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Vietnam: Five-Year Program to Reduce Child Labor

(June 22, 2016) On June 7, 2016, Vietnam’s Prime Minister issued Decision No. 1023/QD-TTg on the country’s program to combat illegal child labor. The program, which covers the period 2016-2020, focuses “on preventing and minimizing child labor while timely detecting and assisting child laborers and vulnerable children in accessing opportunities for development.”  (Gov. Determines To Take Action to Minimize Child Labor, VIETNAM LAW & LEGAL FORUM (June 16, 2016); Approval of Prevention Program to Minimize Child Labor During the Period 2016 – 2020 (June 7, 2016), Lawsoft website (in Vietnamese).)

With a view to raising awareness in all relevant sectors and of authorities at all levels, as well as by organizations, employers, parents, and children, about illegal child labor and the risks for vulnerable children, the government will design “various forms of communication about child labor … to suit each of the program’s target groups” and organize “community-based education and counseling campaigns … targeting, first and most importantly, producers and traders from the informal sector.” (Gov. Determines To Take Action to Minimize Child Labor, supra.)  It will also promote “the capability of civil servants and public employees involved in protecting, caring for and educating children” and assist “employers in traditional craft villages and in the informal sector … to improve working conditions for children in conformity with law.”  (Id.)

The program will seek the development of a pilot model of support and intervention to reduce child labor by providing life and community-integration skills to the young laborers and vulnerable children. Support to the children will be in the form of education, vocational training, and policies on seeking work; at the same time, the children’s families will be given assistance in stabilizing the families’ means of livelihood and increasing their income.  (Id.)

ILO Definition of Child Labor

According to the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) under the International Labour Organization (ILO), “‘child labour’ is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” (What Is Child Labour, ILO website (last visited June 20, 2016).)  It is work that:

  • is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and
  • interferes with their schooling by:

depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;

obliging them to leave school prematurely; or

requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work. (Id.)

Moreover, at its most extreme, it involves “children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age.” (Id.)  Whether or not a certain type of work can be deemed “child labor” depends upon “the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individual countries.  The answer varies from country to country, as well as among sectors within countries.”  (Id.)

Background on Child Labor in Vietnam

A survey of child labor in Vietnam as of 2012 stated that one-sixth of the child population, or 2.83 million children, was engaged in some form of economic activity, 42.6% of them girls, and that almost 86% of the working children lived in rural areas, with two-thirds belonging to the 15-17 age group. (VIET NAM NATIONAL CHILD LABOUR SURVEY 2012 – MAIN FINDINGS (July 1, 2014), at 2, ILO website (click on icon to download).)

The 2012 study contends that “[s]ome 1.75 million working children are categorized as ‘child labourers,’ accounting for 9.6 per cent of the national child population or 62 per cent of children” taking part in economic activities. (Id.)  Among the 1.75 million, almost 569,000 (32.4%) worked on average over 42 hours per week, placing a severe limit on their schooling, so that 96.2% of them were not attending school.  (Id. at 2-3.)  Moreover, according to The Borgen Project, a non-profit organization working to combat world poverty, “[l]abor trafficking — both domestically and internationally — is a major problem.”  (Ashrita Rau, Child Labor in Vietnam, The Borgen Project website (July 24, 2015).)

Legislation on Child Labor

The amended 2007 Labour Code prohibits the employment of children under 15 years of age, with certain exceptions, and has provisions to regulate the employers of minor employees. (Id.; Labour Code 2012, arts. 3(1), 18(1) & arts. 161-165, ILO website).)

Vietnam ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (in force on November 19, 2000), on December 19, 2000. (Ratifications of C182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), ILO website.)  On June 24, 2003, it ratified the Convention Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (June 26, 1973, in force on June 19, 1976) (Ratifications for Viet Nam, ILO website (last visited June 20, 2016) (scroll down to “C138 – Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)”).)

According to the Minimum Age Convention, the minimum age for any type of employment or work that “is likely to jeopardise the health, safety or morals of young persons shall not be less than 18 years.”  (C138 – Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), art. 3(1), ILO website.)  The types of employment to which this restriction applies will “be determined by national laws or regulations or by the competent authority, after consultation with the organisations of employers and workers concerned, where such exist.”  (Id. art. 3(2).) Nevertheless, employment or work beginning at 16 years of age may be authorized if “the health, safety and morals of the young persons concerned are fully protected” and if they “have received adequate specific instruction or vocational training in the relevant branch of activity.”  (Id. art. 3(3).)  Moreover, the Convention states that the competent authority, after consulting the employer and worker organizations concerned, may exclude “limited categories of employment or work” from application of the Convention when “special and substantial problems of application arise.”  (Id. art. 4.)