Sexual abuse of children has been increasing in Vietnam, especially in tourist destinations, but the country's Penal Code lacks a clause directly governing child sex tourism crimes, says a joint survey from the Ministry of Justice and the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (Unodc).
The survey, conducted in August and September in nine provinces and cities, is part of a four-year project to combat the sexual exploitation of children in the Mekong sub-region.
Speaking at a conference yesterday, Deputy Minister of Justice Hoang The Lien said that increases in tourism brought not only huge economic benefits but also new challenges, including child sex abuse.
Both male and female children had been victims of domestic and international child sex offenders, he said.
In the joint project with Unodc, the ministry and agencies reviewed Vietnam's legal framework in order to recommend amendments that coincided with international norms, he said.
Meanwhile, Zhuldyz Akisheva, the country manager of Unodc Vietnam Office, said that poverty, lack of sustainable livelihoods and gender inequality were among the factors contributing to the boom of so-called sex-tourism involving minors in the sub-region including Vietnam.
However, Vietnam's Penal Code, passed 11 years ago, had many limitations when it came to addressing sexual abuse by travelling offenders, she said, emphasising the need to amend the code.
Most respondents to the survey don't understand what child sex tourism is, reflecting the absence of a working definition.
"This absence hinders agencies trying to define the scope of 'child sex tourism crime' and makes it harder for them to collect statistics about those crimes, thus weakening the effectiveness of crime prevention," said Nguyen Van Dung, deputy director of the ministry's Criminal Law Division.
About 80 per cent of respondents in the surveyed cities and provinces believed child sex tourism was increasing, based on child-sex statistics.
Moreover, Penal Code 1999 uses two definitions - "child" and "juvenile" - but both these subjects are applied only to principles of criminal liability, where they mean that younger citizens are given softer punishments than adult criminals.
Based on regulations of the Penal Code and child-related laws, children are defined as people under 16 years of age. This definition differs from the basic international standard, which identifies children as those less than 18 years of age. This disparity significantly affects cross-border cooperation to prevent and combat child abuse.
Unodc recommends ensuring that the law defines children to be persons under the age of 18 and provides the full range of protections for all children under this age threshold.
Regulations governing sexual abuse crimes also have shortcomings, according to representatives of the municipal People's Procuracy in southern Can Tho City.
In Article 112 of the Penal Code, while those who commit several rape acts against children less than 13 years of age in an organised manner are assigned penalties starting at 12 years of imprisonment, individuals who commit the same crime in similar circumstances against victims between 13 and 16 years of age receive sentences of 20 years or higher.
According to the Supreme People's Procuracy, from 2007 to 2011, investigating agencies at all levels prosecuted 6,500 cases of child sexual abuse, charging nearly 6,800 offenders. People's Courts at all levels adjudicated 5,200 cases with 5,700 offenders. The offenders were not only native residents; there was also a rapidly increasing number of foreigners. According to the Ministry of Public Security, there were 50 cases in which offenders were foreigners between 2009 and 2011.
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