The Revised Child Law: the Opportunity for Viet Nam to consolidate its pioneering stand on child rights

Friday, April 1, 2016 UNICEF Vietnam

A child is any person under 18 years of age. This is the definition given by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and it’s also the definition agreed by all but a handful of States in the world. Viet Nam is a pioneer globally in upholding child rights as it was the first country in Asia to ratify the Convention in 1990, and the second country in the world. The global leadership role on child rights has been reaffirmed with Directive No. 20 issued by the Politburo of the Central Committee in 2012 aiming at strengthening care, education, and protection of children.

Thanks to advances in brain scanning technology, recent scientific research reveals that persons under the age of 18 are not yet fully mature adults. In fact, the most critical parts of the brain responsible for decision-making are not fully formed until the early 20s. This supports the rationale thrust behind the international definition of a child as under 18 years, as it provides critical opportunities to support children aged between 16 and 18 to enter into productive adulthood.

Mr Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, Representative UNICEF in Viet Nam
Using 18 as the age to define a child does not mean that 18 must be legislated as the age for all matters relating to children. Recognizing children develop and grow over time, national laws can set different ages at which children are considered capable of making decisions or taking part in certain activities. For example, national laws may say that a child is able to drive a motorbike at the age of 16, is considered criminally responsible at the age of 14, and can engage in light work at the age of 15. However, in recognition that they are not yet fully mature, all children under the age of 18 are entitled to special care and protection, and both parents and the government continue to owe a special duty to them until they reach adulthood.

By defining a child as under 18 years, Viet Nam can extend protection of rights to cover all children, and avoid the risk that children aged 16-18 years fall through the gaps. This could be a young girl victim of sexual abuse in need of care, or a young orphan who needs protection.

Viet Nam’s current Law on Protection, Care and Education of Children from 2004 stipulates that children prescribed in the Law are Vietnamese citizens aged under 16 years. Members of the National Assembly are currently debating a new draft Child Law that proposes to make explicit that a child is a person under the age of 18 years. This disposition will be in alignment with international standards anchored in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that Viet Nam ratified in 1990, in a pioneering manner in the Region and Globally: being the first in Asia and the second in the world.

UNICEF is extremely concerned that a rejection to raise the age of the child to 18 would have negative consequences for children that would deny them support and protection at a critical time of their growth. Viet Nam is facing a defining moment in time, and UNICEF trusts that Viet Nam will continue its pioneering status in protecting children’s and adopt the alignment of the age of the child, as under 18, in conformity with international child rights standards.

By Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam

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