Vietnam's Children in a Changing World

Vietnam's Children in a Changing World

Vietnam's Children in a Changing World

Vietnam's Children in a Changing World

Synopsis

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 support 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. 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, first-hand 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 on the local level.

Excerpt

“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a
society can be understood without understanding both.”

—(Muncie 1999, 205)

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 not be adequately represented or explained if I only looked at their immediate environment at the local level. Instead, if I were to represent their experiences properly I would also need to take into account global influences at work at the local level, and particularly the impact of the internationally led child-focused aid programs now being mounted in Vietnam. The end result is a broadly based analysis founded on anthropologically based fieldwork but informed by an examination of international development, human rights, and, because my interest is in childhood, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Nonetheless, at the core of this book are the voices and experiences of the Vietnamese children I met. Their experiences inspired the direction in which this body of work has gone, and it is because of them, and my desire that they be heard, that I have felt so determined to make my findings public.

On the face of it, a revolution in attitudes toward children has taken place across the globe, stimulated particularly by the UNCRC. During the first . . .

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