Vietnam has one of south-east Asia’s fastest-growing economies. It is flanked by the South China Sea to the east and shares borders with the People’s Republic of China in the north, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the Kingdom of Cambodia to the west. Over 88 million people from 54 different ethnic groups live on its narrow s-shaped land.
For most, living conditions have steadily improved over recent years. Vietnam is now considered a ‘medium human development’ country, according to the United Nations criteria, and currently ranks 116 out of 182 countries in the UNDP’s Human Poverty Index (2009). Economic growth averaged 7.5 per cent in recent years and poverty fell rapidly.
The Government launched the Doi Moi policy in 1986, which started the gradual transition from a centrally planned communist state to a market-oriented economy. A series of policies were ratified to promote the opening up of the economy to foreign investment and trade and the privatisation of state-owned enterprises.
In 1995, Vietnam joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), making a new step forward in economic development. Since then Vietnam export volume to ASEAN significantly increased. Committed investment from ASEAN to Vietnam also rapidly augmented.
Since the World Trade Organization (WTO) accession in 2007, Vietnam committed to opened policies creating favourable conditions for business development and globalisation. Market liberalisation and recognition of private property rights have promoted an active private sector, and Official Development Assistance (ODA) inflows have gone up, stimulating the development of core industries and generating positive changes in infrastructure.
Along with reform policies the Government applied a number of targeted programmes addressing poverty and social deprivation. Despite this, gaps in poverty rates by rural-urban residence, by region and by ethnic groups have widened. While the poverty rate is 18.3 per cent in urban areas, it is 44.9 per cent in rural areas.
Ethnic minorities account for 39.3 per cent of all poor people, despite representing only 12.6 per cent of the total population. They have not shared in many of the benefits of the past decade’s developments due to social and cultural divisions and a lack of knowledge about basic social services and information that promotes behavioural change. This is especially true in rural areas where living standards have improved at a much lower rate. Gender discrimination also continues to undermine the well-being of women and their children.
Though Vietnam will achieve nearly all of the Millenium Development Goals at the national level by 2015, its nearly 30 million children are not benefitting equally from the new prosperity. Gaps between rich and poor, boys and girls, and between ethnic Kinh Vietnamese and the country’s many minority populations are clear.
Economic disparities, gender inequality and massive inequity between rural and hard-to-reach mountainous areas and the more affluent urban areas of the country are substantial. Access to adequate water and sanitation, to health services and to education, especially secondary education, are major issues.
Enrolment rates at primary school are 97 per cent. Parents’ levels of education significantly affect nutritional outcomes and enrolment in school. In 2006, Young Lives found that 66 per cent of mothers from families in the poorest expenditure quintile had received little or no schooling, compared to 47 per cent of mothers in the remainder of the sample. Interestingly, maternal education has a stronger impact on nutrition, while the father’s education is a more important determinant of enrolment. The education of both parents significantly affects the child’s subjective well-being.
Despite great efforts by the government to improve healthcare services for women and children, Vietnam still ranks 125th in the world for under-5 mortality. Among under-5s, 5 per cent are underweight, 8 per cent are wasted (thin for their height) and 36 per cent stunted (short for their age).
Alongside positive changes in the economy, economic development has brought in challenges and pressure on families, in which children are the most vulnerable. Children are coping with risk of homelessness, drug use, being trafficked, work and sexual exploitation due to neglect. A recent survey on accident and injury shows that approximately 75 per cent of deaths among 1-year-old children are caused by traffic accidents and drowning. As reported by the Department of Children Care and Protection, about 2.6 million of children are classified as being in need of special protection, including children with disabilities, orphans, and those in poverty.
The Young Lives Round 3 data puts us in a key position to study topics of interest to policymakers: the shortage of skills, inequality; and the effectiveness and sustainability of Vietnam’s social protection system. Increased public investment in education and healthcare (particularly the alleviation of malnutrition) lays a solid foundation for skills growth for youth and may therefore be a very cost-effective way to strengthen social protection systems in the future.
BBC country profile web page; UNICEF country web page and The State of the World’s Children 2009; 2007/2008/2009 Human Development Report; Young Lives Round 2 Survey: Country Report
Our sample sites
Young Lives research is based in 20 communities in the communes of Lao Cai in the north-west, Hung Yen province in the Red River Delta, the city of Danang on the coast, Phu Yen province from the South Central Coast and Ben Tre province on the Mekong River Delta. Together, these five areas cover different geographical regions, levels of development, urban/rural locations and population characteristics. For a map showing the sample sites, a full description of the sample sites and key findings so far, follow the links.
In Vietnam Young Lives works with the Centre for Analysis and Forecast, Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences (CAF-VASS), General Statistics Office of Vietnam (GSO) and Save the Children-UK, Vietnam.
Key team members (see complete list on staff page)
Country Co-Director: Nguyen Thang, CAF/VASS
Country Co-Director: Nguyen Thi Thanh Ha, CAF/VASS
Principal Investigator: Le Thuc Duc, CAF/VASS
Lead Qualitative Researcher: Vu Thi Thanh Huong, CAF/VASS
Contact the team
To contact the team in Vietnam, email younglives.vn_at_gmail.com