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Evaluation report

VTN 1998/026: A Study on Child Labour in Vietnam 1992-1998

Author: Castle, R. G.; Chaudri, D. P.; Dzung, N. T.; Dzung, N. H.; Hung, T. Q.; Institute of Labour Science and Social Affairs, University of Wollongong/Australia

Executive summary


Vietnam was the first Asian country to adopt the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1989) and has undertaken coordinated efforts to implement and monitor progress of the implementation of the CRC. As a result of the 1998 Workshop, the Institute of Labour Science and Social Affairs and UNICEF decided to combine their activities on child labour surveys. This has resulted in the production of a study on child labour in Vietnam and the November 1999 Workshop on Child Labour.

Purpose / Objective

The major objective of this study is the preparation of a picture on child labour in Vietnam.


This study is mainly based on analysis of secondary data and on some data and information collected from supplementary sources in order to present a picture of Vietnam's child labour. The main data sources include: data from Vietnam Living Standard Surveys (VLSS) of 1992-1993 and 1997; data from surveys on children of households conducted by the Institute of Labour Science and Social Affairs; data and information from the survey on child labour prevention and elimination, capacity of stakeholders in this field conducted by ILSSA covering four ministries, four mass organizations, two provincial People's committees and two district people's committees; data from the survey on child labour situation in Vietnam conducted by Centre for Information and Statistics on Labour and Social Affairs with the financial assistance of UNICEF; and data from GSO dealing with economic indicators and school education

Key Findings and Conclusions

Child labour has declined sharply in Vietnam in recent years, but it remains a significant problem especially in rural areas. The information contained in the Vietnam Living Standards Surveys (VLSS) 1992-1993 and 1997-1998, supplemented by surveys conducted by the two institutions ILSSA and CLSSI in 1998, shows that the estimated number of full-time child labour indicates a fall from 4 million to approximately 1.6 million over the period 1992-1993 to 1997-1998. This is in line with the rise in school enrollments over the period. The studies indicate that child labour is not a significant problem among 6-10 year old children. In the age group 11-14, child labour has fallen remarkably during 1992-1993 to 1997-1998.

The most notable decrease in child labour has been in urban areas, and the situation has also improved in rural areas. There are regional variations with the child labour problem, especially different in the North Center Coast, Northern Mountainous Regions and Red River delta. The rural child-labour problem is somewhat greater among girls than it is among boys.

One aspect of the child labour estimates is of particular concern for the future. There has been a rise in the number of 'nowhere' children - defined as children neither in school nor at work, especially in the 11-14 age group in urban areas. Although the number is still estimated to be relatively small, these children are particularly at risk of becoming street children or of being placed at moral hazard. There has also been a definite rise in the number of 'nowhere' children aged 6-10, which is a concern for school authorities.

There is a very large group of marginal part-time child workers, children who are engaged in work but who are also at school. This work is legal for the 11-14 age group, provided it does not exceed 4 hours per day. This type of work is not only legal but is often encouraged because it provides children with skills acquired on the job for later life. However, if the hours are excessive, it may reduce the benefits of education, so it is a category that needs to be carefully monitored and regulated by the government. The proportion of marginal part-time child workers remained unchanged between 1992-1993 and 1997-1998. The estimated proportion declined from 20.8 per cent to 19.5 per cent during this period.

There was a fall in the absolute number of children in the age group 6-10 who were marginal part-time child workers from 9.1 per cent to 7.4 per cent of the age group. Marginal child workers aged 6-10 are overwhelmingly found in rural areas, with only a small minority (18,148) in urban areas in1997-1998. There has been no change in marginal part time child workers in the 11-14 age group.

