Tackling child labour in Viet Nam through vocational training and educational support

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is implementing the Project "Enhancing National Capacity to Prevent and Reduce Child Labour in Viet Nam" (ENHANCE) to assist national level efforts to prevent child labour through awareness-raising, capacity building and direct interventions.

Article | 23 April 2020
The ENHANCE Project is funded by the US Department of Labour and implemented in partnership with Viet Nam’s Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs. In collaboration with multiple stakeholders, the project is assisting national level efforts to prevent child labour through capacity building, awareness raising and direct interventions. At national level, the project has been assisting the Government to implement its National Plan of Action on the reduction and elimination of child labour (2016-2020) and is currently assisting the development of the programme’s next phase. As part of these efforts, the project has been working with the Government to align national legislation on child labour with international standards, enhance enforcement and inspection capacity and support the development of a knowledge base on child labour in the country. On the ground, the project implements direct intervention models in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and An Giang. This involves the provision of livelihood support for vulnerable families and educational support for children engaged in or at risk of child labour. The following testimonials illustrate the lasting impacts of the project’s direct interventions to support children with education and vocational training.

    Student, Tuyen, at high risk of child labour is supported to continue her schooling and goes on to excel, Ho Chi Minh City

    Tuyen is excelling academically, and she recently won an award from her school for her impressive achievements.
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    Tran Thi Bich Tuyen lives with her parents, three older sisters and younger brother in a small rented room in Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City. The family used to own a house in a province south of the city, but when Tuyen’s younger brother was diagnosed with a heart problem, the family had to sell their house and leave their hometown to pay for his treatment. To make ends meet, Tuyen’s parents sell lottery tickets and vegetables on the city's busy streets. Despite their difficult circumstances, they strive to prioritize the education of their children in the hopes of securing them a better life. However, the two oldest girls had to drop out of school to help provide for the family.

    Given the family’s financial struggles, it seemed likely that Tuyen would also have to drop out of school. However, the family was then approached by local authorities who connected them with Saigon Children’s Charity (SCC) who assessed Tuyen’s educational needs and, with support from the ENHANCE project, arranged for her enrollment at a continuing education centre. With her school fees and bus travel covered by the project, Tuyen is currently studying at an institution 30 minutes from her home, where she learns literacy, maths and science at grade 10 level. Despite additional family commitments, Tuyen is excelling academically, and she recently won an award from her school for her impressive achievements.

    Tuyen with her family.
    Tuyen's dream is to become a designer, and she is also considering teaching. To help Tuyen narrow down her future career options and work towards her goals, SCC provides career orientation and guidance. She also attends life skills training once a month where she builds communication and teamwork skills. “Through my studies, I am learning to develop strong principles”, she reflects, with an air of wisdom beyond her years. Tuyen hopes to continue studying at the education centre for a further two years during which time she can gain the knowledge and skills she needs to work towards a better life for herself and her family.  

    Former child labourer, Binh, is finally able to pursue her lifelong dream, An Giang

    Binh is training to become a hair stylist. Her ultimate goal is to own her own salon one day so that she can support her family.
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    Nguyen Thi Tu Binh is 17 years old and lives in My Thien Hamlet, An Giang, with her mother and disabled father and older brother, neither of whom are able to work. To help her mother support the family, Binh dropped out of school in the eighth grade to work as an agricultural labourer, for which she earnt only 13,000 Vietnamese Dong (around US$0.50) per hour, leaving Binh with minimal skills or future prospects.

    However, in 2019, Binh’s life changed course significantly,when the family was approached by commune officials and staff at An Giang University who introduced them to the ENHANCE project’s work supporting young people to access vocational training. Through An Giang University, with the project’s support, Binh was connected with Thao, the owner of a local beauty salon, who is currently training Binh to become a hair stylist.

