What to do if you suspect child abuse

Dear Antoine and Caroline,
I hear my neighbors yelling all the time. They have a kid and I have seen him several times with bruises on his body. I am very worried about him. Do you know if there is anything I can do to help him? Do I have an obligation to inform the authorities? However, I don’t know for certain if he’s being physical abused, it’s just a suspicion.

It is essential to understand that in Viet- nam, parents may sometimes use mild physical punishment on their children because of their traditional belief of “spare the rod, spoil the child,” however, severe punishments on children are considered child abuse and, of course, punishable by law.

Vietnam has even promulgated (and recently reformed) a specific law on child protection. Under this amended law many acts are now considered abusive and are prohibit- ed, including beating or mistreating children, any acts affecting their development by hurting them emo- tionally, acts hurting their dignity or honor, acts of humiliation, intimida- tion, segregation and neglecting them.

Based on the law and your description of you neighbors’ behavior and the visible bruises on their child’s body, it seems reasonable to conclude that your neighbors may be beating their son. Vietnamese law stipulates strict penal- ties for parents who beat their children. The parents, if found guilty, may receive either a caution or a fine between VND5 million to VND10 million but, most importantly, their parental rights may become limited. The child may be handed over to relatives for nurturing, care and education, or to surrogate families, child support establishments, or social relief establishments if the child has no relatives. In addition to that, under the criminal code, offenders may be subject to a harsher penalty of two to five years imprisonment if the mistreatment causes the child to suffer from continuing mental torment and/or any health damages.

Now let’s go back to your question on how to approach this situation. Firstly, you might consider talking to your neighbors to find out if there’s another explanation for the child’s bruises and to let them know that you are concerned about the child’s welfare. Perhaps you can ask other neighbors if they share your concern and ask them to help if there are any language barriers. Raising the issue directly with the parents may be enough to lead to a change in their behavior. However, if there is no improvement or if your intervention leads to any threat to your- self or the child’s safety, you can reach out to the local authorities for help (see further details of the appropriate authorities to contact below). We un- derstand you’re hesistant to report the situation to the authorities because of the lack of evidence. In compliance with the law, it is your responsibility to protect the lives, bodies, dignity and honor of children. Furthermore, the physical and moral safety of a child is at stake. Therefore, you should not wait until you have concrete evidence before reporting this matter to the authorities but inform them as soon as possible of the situation and the grounds for your suspicions. If it appears, after an investigation, that the child was not mistreated, you will not be subject to any penalty provided that you have acted in good faith.

In practical terms, if you would like to report any acts of abuse or mistreat- ment against children, you can contact the National Child Protection Hotline (18001567) for the fastest assistance, or you can report the matter directly to the nearest police station, the district People’s Committee or the head of the residential area. Once the authorities receive your report, they will investi- gate the case and take action against the parents if mistreatment of the child is proven. Please note that if a child is mistreated by a foreigner living in Vietnam, the authorities still have the rights and obligations to protect them as Vietnam has joined the Con- vention on the Rights of the Child.

The Vietnamese government has issued a new Law on Children in 2016, which will take effect on June 1, 2017. The implementation of this new law is considered an important step in the direction of protecting children in Vietnam. Specifically, children would have the right to be protected from all forms of physical and mental violence and all acts of infringing upon children’s rights, shall be promptly prevented and handled. Every month, Antoine and Caroline answer legal questions from readers. If you have any legal question you want answered, send them to legal@oivietnam.com.

BIO: A member of the Paris Bar, Antoine Logeay has been practicing law rst in France, mainly in litigation and arbitration, then in Vietnam for three years as an associate of Audier & Partners based at its Hanoi office. Also a member of the Paris Bar, Caroline de Bellescize has been practicing mainly business law and real-estate law for three years in a French law rm and is currently an associate at the HCMC o ce of Audier & Partners. Audier & Partners is an international law rm with presence in Vietnam, Myanmar and Mongolia, providing advice to foreign investors on a broad range of legal issues.