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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16420

Mr RIPOLL (4:27 PM) —Firstly, I would like to put on the record my great admiration for the Vietnamese community. In particular, I admire their hard work, their entrepreneurship, the way in which they conduct their affairs and their efforts to ensure that those in their community not only maintain their own culture but also work very hard to become Australian and to contribute to this society. Like other speakers to this motion, I am not here to preach to the Vietnamese or to the Vietnamese government. Australia also has problems of its own in this regard. Vietnam is a developing nation. It is working very hard but, as with every country around the world, more needs to be done. Australia has a role to play, and I believe it has a responsibility to assist Vietnam in dealing with this very important issue. I believe it is very important for us in this place to take an interest in issues that face the global community, not just issues that face our country.

Violence against women is a worldwide phenomenon. It transcends boundaries of nationality, culture, religion and socioeconomic status. Domestic violence in particular is perpetrated against women. Not only does it impact on their physical and emotional health; it also leads to a loss of self-esteem. Domestic violence is a leading cause of death among women around the world. In Vietnam domestic violence against women is still common. Social attitudes are perpetuating inequality, and violence exists at all levels. Violent behaviour is regarded as the normal prerogative of men in educating their wives and children. This is not an acceptable practice in Australia, nor should it be an acceptable practice in Vietnam or in any other part of the world.

According to a United Nations study, 80 per cent of Vietnamese women have experienced some form of violence, including neglect, verbal abuse, physical abuse and forced sex. This figure is too high and needs the attention of government agencies, in particular AusAID and other NGOs, through education programs and through the role they play in that country.

The denial of equal opportunities to women, despite protections for women in Vietnamese laws, encourages the social acceptability of domestic violence, thus underpinning the maintenance of an unequal power balance between the genders. Despite legislative protection, Vietnamese women are denied equal access to land, education and jobs. In addition to this—like in most parts of the world, including Australia—they often work longer hours than men work and they do so for less pay. Again, this is not acceptable here, nor should it be in Vietnam or any other part of the world.

The most crucial consequence, though, of violence against women and girls is the denial of their fundamental human rights. International human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child affirm the principles of fundamental rights and freedoms of every human being no matter where they live. This is an important aspect that should be promoted right throughout the world. Vietnam should be encouraged to enforce existing laws protecting the rights of women and children and to review those laws within the context of relevant United Nations conventions. It is not acceptable in this day and age that domestic violence in any shape or form be allowed to continue in any part of the international community, and we all have a role to play in trying to stamp it out.

Unofficial estimates say that there are as many as 15,000 prostituted persons in Phnom Penh and up to 35 per cent of them have been smuggled into Cambodia from China and Vietnam. One-third of the 55,000 prostitutes in Cambodia are under the age of 18, and most of them are Vietnamese. Most women and children trafficked from Vietnam are kidnapped from brothels by deceptive methods, such as job offers, tourist trips or matchmaking with foreigners who often sell or re-sell women abroad.

It is somewhat comforting to know, though, that between September 1995 and March 1997 Vietnamese border guard forces uncovered 121 child trade cases, arrested 186 traffickers and freed 281 victims. This sort of effort should be promoted by the Australian government and other agencies. Considering the number of prostitutes throughout South-East Asia and the spread of the HIV-AIDS virus in the past decade, we all need to take some responsibility in dealing with this problem.

I support the motion moved by the member for Fowler and I commend the work of the Vietnamese government to stamp out child abuse, sexual abuse and the abuse of women. Australia should do all it can to assist the Vietnamese authorities on this issue. This problem is not one that belongs solely to Vietnam; it is one that belongs to the whole world. It is a problem for which we all have a responsibility and it is something that we should not walk away from.