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Child poverty in Vietnam five times higher among ethnic minorities

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Published by Earth Times

A forthcoming report has found that ethnic minorities in Vietnam have a child poverty rate five times higher than the ethnic majority, officials said Wednesday.

The report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) called for government programmes to address the gaps in child poverty, education and health between Vietnam's Kinh ethnic majority and its minority groups, who make up 12 per cent of the population.

"Almost every indicator used to measure child development, in education, access to water and sanitation, good nutrition, and health, is much lower for ethnic minority children," said Jean Dupraz, UNICEF's deputy representative in Vietnam.

Over 60 per cent of ethnic minority children are in households that fall under the national poverty line, the report said, basing its calculations on the government's most recent survey.

That compares to just 13 per cent of children among the Kinh ethnic majority.

Sixty-eight per cent of ethnic minority children complete primary school, compared to 91 per cent of Kinh children, the report says.

The report praises Vietnam's improvements in child welfare over the past 20 years, which Dupraz called "unprecedented".

But it says the country has failed to narrow the gap between Kinh children and those of ethnic minorities. Vietnam has 53 ethnic minority groups, many of whom live in remote or mountainous areas with sparse economic opportunities.

The government data used for the report do not distinguish between different minority groups. But experts say children of certain minority groups are particularly disadvantaged.

"School participation among the Hmong is really low, about 50 to 60 per cent," said Nguyen Thi Bich, director of the education programme at the non-governmental organization Save the Children Vietnam.

Bich said achievement in maths and education among minority children was dramatically lower than that among Kinh children in the same districts.

The national school curriculum is taught entirely in Vietnamese, a language many minority children do not speak at home.

"They are disadvantaged from the very start," Dupraz said. "That's one reason why we see higher dropout and lower completion rates."

Vietnam's 53 ethnic minorities include highland groups such as the Tay, Hmong, Thai, Jarai and Ede, as well as ethnic Khmers and Cham Muslims. The country's ethnic Chinese, known as Hoa, are generally grouped with the Kinh on income and education measurements.