The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (1992) recognizes and protects young people’s rights to protection, care and education, also recognizing the obligations of the State, society and family to “create favourable conditions for the studies, work and recreation of young people and for the development of their intellectual faculties and physical fitness” (§66).
The enactment of the Youth Law in 2005 marked a major step towards fulfilling the rights of young people in Viet Nam. The text of the law describes the ‘rights and obligations of the youth’, as well as the ‘responsibilities of the State, family and society towards the youth’. This creates a legal foundation for creation of a state apparatus dedicated to youth and makes youth participation explicit saying that the state has the responsibility to consult youth on youth related issues. Decree 120 was adopted to guide the implementation of the Youth Law in 2007 and contains policies in all important areas for youth (education, employment, culture, sport, entertainment, state management). The Youth Law mandates the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union (HCMCYU) to play the core role in youth movements and to make relevant proposals to the authorities to address youth issues. HCMCYU led the process to develop the Youth Law and establish the Department of Youth Affairs under the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2010 to design, implement and monitor youth policies.
Another significant development was the Vietnamese Youth Development Strategy for 2011-2020. The Strategy provides the groundwork for relevant ministries and sectors to give a holistic response to young people’s needs and rights. The Department of Youth Affairs led the efforts to implement it, working with the media, the HCMCYU and other organisations to communicate on the strategy. As a result, all ministries or ministry-level agencies (30/30) and all provinces (63/63) issued their own youth development programmes.
Although a system of state management of youth affairs has been defined and policy makers now recognize the importance of investing in youth, state budget for youth remains seriously constrained and policy regarding the state apparatus managing youth affairs is still unstable at the provincial level. There are also significant overlaps of mandate and responsibilities among the three key actors related to youth affairs (the Ministry of Home Affairs, the National Committee on Vietnamese Youth and the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union).
In times of rapid economic growth and profound social change, young people in Viet Nam still face vulnerability to abuse, exploitation and HIV infection, and exposure to risk behaviours. Over the last years, injuries (such as drowning or traffic accidents) became the main cause of death, disability and serious morbidity among young people. Road traffic crashes appear as the leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 29 years. Besides the spread of HIV/AIDS, the lack of sexual and reproductive health information and services deteriorates the health status of Vietnamese youth, especially of high-risk groups such as young migrants or drug addicts. While about 0.1 percent of young people were infected with HIV in 2013, it is estimated that only 42.5 percent of young people aged 15-24 have comprehensive knowledge of HIV transmission.
Even more worrisome, health conditions vary significantly across sub-groups in terms of ethnicity, living areas or regions. The adolescent birth rate is a case in point: belonging to ethnic minority group, living in poor households and in rural areas, and poor education attainment are factors positively associated with higher rates. For instance, the rate is very high in the poorest wealth quintile at 83‰, while it is about 10‰ for the richest quintile. Greater and more equal access to health care and services can help Vietnamese youth to reach their full potential and participate fully in the country’s social, political and economic life.
Viet Nam has made significant progress in achieving universal primary education. According to the World Bank, Viet Nam spent 21.4 percent of its government expenditure and 6.3 percent of its GDP on education provision in 2012. In 2013, the net enrolment rate in primary schools was estimated at 98 percent and the primary school completion rate was 97.5 percent. The literacy rate of people aged 15-24 years was 98 percent in 2015. However, only one third of the Vietnamese youth continued their education beyond the lower secondary level in 2014. As much as a quarter of youth left school before completing their education and the majority of tem below lower secondary school.
Although the gender gap of literacy rates has been significantly reduced, ethnic minority groups, persons with disabilities, girls and young people living in rural areas still face obstacles in accessing education. There are considerable differences in the enrolment as well as drop-out rates between groups of youth depending on their gender, ethnicity and location. According to the project's results, the youth of minorities and of households with lowest economic status are those with lowest literacy rate in Viet Nam. Similarly, young people from the minorities and/or living in rural areas, coming from poor households as well as young female obtain lower level of educational attainment in comparison with others: the net enrolment rates in upper secondary education of the minority youth were less than a half of the majority’s in 2013.
