Viet Nam’s poverty rate fell from 58 per cent in 1993 to 14.5 per cent in 2008 and 10.7 per cent in 2010  making it a global poster child for poverty reduction. Its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world and the country has won global recognition in achieving Millennium Development Goals, with many achieved several years before the 2015 deadline.
Surprisingly however, in the midst of this impressive progress, socio-economic disparities remain entrenched. Poverty continues to be a predominantly rural phenomenon with 91 per cent of the poor living in rural areas. In 2010, minorities accounted for nearly half (47 per cent) of the total poor, but only 15 per cent of the population. At 66.3 per cent, the ethnic minority poverty rate was five times higher than the poverty rate for the Kinh majority (12.9 per cent). Today, many ethnic minority children live in households earning less than US$1 a day and have fewer opportunities to attend school or access healthcare. Child poverty is a major concern, accounting for 21.1 per cent in 2010, 20.7 per cent in 2008 and 22.6 per cent in 2006. Moreover, multi-dimensional child poverty is much higher, with around 30 per cent (approximately 7 million) of children in Viet Nam suffering from two or more deprivations .
Rapid socio-economic development has also created new forms of risks and shocks. These include Viet Nam’s progressive integration into the global economy and resulting exposure to financial or natural resource-related shocks, along with exposure to new lifestyles, youth cultures and global patterns of mobility. Other areas of concern include Viet Nam’s vulnerability to climate change and the impacts of reoccurring natural disasters, Viet Nam’s rapid urbanisation and associated challenges/new forms of deprivation this entails and the uncertain development of Viet Nam’s rural areas. All of these issues will have significant implications for the well-being of Vietnamese children. These challenges are compounded by several factors such as limited capacities and weak systems to incorporate feedback from citizens including children, on the relevance and quality of public services and policies, and especially gaps between national legal frameworks and international standards regarding children’s rights, a pre-requisite to address all children’s issues.
Given the potential life-long impacts of childhood poverty, such as the deprivation of nutrition or mental stimulation at an early age potentially resulting in permanent stunting or reduced cognitive development, it is imperative that Viet Nam addresses the phenomenon of child poverty with specific and targeted strategies, different to those used to address adult or household poverty. Viet Nam’s poorest people – including children – are bearing the brunt of the ongoing global economic crisis. As a result, even more urgency is needed to address child poverty.
At present, national and sub-national level data and information about social and children’s issues are fragmented with limited disaggregation. There is also a lack of child focus indicators, especially those used to monitor the implementation of Viet Nam’s commitments towards international conventions and other standards. Improving child-focused indicators and strengthening data collection and analysis on children’s issues, especially those involving vulnerable and ethnic minority children, will help create a comprehensive and revealing picture of socio-economic inequity. This will have important implications for evidence-based planning and decision-making, along with monitoring progress in the implementation of international conventions that Viet Nam is committed to.
In Viet Nam’s current political setting, the National Assembly is the highest government organisation and highest representative body of the people. It has the power to draw up, adopt and amend the constitution and make/amend laws. It also has the responsibility to make decisions on issues of national importance such as socio-economic development plans (SEDPs) and budgets, and to provide oversight on the performance of executive bodies. The National Assembly’s role has been considerably strengthened as part of Viet Nam’s reform process during the past decade. However, many National Assembly members are unaccustomed to dealing with issues relating to child rights. They lack parliamentary experience, skills and knowledge for legislating and oversight. They also have limited familiarity with rights concepts and legal frameworks, specifically in the area of children and women. This reduces their ability to act as champions for the rights of children in drafting Vietnamese legislation. Filling this gap is critical to bringing about lasting change for children in Viet Nam.
Making sure that Viet Nam’s progress benefits all its children requires the strengthening of Government policies and programmes with a greater child rights perspective. This entails working with Viet Nam’s National Assembly to build a legal framework that fully reflects the rights of children and means everything the Government does for children must be evidence-based and respond to the reality on the ground. In summary three key pillars - policies, laws and data - are essential to build a framework for child-focused development.
UNICEF has been supporting the following activities:
By 2013, the evidence and analysis available for examining the multi-dimensional aspects of child poverty will help make sure adequate attention is given to multi-dimensional child poverty in national plans and policies for 2012-15. The improved M&E of socio-economic data will support relevant and timely policies based on accurate information and citizen’s feedback. Integrating child and women’s rights indicators into Government national surveys and promoting greater monitoring will help accomplish this. Working with parliamentarians and government officials on key legislation, such as the development of the 2011-2020 social protection strategy, revision of the Law on Protection, Care and Education of Children and other related legal frameworks, will help ensure the importance of children’s rights and their well-being are understood and adequately addressed in Viet Nam’s legislation and long-term development directions.
With greater emphasis on the most disadvantaged children, UNICEF and its partners help the Government of Viet Nam to strengthen, monitor and champion a more effective and informed policy framework that puts children at the centre of Viet Nam’s socio-economic development.
The activities described above, taken together, will contribute to changing the macro-level policy environment for girls and boys in Viet Nam. By working in close partnership with Government, UN and bilateral partners, UNICEF will support the development and implementation of more informed policies - based on quality data – by those such as policy-makers and elected officials who have a solid understanding of children’s rights and their role in realising these rights. By placing the greatest emphasis on the most disadvantaged children, including the poorest of the poor and ethnic minority children, the above activities will shine the spotlight back on these marginalised groups of children and help ensure their rights are not overlooked and instead addressed by policy-makers with the targeted attention they deserve.
With focused investment in the key pillars of data, laws and policies as described above, UNICEF and its partners can make a difference for children by helping the Government of Viet Nam to strengthen, implement and monitor a stronger, more effective and informed policy framework that gives priority to children at the core of Viet Nam’s socio-economic development.
 World Bank (2012) Poverty Assessment Report
 GSO (2010) Viet Nam Household Living Standard Survey Report
 MOCST, GSO, Institute for Family and Gender Studies and UNICEF Viet Nam (2008) Results of Nation-wide Survey on the Family in Viet Nam 2006 – Key Findings.