    Binh now travels ten minutes to the salon every day to learn her new trade. So far, Binh has learnt hairwashing and is now working on colouring skills. During the first few weeks, Thao explains, Binh was very closed and unsure of herself, but she has grown exponentially in confidence over the months. "Binh is a good listener with a focused attitude, so she’s picked up the work quickly", says Thao. Besides technical skills, Binh is also learning a lot about customer service and how to resolve difficult situations. "The most enjoyable and rewarding part of the job is making people feel good about themselves", she explains.

    Binh and Thao, the owner of a local beauty salon, who is currently training Binh.
    Binh is earning a daily allowance of 30,000 Vietnamese Dong (around US$1.30) per day, which Thao explains will increase soon. The 17 year old’s life now is now unrecognizable from her years spent working the fields. Now in a much happier place, she is finally able to envision a brighter future for herself and her family.

    She plans to continue with her training at the salon, and eventually, with Thao's support, she will move on to learning to cut hair. At an outside training institution this would cost around 6-8 million Vietnamese Dong for fees alone, in addition to costly equipment, which would be impossible for Binh to afford. However, if the young student continues to work hard and show promise, Thao will teach Binh at the salon herself in exchange for a minimal fee to cover equipment.

    Between her training and helping her mother with cooking and chores at home, Binh doesn’t have much time to spend with friends, most of whom still attend school. However, she enjoys the learning process and is committed to becoming an accomplished stylist. "It would have been impossible to pursue this dream without the training and I would have probably continued working with my mother in the fields", she stresses. Her ultimate goal is to own her own salon one day so that she can support her family.  

    Orphaned teenager, Lap, given the chance to better himself through training, Ho Chi Minh City

    Lap is enrolled in a three-year IT course at Ly Tu College. In addition to learning computer skills during the week, on Sundays he attends life skills training.
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    Truong Tan Lap became an orphan at age 14 when his mother passed away from cancer. He now lives with his 88-year-old grandmother in a small one-room house in Ho Chi Minh City and works part time at a local restaurant to help put food on the table. Lap is now 16, and most of his friends have gone on to study at high school. However, unable to afford the school fees, continuing with formal education was not an option for Lap. In the summer of 2019, Lap’s luck began to change when he was approached by a commune official and connected with Saigon Children’s Charity (SCC), a local NGO working in partnership with the ENHANCE Project to help vulnerable young people to access vocational training opportunities.

    With the project covering his school fees, Lap is six months into a three-year IT course at Ly Tu College. In addition to learning computer skills during the week, on Sundays he attends life skills training. On a typical day, Lap gets up at 6.30 a.m. to get to college for 7 a.m. After classes, he returns home to cook for himself and his grandmother and usually spends two to three hours studying at home. In addition to this, he is also able to hold down his restaurant job for three days a week, enabling him to contribute to the income of his small family. “Unlike my friends who continued with high school, my schedule at college allows me the flexibility to work and earn money in my spare time”, he explains.

    Lap’s grandmother expresses her relief that he has been able to continue his education so that he can go on to better himself.
    Despite being just six months into his course, Lap has already decided that he would like to go into web design. He is also considering attending University in the future. “If it weren’t for the training, I wouldn’t have enough skills to consider this kind of future”, he says. Visibly beaming with pride at her grandson’s achievements, Lap’s grandmother expresses her relief that he has been able to continue his education so that he can go on to better himself. “Now I know that when I am no longer around, Lap will be able to be independent”, she says.

    School provides refuge for orphaned former street vendor, Thuong, Ho Chi Minh City

    Thuong is thriving at Thien An school and her favourite subject is maths.
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    Thien An Primary School, located in Ho Chi Minh City, was founded by the local church in 2000. All 340 students of the school are from disadvantaged backgrounds, with the majority from poor migrant families who moved to the city from rural Viet Nam. Many of the students have to work to help their families make ends meet. To keep these children in school and out of child labour, the project has supported students with learning tools and health insurance cards, and an extensive school library has been established. Most importantly, the project provides all of the students with lunch in order to encourage families to keep their children in school for longer.

