At-work kindergartens: the first step out of the poverty trap

Tam Nguyen, Ho Chi Minh City Community Manager
Ho Chi Minh City, 7 August 2014

At the beginning of 2014, Vietnam Television broadcast a long segment that alarmed the migrant parents living in Ho Chi Minh City. Three consecutive child rape and child harassment incidents had taken place in District 9, the hotspot of child harassment in Ho Chi Minh City. The most common scenarios were in crowded migrant worker communities where both parents had to work full-time, leaving their pre-school children at home alone, due to the lack of affordable at-work kindergarten. It is even more disturbing to see this kind of situation leading to a cycle of sexual exploitation and poverty for female migrant workers.

At pre-school age, the children of migrant workers mostly stay alone inside locked homes for several reasons: migrant parents have no extended family members nearby to help with childcare; existing kindergartens are usually very far from the industrial zones where parents work; and the average kindergarten fee is around VND 500,000 (USD$24) per month, which is approximately 20 percent of the parents' migrant worker salary. Not knowing to distance themselves from strangers or to refuse to allow others to touch their sensitive parts, the small girls easily fall victim to their ill-intentioned neighbors without even knowing what is happening to them.

Entering adolescence, either having suffered from or witnessed similar harassment happening to their peers within these crowded communities, these female youth face high risks of unsafe sex. The national Survey Assessment of Vietnamese Youth (SAVY) has confirmed that this particular group of young migrants in urban areas, who are often less educated, are most likely to engage in unsafe premarital sex, which easily leads to teenage pregnancy.

Becoming mothers at a very young age, these teenagers usually leave school early, which results in low literacy and low-paying jobs. Subsequently, their children repeat the same cycle of "home alone, early sex, early pregnancy, poverty."

Employer initiatives

As an initial step to break this cycle, a few employers in Ho Chi Minh City have recently built kindergartens with subsidized fees inside the industrial zones. One good example is the Hiệp Phước Industrial Zone, which built both a residential building for its workers and a kindergarten that is able to accommodate 150 children on its ground floor. "Every morning I drop my two-year-old daughter there and then walk to work. I can pick her up whenever I finish work in the afternoon,” says Đào Thị Ngọc Giàu, an employee at Hiệp Phước.

Another example is Pouyuen Company's USD 2 million kindergarten, which is intended to accommodate 2,000 children. It is worth noting not only because of the significant resources invested, but also because it has not been allowed to operate, due to the fact that the company has 100 percent foreign investment and did not register to do business in education. This example suggests that the government must make an effort to establish procedures flexible enough to encourage well-meaning employers.

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