Case study

Struggling family choose schooling over child labour in Ho Chi Minh City

Through ILO, in partnership with Saigon Children’s Charity, a 15-year-old at risk of child labour in Ho Chi Minh City is supported to continue schooling.

Project documentation | 19 May 2020
Tran Thi Bich Tuyen, a 15-year-old student, and her parents and younger brother in a small rented room in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam (ILO News) – 15-year-old Tran Thi Bich Tuyen lives with her parents, three older sisters and younger brother in a small rented room in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Viet Nam’s sprawling southern metropolis. The family used to own property outside of the city, but when Tuyen’s younger brother was diagnosed with a heart problem, the family had to sell their house and leave behind their hometown to pay for his treatment.

To make ends meet, Tuyen’s parents sell lottery tickets and vegetables on the crowded city streets. Unfortunately, the two oldest girls had to drop out of school early to help to provide for the family.

Vulnerable households are all too often forced to resort to child labour as a coping strategy when faced with financial hardship and shocks. This constitutes a short-term survival mechanism that further perpetuates poverty.

In line with ILO Convention 138 on the Minimum Age for Employment and Convention 182 on the Prohibition of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) works with Governments, employers, schools and communities around the world to prevent and eliminate child labour.

Although child labour has significantly declined over the years, latest estimates indicate that there are still around 152 million children in child labour worldwide. In Vietnam, 1.7 million cases of child labour were identified in 2012, the majority of which take place in agriculture and are predominantly concentrated in the informal sphere.

For 15-year-old Tuyen, it seemed likely that she would soon become one of the cases lost among these statistics. However, last year, the struggling family was connected with local NGO, Saigon Children’s Charity (SCC). In collaboration with ILO, SCC assessed Tuyen’s educational needs and arranged for her enrollment at a continuing education centre.

Today, with her school fees and bus travel funded by ILO, Tuyen is studying at a centre 30 minutes from her home, where she learns literacy, maths and science at grade ten level.

So far, 91 children at risk of child labour in HCMC have been supported with similar support through ILO’s partnership with SCC. It is expected that, by the end of June 2020, around 145 children in the city will benefit from such support.

This support is being implemented through the ILO Project, Technical Support for Enhancing National Capacity to Prevent and Reduce Child Labour in Viet Nam (ENHANCE), with funding from the United States Department of Labour.

Working in partnership with Viet Nam’s Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, the project has been implementing wide-ranging interventions since 2015. The goal is to ensure that children like Tuyen are not working on streets or in fields but learning and developing in a safe environment.

Tuyen's dream is to become a designer, and she is also considering becoming a teacher in the future.
For Tuyen, the chance to continue her studies has made her think more positively about her future. Her dream is to become a designer, and she is also considering becoming a teacher in the future.

To help the ambitious 15-year-old to work towards her goals, SCC provides career orientation and guidance in addition to monthly life-skills training.

“Through my studies, I’m learning to develop strong principles”, she reflects, with an air of wisdom beyond her years. Despite her challenging circumstances, Tuyen is excelling academically, and recently won an award from her school.

The dedicated student hopes to continue studying for a further two years during which time she can gain the knowledge and skills to secure a better life for herself and her family.

As Tuyen’s case exemplifies, removing access barriers to education is critical to child labour prevention and enables families to invest in their children’s futures, the returns of which far exceed the short-term gains of child labour.

In Viet Nam, promoting universal, quality education is high on the national agenda, alongside a strong commitment to Sustainable Development Goal Target 8.7 to end all forms of child labour by 2025 and eliminate modern slavery and human trafficking by 2030.

While this is an ambitious goal, the Government has made concerted efforts in this area. With technical support from ILO, the Government is developing of a multisectoral roadmap and National Plan of Action to eliminate child labour.

The holistic plan encompasses improvements in education, awareness raising strategies, enhanced inspection and law enforcement capacity, legislative reform, and the implementation of targeted poverty alleviation programmes.

Through these efforts, the hope is that more options will be available for children like Tuyen, to reduce reliance on child labour and break intergenerational cycles of poverty. This, in turn, will contribute to the prosperity and socio-economic development of the whole country.