Viet Nam overview
Viet Nam is flanked by the South China Sea to the east and shares borders with the People’s Republic of China in the north, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the Kingdom of Cambodia to the west. Over 85 million people from 54 different ethnic groups live on its narrow “s-shaped” 331,000 km2 and along its more than 3,000 km of coastline. Three-quarters of this land is hilly and mountainous, and arable land accounts for only 28.4 per cent.
In 1986, after decades of conflict and struggling to speed up its economic recovery and reconstruction efforts, Viet Nam restructured its economy through the doi moi (renovation) reforms, shifting from a centrally-planned economy to a “socialist market economy.” And over the past decade it has had one of the best-performing economies in the worldincluding fast-rising GDP and per capita income rates. Vietnamese men, women, and children are now living longer, they are healthier, have higher incomes, and generally are better off than they were 25 years ago. Even during the recent economic slowdown and despite high inflation rates, the economic growth rate continued to grow and was at 6.78 per cent in 2010.
Propelled by this impressive economic growth backed by investment in social programmes, Viet Nam has now reached lower middle-income status and will achieve nearly all of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals at the national level by the deadline year of 2015.
But drill down further to the provincial and regional levels and despite these overall improvements, Viet Nam’s over 26 million children, about 30 per cent of the population, are not benefitting equally from this new prosperity. Gaps between the rich and the poor, between male and female, and between ethnic Kinh Vietnamese and the country’s many minority populations are clear.
Economic disparities, gender inequality and massive inequity between rural and hard-to-reach mountainous areas and the more affluent urban areas of the country are substantial. Access to adequate water and sanitation, to health services and to education, especially secondary education, are major issues. Ethnic minorities continue to be among the poorest and have benefited least from the country’s economic growth.
Even as the general poverty rate fell from 58 per cent in 1993 to 14.5 per cent in 2008, rural and ethnic minority populations are emerging from poverty at a much slower pace. In 2008, nearly 50 per cent of the country’s ethnic minorities were living in poverty, compared to 8.5 per cent of majority Kinh people.
Meeting hidden needs:
The country’s overall prosperity can obscure these serious discrepancies between area, ethnicity and gender. And with middle-income status, and greater overall wealth, investing now in the social safety net and in reaching the poorest and most disadvantaged children is critical. This will require more effective and child-sensitive policies, a legal framework based on child rights standards, and quality and dependable data to support Viet Nam’s children entering into this next phase of development.
 Central Population and Housing Census Steering Committee (2010) The 2009 Viet Nam Population and Housing Census Expanded Sample Results; MOFA (2006) Basic information and directory of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam; UNICEF Viet Nam (2010) An Analysis of the Situation of Children in Viet NamCentral Population and Housing Census Steering Committee (2010) The 2009 Viet Nam.