Existing school curricula have a bias towards formal education and university degrees over non-formal education and vocational training, which creates a mismatch between skills and needs in the labour market. The project's results show the clear deficiency of job opportunities for the most educated young graduates, whose unemployment rate is more than three times that of young people with primary level education. Increased orientation towards skills development and adequate training can provide youth with professional qualifications that enable them to compete effectively in the labour market.
Young people account for a large share of the labour force with nearly half (49.5 percent) aged between 15 and 39 years. Making its transition to a higher value economy, Viet Nam is facing the challenge of producing jobs for its young and expanding labour force and providing it with relevant skills for the growing service and manufacturing sectors.
Young people have a greater likelihood of being unemployed and among the working poor than adults, reflecting both structural issues and young people’s particular vulnerability to economic shocks. In 2013, the unemployment rate of youth was 6.4 percent by comparison with 1.2 percent among adults. In addition, low wages and informality are also concerns in youth employment. However, from 2010 to 2014, both youth informal employment and employed youth with poor wages rates reduced from 77 percent to 75 percent and from 62 percent to 55 percent respectively. Indeed, over the last ten years, the structure of the labour market significantly changed, although agriculture remains the dominant sector of employment creation in Viet Nam despite current industrialisation. As a result, the rate of youth waged workers increased from 45 percent in 2010 to nearly half of the youth labour force in 2014, while the proportion of young employers and own account workers decreased.
Gender, ethnicity, location, income and regions play a crucial role in explaining discrepancies in youth employment outcomes. For instance, young males are more likely to work as informal workers whereas young females are more likely to be neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET) or to get poor wages. As for regional differences the least developed regions such as the Mekong River Delta, the Northern Uplands or the Central Highlands tend to experience worst employment incomes (informal employment, NEET rate, poor wages) than more developed regions such as the Red River Delta and the South East.
In this context, the government launched various policies to address youth issues in the labour market, such as programmes to support youth in vocational training and promote youth entrepreneurship. Increased attention towards decent work opportunities, the match of labour market supply and demand, and basic job orientation could materialize the increase in the working age population of the coming decades.
Youth migration within Viet Nam contributes significantly to the growing urbanization process in the country. Motivated by economic reasons and educational opportunities, internal migration flows are dominated by young female people aged 15-24, migrating mainly to urban areas. Young migrants aged 25 and over are attracted to both urban and rural areas. Many of the young migrants are especially vulnerable to economic and sexual exploitation, substance use and illicit drugs, while rural provinces become increasingly exposed to shortages of skilled and educated labour. Greater awareness of providing young (female) migrants with adequate access to social services, especially reproductive health services, and job opportunities can improve the socio-economic conditions of young migrants in Viet Nam in the long term.
In Viet Nam, youth participation is commonly understood in terms of volunteerism. The Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union (HCMCYU) and other youth organisations such as the Viet Nam Youth Federation or the Viet Nam Students' Association receive funding from the state budget for their operations and are major agents of youth mobilization. HCMCYU is present at every level of state administration and had a membership of over seven million in 2012, accounting for 28 percent of all young people aged 16-30.
Youth participation in policy development takes place at different levels – within families, schools, communities and the legal framework. The National Youth Development Strategy 2011-2020, for instance, foresees consultations with young people in its implementation, especially through HCMCYU. However, participation of youth in making youth policies is still low. According to the National Youth Report developed by MOHA and UNFPA in 2015, only 14.4 percent of youth have ever participated in any part of the policy development processes, in part due to lack of consultation by policy-makers.
Once again, socio-economic inequalities play a key role in youth participation: the better-off as well as the better educated youth show more interest in politics and societal issues and are more likely to be members of an organisation or to contribute voluntarily. Greater focus on participatory approaches for young people and broader access to the policy process is essential to effectively engage with their participation in political, social and economic life.
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