02/11/2010, 00.00
VIETNAM

For many Vietnamese families the new lunar year begins in poverty

The world’s financial crisis has hit the country hard, causing the shutdown of many small- and medium-sized firms, the driving force behind the local economy. Tens of thousands have been laid off or forced to take temporary jobs. Children are among the victims, many forced to quit school to make some money doing odd jobs.
Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews/Agencies) – There will be no Tet (Lunar New Year) celebrations for Doan Hung this year. As festivities heat up for the Year of the Tiger, which starts on 14 February, the 12-year-old boy is not in school, but busy selling lottery tickets on the streets. His parents lost their job when their employer, a garment and footwear exporter, shut down. In addition, his not alone, according to the Ministry of Education, 138,000 elementary and high school students left school in the 2007-2008 school year. The number has since increased to 147,000.

“The State has many policies like free textbooks, free tuition for children in rural and mountainous regions for instance,” but that is not enough “to bring back children to school. Inflation makes people think firstly of food and clothing,” said Truong Thi Mai, head of Social Affairs Department at the National Assembly.

In 2009, Vietnam reached a 5.2 per cent growth rate, the lowest in 11 years. In the first quarter of 2009 alone, it was just 3.1 per cent.

The crisis hit especially hard small- and medium-sized enterprises, which are the real driving force behind the local economy. This has meant less exports and more bankruptcies.

Figures released in March 2009 by the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs show that by the end of February 2009, some 938 enterprises had closed down and 976 exporters had cut production, resulting in 74,500 jobs lost.

Adding more pressure to the unemployment situation, some 3,000 Vietnamese workers lost their jobs overseas and came home.

Hung sells at least 20 tickets a day, earning about 20,000 dongs (one dollar). Unlike past years, Hung has no time to dream about the traditional glutinous rice cakes or new clothes that he and his sister used to receive from his parents at this time of the year.

Although his parents got a temporary job at a construction company and will earn enough to honour the ancestors in accordance with Tet tradition, the future remains uncertain.

Many firms have lowered workers’ bonuses or the 13th monthly wage for Tet.

Many families have been forced to spend less on food, health care and the schooling of their children. They are also worried about looming price rises, like their electricity bill, which is expected to increase in March.

The situation is very serious because poverty was already widespread before the crisis.

In a country of 86 million people, about 7.6 million children lack adequate housing, 5 million lack basic hygiene facilities, 2.4 million have no clean drinking water and 2 million suffer from malnutrition.

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