Cablegate: The Sea-My Side of the Sea Games: Hcmc Cracks Down On

Published: Wed 1 Oct 2003 04:27 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E. O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) Effective September 30, 2003, Ho Chi Minh City
authorities will round up and classify all street persons living
and working in public places around the city as part of a new
program run by the HCMC Committee on Population, Family, and
Children. Street children picked up under the program will be
sent to state-run social care centers or orphanages, or returned
to their home provinces. The program, which is similar to one
announced for Hanoi, is part of a nationwide GVN effort to crack
down on street people, beggars, and hustlers, all justified in the
name of the upcoming Southeast Asia Games (SEA Games). Local
street persons, however, appear largely unconcerned about the law
or its effect on their lives.
2. (U) Local newspapers announced the passage of Decision
104/2003/QD-UB "on the management of street people who live by
begging in public places" in mid-September, to take effect on
September 30. According to Tuoi Tre ("Youth") newspaper, the
program is intended to protect tourists and visitors attending
December's SEA Games events from being hassled by beggars. The
GVN has allocated 4.3 billion VND (approximately US$275,000) to
the plan, including re-settlement assistance and community
advocacy programs. By the end of November 2003, the National
Committee on Population Family and Children plans to have moved
100% of "begging and rubbish-collecting children" to social care
centers and orphanages, and to have assisted in the voluntary
return home of 70% of children who sell lottery tickets or
postcards or who shine shoes.
3. (U) In November 2003, the program will also include an EU-
funded 6.8 million Euro project to assist street children returned
home in 36 districts. The children will receive funding for
school and vocational training and receive job placement
assistance. The project will also give no-interest loans to their
families for household business development. The Ministry of
Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) has also submitted a
34 billion VND/year proposal to eliminate child beggars and
rubbish collectors by 2006.
4. (SBU) MOLISA's Survey on Street Children in Hanoi and Ho Chi
Minh City, July-August 2003, reported that Vietnam has over 21,000
street children, mostly between 11-15, earning an average of
15,000-30,000 VND/day ($1-2/day). The majority have not finished
school, and 8% have never attended school. 54% of street children
go home to families in the evening. A source at DOLISA (HCMC's
MOLISA) indicated that street children who have a stable home, go
to school, and who do not work too many hours may be allowed to
continue their jobs.
5. (SBU) On September 23, 2003, Poloff interviewed affected
street people in the main tourist district of HCMC. A 13-year-old
boy selling lottery tickets and a 17-year-old shoeshine boy had
both heard about the new regulations from local newspapers. The
shoeshine boy also holds down a construction job three days each
week, and has all the legal paperwork for the job. He did not
expect trouble from the local authorities because of his other job
and he expected to be able to continue his shoeshine work without
interference. The lottery boy, however, was worried about whether
he and his mother, who sells newspapers on a nearby street, would
be able to continue working. He had yet to be approached by local
authorities, but he has never been to school, so he falls in the
main target group. He believes he would be able to run fast
enough to avoid the police should they try to take him away.
6. (SBU) An elderly woman who sells lottery tickets from a wooden
chair also expressed concerns about her livelihood. She reported
that harassment had increased in the past few weeks and that she
had to move her chair several times a day. She expects to have to
stop working during the SEA Games because she is "old and cannot
not run very fast" o escape from the police. After the SEA Games
ended, however, she believes that she would be able to sell again.
7. (SBU) Ms. Ha (protect), a 14-year-old girl selling postcards
in a major tourist square, had just been released from a social
care center. (Note: Ms. Ha is well-known to the ConGen and has
also appeared in tourist videos about Vietnam.) She had been
picked up by police in July and placed in the SOS "orphanage" for
three months. Her mother was able to secure her release after
only 45 days, by paying a 3 million VND "fee" (approximately
US$200). Ms. Ha described the orphanage as something akin to a
juvenile detention center, with bars on the windows, severely
restricted movement, and regular beatings. She claimed to eat
better on the street than in the orphanage. She has been selling
postcards for 11 years, both with her mother and independently,
and speaks near-perfect English. She attends school for two hours
each morning to learn "mathematics and history."
8. (SBU) Ms. Ha echoed earlier sentiments that she would "just
outrun" the police. She reported that the police had started
using plainclothes officers in the area, but that "everyone knows"
who they were. Since her detention, Ms. Ha has refused to let
ethnic Vietnamese take her picture, claiming "they" were using
pictures to "make up stories." She still allows Westerners to
take her photograph. Ms. Ha expressed no desire to change her
lifestyle, saying that she liked the freedom and variety, and
never wanted to go back to an orphanage again.
9. (SBU) COMMENT: This is not the first program NPFCC has
proposed to address the problem of street children. Local press
reported an almost identical proposal in April 2003, without the
SEA Games linkage. That earlier measure, however, did not appear
to get government support or funding until after it could be tied
to the issue of "protecting tourists." Under the circumstances,
this would appear to be an effort to advance a pre-existing agenda
under cover of this major sporting event. DOLISA was originally
willing to discuss this program, but later cancelled, saying they
could not discuss things further without going through the local
branch of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and having other
representatives present at the meeting.
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