A Rant About Vietnam: Parenting

I’ve lived in Vietnam for just less than 3 months now. I feel as though I’m getting used to the craziness that this country has to offer. I’ve seen a lot since my first afternoon stroll, when I saw a man drunkenly fall while getting up from a beer can covered table and then getting on a scooter and driving away. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the insanity, even when my survival is being compromised, but I really can’t stand watching a parent risk their child’s life by putting them on a scooter.
Three people on a scooter in Vietnam

A few nights ago, Sara and I were cruising around the shopping district. It was a Friday night. The roads were busy with scooter drivers who were taking their eyes off the road to peer into stores. Suddenly, a bicycle came from the opposite lane and toppled over in front of us. It had been hit by a scooter as it tried to turn left. I quickly stopped and watched the woman on the scooter struggle to stay on the back seat as she held her baby in one arm. Once she got her balance, she yelled something in Vietnamese at the two young girls on the bicycle and held up her baby who was crying.

Now, I’m not sure who was to blame for the incident, although in Vietnam you’re responsible for what’s in front of you, so usually if you crash into someone you’re at fault, but I don’t care either way. All I could think about was how this lady was using her baby as a way to make these girls feel bad. Like they jeopardized her baby’s life. Listen lady, you brought your baby out on a busy road at night. It’s Vietnam. Shit happens — a substantially large amount of shit happens. Your baby was at risk because you thought it would be okay to bring it out, and without a helmet, in a country where 10,000 people a year die of traffic accidents.

When I’m driving down the highway and a man flies by me with his 5-7 year old daughter, going about 80 km/hour, no helmet on either of them — I almost want to pull over or find another route. I’m paranoid that I will cross paths with them again, further down the highway, with the bike on it’s side, a crowd gathered, and a streak of blood on the pavement. Driving is a risk in Vietnam. I’ve ranted myself stupid about it already. And yet you see images like this one all the time here.

A Vietnamese man driving a scooter while holding a baby that isn't wearing a helmet.
Even the baby knows this is a bad idea.
When I decided I needed a photo of a baby on a motorcycle, it literally took 3 minutes until I had this one, plus a few more to choose from. I’ve driven a motorcycle with one hand before. I don’t feel safe doing it. If the need for a sudden stop or a quick swerve comes up, you’ll either have to grab the handle bars (and drop the baby) or crash. Holding a baby and driving with one hand makes me furious. What the hell are these people thinking? These rants are suppose to calm me, but this one is just making me angrier.

In 2007, Vietnam made it illegal to ride on major roads without a helmet. This rule didn’t come with any exemptions for children. According to the World Health Organization, only 32% of children in Ho Chi Minh City are wearing helmets. Why are so many kids without a helmet in Vietnam? Well, when the helmet law was made parents saw that there was a loophole. In Vietnam, you can’t legally fine a child under the age of 16. That’s similar to the western world though, right? Parents are responsible for their underage children. The difference is, in Vietnam there was no rule that stated that a parent can be penalized on behalf of their children. No penalty? I guess that means no consequences… unless you count a dead child. In 2010, the legislation finally changed making it possible to fine the parents if a child that’s over the age of 5 isn’t wearing a helmet (but under the age of 5 is ok!). However, the change in law didn’t seem to have the impact that it should have. Perhaps, because there were no fines being given. Instead of enforcing the rules, the government decided to educate the people. They’ve put out ads, distributed flyers, and even gave out free children’s helmets. It didn’t really work. Even with ads like this one:

Helmet Awareness TVC: "When I grow up" (Vietnamese with EN subtitles)

How can you not put a helmet on a child after seeing that? According to a 2008 WHO survey, 57.8% of parents with non-helmet-wearing children under the age of 14 believed that the helmet would do neck damage to their child. This is a misconception that has been going around Vietnam for a while. There isn’t any evidence to support it.

Another popular reason given by parents, the kids don’t want to wear them. That’s right, the children are like, “No mom, I don’t wanna wear this stupid helmet and I’m not brushing my teeth anymore either!” and the parents just go with it. In Vietnam, children are put on a pedestal. They are considered the future of the family and sometimes have more power around the house than their parents. I’ve seen some really bratty kids at the supermarket. They crash the cart into people and the parents don’t say a thing. This really surprised me because most of what I read about parenting in Vietnam is that the children are very respectful to their elders, but I haven’t noticed any of that. My landlord’s fat kid disobeys his dad like it’s his job, and without any consequences.

There’s a saying in Vietnam, nhiều con hơn nhiều của. It translates to, many children are better than many possessions. Awww, aint that sweet. Except, it’s talking about the value of child labour. For the sake of the nation, I hope that the government reinstates the two-child policy.