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Vietnam's Children in a Changing World

Rachel Burr

Publication Year: 2006

Like the majority of children living in the global South today, a large number of Vietnamese youths work to help support their families. International human rights organizations have focused on these children, seeking to bring their lives into line with an understanding of childhood that is generally accepted in the developed world.

            In this ethnographic study, Rachel Burr draws on her daily observations of working children in Hanoi and argues that these youngsters are misunderstood by the majority of agencies that seek to help them. Most aid programs embrace a model of childhood that is based on Western notions of individualism and bountiful resources. They further assume that this model is universally applicable even in cultures that advocate a collective sense of self and in countries that do not share the same economic advantages.

            Burr presents the voices and experiences of Vietnamese children in the streets, in a reform school, and in an orphanage to show that workable solutions have become lost within the rhetoric propagated by aid organizations. The reality of providing primary education or adequate healthcare for all children, for instance, does not stand a chance of being achieved until adequate resources are put in place. Yet, organizations preoccupied with the child rights agenda are failing to acknowledge the distorted global distribution of wealth in favor of Western nations.

            Offering a unique, firsthand look at the experiences of children in contemporary Vietnam, this book also provides a broad analysis of how internationally led human rights agendas are often received at the local level.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

My grateful thanks go to all the children who informed my research, especially the boys with tattoos and those who were making their living on the streets of Hanoi. Most importantly I must thank my doctorate supervisors, Ronnie Frankenberg, Ian Robinson and Alison Shaw, without whose insightful encouragement I could not have...

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pp. 1-23

For two years, between 1996 and 1998, I lived in Hanoi, Vietnam, where I did anthropological fieldwork with a focus on childhood. I had originally intended to concentrate my research on the everyday experiences of working children. But on arriving in Hanoi it soon became clear to me that local children’s experiences could...

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pp. 24-52

Most of the children I met during fieldwork were born in the 1980s, a time of great flux for Vietnam: By the mid-1980s Communistinspired agricultural collectivism was failing, engendering famines and crisis. The crisis was further...

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pp. 53-84

In February 1997 the director of an international NGO that worked with children but had no interest in working in the field of child rights invited me to join him and his Vietnamese staff to watch a short film produced by members of an international child rights NGO working in Hanoi. When we saw the film it was still...

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pp. 85-108

Most of the Vietnamese children who appear in this book were working or had worked to earn a living at some point in their lives. This is a common feature of most countries in the South (Boyden and Holden 1991; Fyfe 1985). The recognition that many of the world’s children work is a difficult and disconcerting subject...

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pp. 109-133

The first children I did fieldwork among in Hanoi worked on the streets in the center of the city. In this chapter I discuss some of their experiences, in particular their responses to the different types of formal and informal support services available to them. My findings show that children who had already been on the...

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pp. 134-163

At the start of my time in Hanoi I did not expect to find children being routinely sent to reform centers, and I could not have predicted that this discovery would result in my doing fieldwork in a reform center. While I was doing fieldwork in the city,...

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pp. 164-186

In this chapter, I look at the UNCRC’s applicability to children whose particular circumstances make it more likely that they might be discriminated against, examining in particular some of the ways in which a Vietnamese child’s gender or disability...

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pp. 187-206

The first times that I visited both the reform school and the orphanage are permanently etched on my mind because on both occasions, as I arrived, the children, dressed in formal pale blue uniform shirts and navy trousers, huddled together for mutual support and peered at me suspiciously. This was not a reaction...

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pp. 207-226

When I started doing fieldwork, I expected the lives of the children I met to be uniformly hard and bleak. However, while most of the children experienced hardships and day-to-day difficulties, they did not fit my stereotype of the rundown and...


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pp. 22-236


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pp. 237-247

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About the Author

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pp. 249

Rachel Burr is an anthropologist and social worker. Between 2000 and 2003 she codeveloped and taught childhood studies at the Open University, UK. Between 2003 and 2005 she was a visiting fellow in the anthropology department at the University of Wisconsin. Since returning to live in the UK she has continued to work for...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813539898
E-ISBN-10: 0813539897
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813537955

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2006