solve the problem, the provincial education department has been calling for the private sector to invest in swimming pools using land provided by local schools.
Similarly, Binh Phuoc Province also reports a high number of drowning cases during the summer because of its geographical characteristics with a complicated system of rivers and lakes.
Before every summer, the Binh Phuoc Department of Education and Training issues letters addressing schools in the province to remind them to take appropriate measures to safeguard students against such incidents.
Meanwhile, in more remote areas such as rural Dak lak Province, swimming lessons are a luxury since schools are more focused on teaching knowledge.
“Children are mostly left to themselves to learn swimming from one another when they play in rivers and lakes, as no schools can afford to offer swimming lessons,” said a teacher in Dak Lak’s Krong Bong District.
Nguyen Trong An, former deputy director general of the Department of Child Care and Protection, said a proposal to introduce swimming as an official item in the national physical education curricula has been advocated for since 2011, to little avail.
This is due to the tremendous costs it would take to make the survival skill compulsory, as not all schools could have access to swimming pools for the plan to be implemented.
Previously, 3,500 children died from drowning in Vietnam every year on average, An said, citing official statistics.
In recent years, the number has dropped to 2,800 annually.
“It has been buzzing me whether this drop is real or not,” An said. “From what I know based on the phone calls I made to local authorities, the number of drownings has not decreased at all.”