The national child protection programme has achieved its basic objectives in education and healthcare but much remained to be done, said the head of the Child Care and Protection Department Nguyen Hai Huu at a conference in Hanoi on May 25.

Huu told participants at the conference reviewing the implementation of the National Action Plan for Children 2001–10 that nearly 90 percent of cities and provinces across the country have provided free and compulsory education to junior secondary students.

Most communes and wards also have clinics where locals can receive check-ups, Huu said.

But he added that difficulties remain.

A report released the same day by the Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs Ministry found under-weight malnutrition among under-five-year-olds remains high, at nearly 32 percent.

That figure places Vietnam among the 20 worst performing countries in the world in this regard.

The average height of fifteen-year-old girls is 9 centimetres shorter than the international standard. For boys there is an 8-cm shortfall.

The report said child abuse, child maltreatment, violence against children, and cases of children with HIV/AIDS have all been on the rise in recent years.

More than 4.3 percent of children are living in special circumstances. Thousands of cases of child sexual abuse and maltreatment are reported each year. Between 12,000 and 18,000 adolescents become juvenile offenders annually.

Huu attributed shortcomings in child protection to the disparity in living standards between regions and residential groups and said parents' negligence plays its part too.

He said the lack of a comprehensive legal framework, poor awareness of the issues, financial and staff shortages and poor social services has compounded child protection efforts.

Huu said child protection is mainly focused on intervention and providing assistance to vulnerable children and those children already living in special circumstances. The system is slow on the uptake when it comes to shifting from solving consequences to taking the initiative in protecting children.

He emphasised that prevention needs to be stepped up in the future.

The Government recently approved the 2011–15 national child protection programme with a total allocated budget of 1.755 trillion VND (83 million USD).

The programme will cover children under the age of 16 with priority being given to poor children, children in special circumstances and victims of child abuse. Also receiving special attention will be families and adults responsible for taking care of those children.

The programme aims to create an environment where all children, especially disadvantaged ones, are protected and have equal development opportunities.

The programme is expected to reduce the rate of children living in special circumstances from 6 percent at present to 5.5 percent in the next five years. Eighty percent of those children will receive Government and community support and a further 70 percent of vulnerable children will also be helped.

In addition, efficient child protection systems will be set up across half of the nation's provinces and cities.

In the short-term, Huu said the ministry will closely coordinate with other ministries, cities and provinces to launch the Action Month for Children, which kicks off on June 1./.