Street children roundup `common’

Street children roundup `common’
Hadi DP Mahmud



A JAPANESE delegate to this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation says it is “common” for governments around the world to try and clean up their countries from “unpleasant sight” when preparing for such major events as Apec.

Speaking to The Brunei Times on condition of anonymity, the delegate was responding to the Human Rights Watch’s report that Hanoi rounded up homeless children and mistreated them in detention centres to clear its streets before important events such as Apec.

“It is one thing to put homeless people in detention centres for the duration of the event, but to put homeless children in the same place? That’s just strange,” he said.

The US-based rights group reported last Monday that its research over three years showed street children “are subject to routine beatings, verbal abuse and mistreatment by staff” during detentions that last two weeks to six months in the Dong Dau Social Protection Centre near Hanoi. “Human Rights Watch is concerned that street children are particularly vulnerable to arrest now, as the Vietnamese government attempts to present its best face,” the group stated.

A government spokesman did not immediately comment on the 77-page report, “Children of the Dust: Abuse of Hanoi Street Children in Detention”, which documents cases of abuse of the children, who are sometimes called bui doi in Vietnamese, meaning the dust of life.

The report said police routinely round up street children in random sweeps and deposit them at state “rehabilitation” centres called Social Protection Centres, where they are detained for periods ranging from two weeks to as much as six months. Drawing on testimonies from street children interviewed over the past three years, Human Rights Watch detailed the particularly harsh treatment at one of the rehabilitation centres, Dong Dau Social Protection Centre.

Children there are locked up in filthy, overcrowded cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes together with adults, with only a bucket for excrement.

The lights remain on night and day. They are released for two half-hour periods per day to wash and to eat. They are offered no rehabilitation, no educational and recreational activities, and no medical or psychological treatment. Their families are often not notified about where they are.

Hanoi is hosting the 21-member forum’s leaders’ week from November 12 to 19 including US President George W Bush, President Hu Jintao of China and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the biggest conference in the Communist-run country’s history.

The report covering 2003-2006, said there were similar campaigns to remove homeless people before the 2003 South East Asian Games and the 2004 Asia-Europe Summit Meeting in the capital.

Vietnam has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world after China and like its giant northern neighbour, there has been an increase in migration to cities from the countryside.

Homeless children are seen walking the streets offering to polish shoes and they sell chewing gum, postcards and copies of guide books and novels to tourists. They earn about 20,000 dong (US$1.25) or less a day, the rights group said. Government statistics estimate there are 23,000 street children in Vietnam, about 1,500 of them in Hanoi. The Brunei Times


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