Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, 15 March 2012 - Her Royal Highness (HRH) Princess Mathilde of Belgium today visited UNICEF-supported projects in Ho Chi Minh City to learn about of the needs of the urban child in Viet Nam.
As part of a two-day visit to Ho Chi Minh City, the Princess met with government officials, vulnerable and street children, and young people affected by HIV and AIDS. She visited civil society and faith-based programmes that provide care and support to vulnerable and street children, to children and young people living with HIV, as well as psychological support and prevention services, such as counseling and life skills education.
“During the visit, HRH Princess Mathilde of Belgium met with children living or working on the street, children living in slums, migrant children, children without formal registration and at risk of being trafficked. Some of these children had endured violence, others lacked access to basic services such as clean water and education. We must live up to our commitment to help the poorest, most vulnerable children, not only in rural areas, but also in cities”, said UNICEF Viet Nam Representative, Ms. Lotta Sylwander.
Growing challenges for urban children
Ho Chi Minh City is Viet Nam’s largest city and its economic powerhouse. Migration to big cities from rural provinces is a relatively new but increasing phenomenon in Viet Nam, and Ho Chi Minh City attracts more migrants than any other provinces in Viet Nam. It is estimated that the migrant population of the town accounts for one fifth of the total city population. Fast economic growth has been accompanied by emerging social and economic problems, such as rapid urbanization, growing economic disparity and increasing economic pressure on family members to migrate for economic reasons. These factors have contributed to the rising number of child victims of abuse, exploitation and trafficking, as well as to the increasing incidence of juvenile crime, drug use, street children and children affected and infected by HIV and AIDS.
A key highlight of HRH Princess Mathilde of Belgium was the visit to the Thao Dan centre for vulnerable and street children, which was founded in 1992 and has provided support to over 4,000 vulnerable children to date. While there is a scarcity of reliable data regarding the exact numbers of children living and working on the streets in different parts of Viet Nam, government statistics indicate that most of these children are concentrated in urban areas such as Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Noi, Da Nang, and Hai Phong etc. Most of them come from poor rural farming communities.
“It is important to give children a voice and that they can participate and share their views on issues that affect their lives”, said HRH Princess Mathilde of Belgium at the centre as she invited some of the children to share experiences. “I was selling lottery tickets three years ago when I saw a group of children learning and studying on the street. I was wondering what they were doing. This was the first time I met with Thao Dan’s team of street educators”, Thu Nguyen Van Quy, 16 years, recalls. “I love coming to the centre: I can get a lunch there, and also participate in education activities.”
Faith-based organisations key to reducing HIV and AIDS stigma and discrimination
HRH Princess Mathilde of Belgium also visited the Dieu Giac Buddhist pagoda which provides support and care to children affected by HIV and AIDS and their families. The Buddhist Leadership Initiative was established by UNICEF Viet Nam in 2003. Through the initiative, UNICEF works with the government and international partners on training monks and nuns to support the special needs of people affected by HIV – and to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS in their communities.
“Buddhist monks and nuns are highly respected and influential in Viet Nam. They are a key element in our strategy to decrease stigma and discrimination against children and families living with HIV and AIDS,” said Ms. Sylwander.
Some 280,000 adults and children are living with HIV in Viet Nam. Studies show that only two out of five Vietnamese youth aged 15-24 have comprehensive knowledge of HIV transmission.
“It is critical that children and young people are educated on HIV and AIDS and how it is passed on as it can help prevent new infections. HIV and AIDS education also plays a vital role in reducing stigma and discrimination,” said HRH Princess Mathilde of Belgium.
UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org
For more information, please contact:
Sandra Bisin, UNICEF Viet Nam,
Tel + 84 097 27 65050,
Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong, UNICEF Viet Nam,
Tel + 1 212 326 7452,