The biggest rise is marginal part-time child workers has been in the age group 15-17, which has increased from 15.1 per cent. (This age group is encouraged to go to school but, due to certain circumstances, children have to go to school and to work simultaneously, but their work is not violating the regulations of the Labour Code related to juvenile labour.) This is a result of the large increase in school attendance amongst this age group from 13.9 per cent in 1992-1993 to 34.1 per cent in 1997-1998 (Table 21). Part-time work enables students to continue education who otherwise would have had to drop out of school for economic reasons.

Vietnam has always had very high participation in basic primary education. School enrollments are now rising in lower and upper secondary schools. These levels of school attendance compare very favourably with other ASEAN countries such as Thailand and the Philippines. Singapore is the only ASEAN member ahead of others.

Child labour is mostly found in households and small enterprise sectors mainly in rural areas. Most do not receive a wage - their parents are often paid in rice or other goods for the children's work. This pattern is also similar for marginal part-time child workers who may also work on family rice plots. Only a small amount of child labour receives a wage or is self-employed.

A small number of children are employed in the industry/construction and services sectors. There is no evidence of child labour in the export-oriented manufacturing industries. However, this will have to be carefully monitored as industrial employment increases as self-employment in the service sector, which could place children at risk of moral hazards in the future. At present, this type of work is most common for the 15-17 age group, with fewer child workers 11-14 and almost no children 6-10 employed in these occupations.

The incidence of child labour is greatest amongst the poor although working children can be found in all income groups. The greatest reductions in child labour have come in income expenditure groups 3 and 4, which reflects the influence of rising incomes in recent years in reducing child labour.

There is a need for the National Strategy on Poverty Alleviation to remain focused on child labour and school attendance especially in rural areas which have not yet begun the demographic transition to slower population growth, and which have not experienced significant rises in income per head.

One major indication of the extent of the decline in child labour and part-time child work in Vietnam during 1992-1993 to 1997-1998 is the decline in intensity of work, with the number of hours falling from close to the legal maximum to less than half in all age groups. The largest declines are in the 6-10 and 11-14 age groups.

There is evidence that child labour is declining most rapidly among boys, with a smaller decrease in child labour amongst girls. The level of gender bias is small compared with most other Asian countries, but this will need to be monitored to ensure that girls benefit fully from empowered economic conditions that lead to further reductions in child labour.

The number of children, especially those who are considered as juvenile (15-17 age group) but also 11-14, doing illegal, hazardous work or working hours in excess of those permitted in legislation is an issue that needed much attention too. The proportion is small, but it indicates that the enforcement of the Labour Code will have to continue to be a priority goal.

Vietnamese laws on child labour conform to international standards and provide a comprehensive framework for the regulation of child labour. There are some inconsistencies between laws on education, child protection and the Labour Code, but these are not a major concern. Many agencies are involved in regulating child labour and children's work. Effective co-ordination is needed to maximise their effects. Perhaps the MOLISA and the Ministry of Education and Training should consider creating an effective co-ordinating body


The recommendations include:
- Continued need to monitor child labour
- Continued poverty alleviation strategies especially in rural areas, with special focus on families with child labour
- Particular efforts are required in those regions of the country and in rural areas where population growth remains high
- The need to monitor school attendance especially in urban areas, to reduce the growth of 'nowhere' children
- The need to focus on children most 'at risk'
- Strategies for girls' education beyond primary school to avoid child labour
- Increased hours of schooling in rural areas to reduce the number of marginal part-time child workers
- Better enforcement of child labour laws to reduce the incidence of illegal child labour. The Labour Code must be strictly enforced to minimise child labour in hazardous activities.
- Need for further research on the Determinants of Child Labour in rural and urban areas The analysis of the survey data points to a major improvement in the child labour situation in Vietnam
This is partly due to shared economic growth and the success of the National Programme of Action (1991-2000) and partly due to the decrease in the child population growth. In Vietnam, 97% of all underemployed workers work in the agricultural sector and in rural areas, and 94% work in household activities. There is no evidence of child labour in the export sector. The problem of child labour working in hazardous activities, therefore, is a small one but it needs to be prevented in a right way.

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