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Vietnam's Children in a Changing World

Vietnam's Children in a Changing World

Rachel Burr
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Vietnam's Children in a Changing World
    Book Description:

    Like the majority of children living in the global South today, a large number of Vietnamese youths work to help support their families. International human rights organizations have focused on these children, seeking to bring their lives into line with an understanding of childhood that is generally accepted in the developed world.

    In this ethnographic study, Rachel Burr draws on her daily observations of working children in Hanoi and argues that these youngsters are misunderstood by the majority of agencies that seek to help them. Most aid programs embrace a model of childhood that is based on Western notions of individualism and bountiful resources. They further assume that this model is universally applicable even in cultures that advocate a collective sense of self and in countries that do not share the same economic advantages.

    Burr presents the voices and experiences of Vietnamese children in the streets, in a reform school, and in an orphanage to show that workable solutions have become lost within the rhetoric propagated by aid organizations. The reality of providing primary education or adequate healthcare for all children, for instance, does not stand a chance of being achieved until adequate resources are put in place. Yet, organizations preoccupied with the child rights agenda are failing to acknowledge the distorted global distribution of wealth in favor of Western nations.

    Offering a unique, firsthand look at the experiences of children in contemporary Vietnam, this book also provides a broad analysis of how internationally led human rights agendas are often received at the local level.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-3989-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. One What Is Childhood?
    (pp. 1-23)

    For two years, between 1996 and 1998, I lived in Hanoi, Vietnam, where I did anthropological fieldwork with a focus on childhood. I had originally intended to concentrate my research on the everyday experiences of working children. But on arriving in Hanoi it soon became clear to me that local children’s experiences could not be adequately represented or explained if I only looked at their immediate environment at the local level. Instead, if I were to represent their experiences properly I would also need to take into account global influences at work at the local level, and particularly the impact...

  5. Two Background to Vietnam
    (pp. 24-52)

    Most of the children I met during fieldwork were born in the 1980s, a time of great flux for Vietnam: By the mid-1980s Communist-inspired agricultural collectivism was failing, engendering famines and crisis. The crisis was further worsened by the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which resulted in the end of the Soviet Union’s financial aid to Vietnam. During the sixth Communist Party Congress in 1986, the Vietnamese government introduced reform under a policy labeled Doi Moi, which means “renovation” or “renewal.” This meant that out of pragmatic necessity the Vietnamese government followed its Chinese neighbors in developing a socialist-oriented...

  6. Three Child Rights and the International Aid Community
    (pp. 53-84)

    In February 1997 the director of an international NGO that worked with children but had no interest in working in the field of child rights invited me to join him and his Vietnamese staff to watch a short film produced by members of an international child rights NGO working in Hanoi. When we saw the film it was still a rough cut of the final version and did not at that point have a title. As far as I know the film was never completed, because its contents meant that it was most unlikely to meet government approval. The film...

  7. Four Why Children Work
    (pp. 85-108)

    Most of the Vietnamese children who appear in this book were working or had worked to earn a living at some point in their lives. This is a common feature of most countries in the South (Boyden and Holden 1991; Fyfe 1985). The recognition that many of the world’s children work is a difficult and disconcerting subject to address. Those who are opposed to child work tend to think of all forms of child work as bad. While I would much rather that children did not have to work, as I show later, an all-out ban on child work could...

  8. Five Children on the Streets
    (pp. 109-133)

    The first children I did fieldwork among in Hanoi worked on the streets in the center of the city. In this chapter I discuss some of their experiences, in particular their responses to the different types of formal and informal support services available to them. My findings show that children who had already been on the streets for a number of years were wary of establishing contact with any type of adult-led formal services, preferring to rely on informal support from within their peer group or from among adults who did not challenge their current lifestyles.

    There is a tendency...

  9. Six Life in a Reform School
    (pp. 134-163)

    At the start of my time in Hanoi I did not expect to find children being routinely sent to reform centers, and I could not have predicted that this discovery would result in my doing fieldwork in a reform center. While I was doing fieldwork in the city, however, I was repeatedly a firsthand witness to routine arrests of child street workers. For example, I had been meeting with Hiep for little over a month when we got caught up in a police raid. I was sitting by the side of Hoan Kiem Lake with him when without warning police...

  10. Seven Childhood without Discrimination
    (pp. 164-186)

    In this chapter, I look at the UNCRC’s applicability to children whose particular circumstances make it more likely that they might be discriminated against, examining in particular some of the ways in which a Vietnamese child’s gender or disability can contribute to the shaping of his or her life. I focus on these two areas because along with race, they are probably the most obvious bases of discrimination.

    It was just after I arrived in Hanoi that the “girl child” had become the focal point for new projects to be funded by international aid agencies. I had the opportunity at...

  11. Eight Institutional Life and Children’s Coping Strategies
    (pp. 187-206)

    The first times that I visited both the reform school and the orphanage are permanently etched on my mind because on both occasions, as I arrived, the children, dressed in formal pale blue uniform shirts and navy trousers, huddled together for mutual support and peered at me suspiciously. This was not a reaction I was used to, and I found it puzzling. On both days the weather was wet and cold, and I thought the children looked worn out and miserable. But I quickly learned that what I observed on both days was somewhat distorted by the particularly bad weather...

  12. Nine Children on the Global Margins?
    (pp. 207-226)

    When I started doing fieldwork, I expected the lives of the children I met to be uniformly hard and bleak. However, while most of the children experienced hardships and day-to-day difficulties, they did not fit my stereotype of the rundown and deprived child of the South who is so often represented in Western literature and the media. The children I met during fieldwork struck me as being tenacious, highly adaptable, and hardworking. Yet because of their lifestyles and the fact that most of them did not live with their families, they were assumed to live on the margins of mainstream...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-236)
  14. Index
    (pp. 237-248)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-250)