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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16415

Mrs IRWIN (4:07 PM) —I move:

That this House notes:

(1) the very high levels of domestic violence in Vietnam and its consequences for women and children and urges international agencies and Vietnamese institutions to take action to detect and prevent abuse and calls on Non Government Organisations and AUSAID, in consultation with Vietnamese Government agencies, to initiate and promote education programs on gender equality, vocational rights and children's rights in Vietnam;

(2) the high level of sex trafficking in Vietnam and neighbouring countries and related risks including increasing infection rates of HIV/AIDS and calls on Non Government Organisations and AUSAID to cooperate with the Vietnamese Government to train law enforcement officers to rescue and rehabili-tate victims, to raise public awareness of the problem, to provide alternative employment and income earning opportunities for women and girls and to offer sex education for children; and

(3) the lack of safe and effective fertility control available to women in Vietnam and the resulting very high level of legal abortions performed and calls on Non Government Organisations and AUSAID to assist in the development of accessible, safe and effective fertility control measures for women in Vietnam.

Although this motion deals with domestic violence and related issues in Vietnam, I do not for one moment want to overlook the fact that, in Australia, we have our own problems with domestic violence. The cover story in last week's Bulletin magazine described domestic violence in Australia as a big ugly secret. It went on to claim that one in four women in Australia will suffer from domestic violence. My intention is not to preach to a developing country about what it must do to reduce domestic violence but to seek assistance from Australian agencies to help Vietnam with this problem.

Let me first outline the extent of domestic violence in Vietnam. According to a 2002 report of the Vietnam Women's Union, 80 per cent of Vietnamese women have experienced some form of violence. Alarmingly, the study found that almost all men and most women believed it was acceptable for a man to abuse his wife. Violent behaviour is seen as a normal way for men to educate their wives and children. Domestic violence is seen as a private matter, so there is a lack of public condemnation of all forms of domestic violence. Traditional gender stereotypes keep women and men in prescribed roles that maintain an unequal power balance between them. This in turn means there is little pressure on authorities in Vietnam to act to reduce the high levels of domestic violence. Despite legal protection of women's rights in Vietnam, women are routinely denied equal access to land, education and employment.

As I said earlier, this problem is not unique to Vietnam—we have our own problems in our country, Australia—but it is an area where Australian aid agencies and other non-government organisations may be able to assist Vietnam to address the problem. We may be able to provide resources to promote educational programs on gender equality, vocational rights and children's rights in Vietnam. While authorities in Vietnam should be expected to act more effectively in dealing with domestic violence, the underlying cultural factors also need to be addressed. In this regard, government agencies would be less effective than non-government organisations in bringing about the fundamental changes necessary to address the causes of domestic violence.

This motion calls for Australian and international agencies to play a role in developing education programs on gender equality. When negotiating AusAID programs, preference should always be given to projects that insist on equal access and in some cases provide for affirmative action. Over the years, AusAID has sponsored special women's projects and a focus on domestic violence has become a core issue for these projects. Two years ago I visited an AusAID funded project in Guangjou, in China. At the request of local women involved in the project, its focus became domestic violence and exploitation of women in the workplace. It should not be surprising that domestic violence was placed at the top of the list of the most important issues affecting women in that country. The comments of women in China were no different from the reports from Vietnam and, for that matter, Australia.

Domestic violence is not limited to poor or uneducated families; it occurs across the range of incomes and status. As I said at the beginning, Australia cannot claim to be a model nation in the area of domestic violence. We cannot lecture other nations when we also have a major problem with domestic violence here at home, but that does not mean that we cannot offer what assistance we can to help developing countries to address this most important of all issues affecting women.

An issue related to violence against women in Vietnam and neighbouring countries is the increasing incidence of sex trafficking. According to the 2003 report of the United Nations Children's Fund, its representative in Vietnam warned of the growing problem of trafficking of teenagers to China and Cambodia, who are often lured, by promises of lucrative jobs, to work in the prostitution trade. The representative said:

This is a problem that has to be solved subregionally. It is a very complicated issue and is symptomatic of what is happening to the family here.

The regional nature of the problem is shown in figures from the World Human Rights Organisation, which confirms that one-third of prostitutes in Cambodia are Vietnamese. Tougher laws have been introduced to crack down on child trafficking.

In the two-year period to 1997, Vietnamese border guards uncovered 121 child trade cases, arrested 186 traffickers and freed 281 victims, including 31 under the age of 16. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. With tens of thousands of Vietnamese prostitutes in Cambodia alone, many thousands are sold each year, as one trafficker admitted, for between $US250 and $US350 each. Clearly there is a need for better training for border protection officers, as well as programs to rescue and rehabilitate victims, such as the campaign run by the International Organisation for Immigration and the Vietnamese Women's Union, in Lang Son Province. The campaign provides information to increase public awareness of the trafficking problem and to alert potential victims to the increase in trafficking of women and children. Providing alternative employment and income earning opportunities for women and girls is critical to reducing sex trafficking in the region.

The rate of HIV-AIDS infection is also increasing in Vietnam, with an estimated 56,000 cases at the end of last year. Sixty per cent of the population of Vietnam is under the age of 25, but few know that condom use can protect them from HIV-AIDS infection. The official approach, which regards HIV-AIDS as a social evil affecting drug addicts and prostitutes, does not help to raise awareness of the virus among the wider population. There is a critical need for NGOs to provide sex education for children in Vietnam.

Related to both of these issues is the lack of safe and effective fertility control available to women in Vietnam. Official government policy urges couples to have no more than two children, with coercive measures being used. The birthrate has dropped from six children per woman in the 1960s to 2.49 per woman today. The government has targeted a rate of 1.7 per woman. Abortion is legal and available on request. According to the UN Population Fund 40 per cent of pregnancies are terminated, with 1.4 million abortions performed in 1998—an abortion rate of 2.5 per woman.

Today, 80 per cent of women between 15 and 49 use some method of contraception, with IUDs being the most widely used. Many women experience side effects from these. There is clearly a need for the development of accessible, safe and effective fertility control measures for women in Vietnam. Again, this is an area in which non-government organisations and AusAID may play a useful role in assisting the women of Vietnam.

Of all the means of assisting women in Vietnam, the most important is access to education. With a quarter of all girls leaving school before completing fifth grade, it is not surprising that women face such discrimination. Education can result in reduced fertility rates. It can have a major impact on improving the health care of women and families. Education can open up career opportunities for women. It can lead to vocational training that can improve employment prospects and contribute to the economic growth of the country. Investing in women's education is the surest way of ensuring equality of women in any society. Governments such as Australia's, with the participation of non-government organisations, have to assist that country. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Is the motion seconded?

Mr Hatton —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.