    Thao, who helps to run the school, explains that, prior to the provision of free lunch, the children were going directly from the school to work on the streets selling lottery tickets and other items. Not only is a balanced, nutritious meal good for the students’ health, it encourages their caregivers, all of whom are financially struggling, to keep their children in school. In exchange for the daily support of a free meal, the students’ parents and caregivers have made a formal commitment with the school to keep their children enrolled. The teachers and staff work hard to convince vulnerable families of the long-term benefits of investing in their children’s education as opposed to relying on the short-term financial gains of child labour.

    For 14-year-old student, Thuong, gathering with her friends for lunch in the busy hall is her favourite part of the school day. Thuong has been studying at Thien An school since grade one. Thao explains that the teenager is currently living with her at her home, where she also houses 11 other students with no family to care for them.

    Thuong with her teacher and schoolmates in the classroom.
    Thuong doesn’t know her parents. Before she started at Thien An school, she was in the care of her maternal grandmother, who took the young child and her brothers to beg and sell sundry items on the streets to make ends meet. When the struggling grandmother turned to the church to ask for support, Thao began to feed the family and eventually managed to take Thuong and her younger brother, Thanh, to Thien An school.

    Unfortunately, Thuong’s maternal grandmother didn’t have the resources to support the three children, so their paternal grandmother from Cambodia is now taking care of the youngest, Thien. Occassionally Thuong’s brother, Thanh, comes to visit the school for a meal and the staff are still working towards enrolling him at the school.

    Despite her difficult circumstances, Thuong is thriving at Thien An school and her favourite subject is maths. “The teachers here love us- they’re like our friends”, she says. The young student, who loves to dance, dreams of becoming a movie star one day.

    Single father supported to keep his children off the streets and in school, Ho Chi Minh City

    Huynh is in first grade learning literacy and arithmetic. In addition to cooking, he also loves to draw.
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    At just 8 years old, Le Van Huynh takes care of the household chores and cooks dinner for himself, his 7-year-old brother and his father, Trinh, who works as a construction worker. Just over a year ago, Huynh’s mother left the family shortly after they arrived in Ho Chi Minh City where they had moved from the countryside in search of a better life. With their mother no longer with them, Huynh’s father was unable to make ends meet and struggling to take care of his two sons. In order to survive, the single father had to send the young boys to work selling lottery tickets on the streets to supplement the family’s small income.

    No longer able to cope and desperate for his sons to be able to attend school, Trinh eventually sought support from Thien An School for disadvantaged students. The project has been collaborating with Thien An since June 2019 in an effort to prevent child labour. According to Thao, who helps to run the school, to facilitate the boys’ enrolment, the ENHANCE Project agreed to extend the provision of free lunch, health insurance cards and learning tools to an additional two students.

    Trinh with his two sons.
    Thao recounts that when she met the boys, they had no shoes or clean clothes and they both had severe vision problems. After enrolling at the school, the teachers gave the boys sandals and clothes and arranged for them to have their eyes tested. The children have now been studying at Thien An school for one year, and, according to Thao, the change in them has been dramatic. “When they started at the school, a huge transformation occurred, it was as though their brains started working”, she stresses.

    For the boys' father, their enrolment at Thien An marked a new beginning for the family. “The children were so happy after their first day of school that they cried”, he says. Now looking to the future with hope, Trinh wants his sons to have access to the opportunities he never had. “When they’re grown, I want my boys to be able to choose a life for themselves and to have a stable income so that they can be independent”, says the construction worker. “Learning is very important for their future”, he adds.

    8-year-old Huynh, who is now in first grade learning literacy and arithmetic, loves to draw. Like most of the students, his favourite time of day is lunchtime, when he sits down with his friends to enjoy his main meal of the day. He no longer has to sell lottery tickets, though he still helps with household chores, visits the market and cooks dinner for the family while his father works. When asked if he might have a future as a chef, he nods in agreement with a coy smile.