Hello and welcome to Inside Vietnam, an RSI series looking at some of the social problems facing Vietnam today. In this program, the focus is on Child Prostitution inside Vietnam, I'm Ariel Wee.
Nyung, which means rabbit in Vietnamese, worked as a child prostitute since the age of 12.
A daughter of one of Vietnam's university's cook, she was the pride of her father, because she was able to earn more than anyone else in the neighbourhood, working as a child prostitute.
While the story of Nyung's may shock you, it's a true account.
Associate Professor Dr. Nguyen Thi Bich Ha, Director of Centre for Women Studies at the Vietnam National University, shared with me Nyung's story with Professor Vu Thi Quy, Vice Director of Int'l Relations Department as the translator.
"She's a good-looking girl. She has a good family, with parents, elder brothers and a younger brother.
But the life in that family is very free compared to other family, unlike traditional Vietnamese families. After a period of time, the neighbours noticed that there were a lot of customers coming in and out of the house.
The parents knew, they did not support (initially), but they did not interfere because after some time, they saw that the girl had grown up well provided for.
She could afford cosmetics and looked even better than she did before. They even felt somewhat proud of their daughter because she was earning more money.
At the age of 17, 18, she got married. After only two to three years of marriage, Dr. Ha met the girl again but could not recognise her then because she looked like she'd grown very much older."
Child prostitution is on the rise in Vietnam. Nyung's story is just one of many of thousands.
Some estimates put the number of child prostitutes in Vietnam as high as 40,000.
The problem doesn't just remain there.
Thousands of Vietnamese children are being trafficked out of the country each year to work as sex slaves somewhere else.
In Cambodia, for example, as high as a third of the child prostitutes there come from Vietnam.
Many of the children in Hanoi work as helpers in family-run restaurants, which also serve as a front to pimp these children and double up as an income source at the same time.
How did these children as young as 12-13 end up as prostitutes?
Professor Vu Thi Quy and Dr. Nguyen Thi Bich Ha shares with us some insights.
"Those children (who end up as sex slaves) come from different backgrounds. Some of them are orphans, some of them are abandoned children because of the situation at home as the parents are divorced. Some of them know nothing about sex and some of them are street children who come from rural areas. They are helpers to some families.
Do the families sell them?
Some of them sell them. The families themselves may have prostitutes in the family.
So these families operate brothels, operate businesses that sell children for sex?
Is this a choice that the children made? I mean, why can't they sell newspapers and do shoe polishing like some of the other kids?
It's not easy for the children to find work as newspaper sellers or as shoe polishers. So they have to accept the situation. Some of them are very young when they come to the families as helpers so they're too young to know what is sexual abuse.
Who are their major customers?
They have different customers because there are men coming from the rural areas into the cities, the big cities to work. Sometimes they rent houses, apartments together and sometimes they meet those kind of children, those men would be one of their customers.
Wouldn't foreign tourists, foreign customers be a major client of these children?
Yes, some of them are foreigners, tourists.
How much do these children earn for the service they provide?
From 30,000 to 80,000 Dong.
That's less than S$10!
Yes, from US$2 onwards. Some of them work in restaurants and food shops and the owners will sell them to the customers. So, after their work in the restaurant, they have to work (as prostitutes) and further contribute in payment to the owners while they get only a small amount of the money. If the authorities in the locale come to know of these children, they always come and take the children away to a special rehabilitation centre.
If for example I want to look for a child prostitute, how do I know which shop to go to?
It's not a publicly advertised. But for those who are looking for it, they can contact the restaurants or the hotels. For those kids who do that work and for those who are looking for the children, they have this understanding between one another. They don't have to ask openly. Once they enter the restaurant or the food shop, they understand that the girl's a prostitute.
Are there more boy or girl prostitutes?
Some of them choose to remain the profession because it's profitable?
And for those who want to leave? What happens to them?
Most of the children when they came to the big cities, it never crossed their minds that they would work as a prostitute. But when they come to the cities, they end up meeting the people who take them to work as child prostitutes.
And if they want to get out of it?
Some of them when they realise what's happening, they can quit from the places that they are working at. But some of them can't quit from these places and they need support from the authorities who help them to get out of the families or shops where they're working at. Then they are taken to a rehabilitation training centre where they're trained in for example, embroidery, etc and they become better persons."
Professor Vu Thi Quy and Professor Dr. Nguyen Thi Bich Ha from Vietnam National University.
Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Hai Fung, Gwang Ling and most of the tourist destinations have the highest number of child prostitutes.
The Centre for Women Studies at VNU have already started a centre conducting research into this problem, taking in some of these child prostitutes at times.
It's tough finding a child prostitute to speak to in Hanoi city where I was.
The Vietnamese people find it uncomfortable and difficult for them to speak about the problem of the sex industry in their area.
Although the problem may be hidden from sight, it continues to boom in the dark of the night.
Next week, tune in as I share with you my experience out on the prowl looking for female prostitutes in Hanoi.
This has been Inside Vietnam with me Ariel Wee on Radio Singapore International.
Sources and Relevant Links:
Radio Singapore International Inside Vietnam: Child Prostitution 12 November 2003