Something has to change

Vinh* is 14 years old. He is homeless, sleeping in one of Hanoi's many supposedly-outlawed 24 hour internet cafes. He plays computer games all day, and when he runs out of money he contacts a pimp who calls himself "Aunty" and makes money from trafficking underage boys.

Most of the "buyers" are Vietnamese men, although several foreigners are involved and don't appear to fear getting caught.

Vietnam prides itself on its concern for children and yet seems unable to offer protection to boys like Vinh. Earlier this year he was detained and sent to a Protection Centre, which kept him from danger for some months; but when he was released at the end of July, he was simply shown to the front gate, given a few dollars, and left to find his own way from there. Vinh returned to Hanoi and walked  straight back in the arms of the pimps and traffickers.

While international aid agencies turn away from Vietnam, declaring it a Middle Income country no longer in need of assistance, social problems like this are only just beginning. Vietnam is at a stage of development at which its economic growth has been massively impressive, but the consequences of rapid change are starting to be felt. Blue Dragon staff see the effects on young people daily: and often, what we see is frightening.

Teenage girls have formed gangs that live in hotels, funding elaborate lifestyles by selling methamphethamines. Fifteen and 16 year old boys go out at night breaking into houses, stealing iphones and motorbikes, then celebrate by spending big on prostitutes, online games, and drugs.

And Vinh is not alone in his life of selling sex; he is just one of a network of over 20 boys known to Blue Dragon, all aged under 17, who meet men on Facebook or at one of several known locations to earn $5 - $15 a night.

This isn't acceptable in any society; but the pace of development in Vietnam has been so fast, and often the benefits have been so unequally distributed, that social decay has been unavoidable.

Repairing the damage is going to be incredibly difficult - but not impossible. Vietnam's economic miracle now needs to be matched with a social miracle. Society cannot fail Vinh by leaving him to the predators; something has to change, and it must change soon.


 * Name changed to protect his identity.