The nation has targeted reducing the percentage of children with special needs to fewer than 5.5 percent of all children nationwide by 2015, under a new national programme on child protection, launched on Oct. 6 in the northern province of Quang Ninh.

The programme, approved by the Prime Minister last February, also sets a target of identifying and providing early intervention, as well as care and rehabilitation, to over 70 percent of highly vulnerable children, including orphans, abandoned children, children with disabilities, street kids, sexually-abused children and juvenile criminal offenders.

An estimated 4.3 million children are currently living in these special circumstances.

The programme, to be established in 50 percent of all provinces and cities nationwide by 2015, will focus on communication, education and raising social awareness; building the capacity of volunteers and staff working in childcare and protection at all levels; and developing a child protective services system, including social service centres, counselling centres and a community child protection network.

Community-based models will then be scaled up to support children in special circumstances, as well as improve the effectiveness of State administration of child protective services.

The programme, with a total budget of over 1.7 trillion VND (84 million USD), will initially focus on disadvantaged areas with a high number of children at risk or in need, including children in ethnic communities.

The launch of the programme was accompanied by a workshop which drew representatives from ministries, agencies, local governments, mass movements and non-governmental organisations to discuss issues that need to be addressed during the implementation of the programme.

Deputy Minister of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs Doan Mau Diep stressed that the approval of the programme proved the Government's determination to protect children, providing a safety net for children as well as stability and security for society as a whole.

The programme wull support the development of comprehensive child protective systems in the future, said UNICEF deputy representative in Vietnam Jean Dupraz.

"Effective implementation would benefit from the establishment of a partnership group on child protection to co-ordinate the work of the Government and relevant stakeholders," Dupraz said.

"The National Programme on Child Protection also cannot be effectively implemented without the integration of child protection objectives and activities into provincial development plans, with a regular budget line," he said. "I would therefore encourage all provinces to follow the example of Quang Ninh by allocating 0.5 percent or more of their annual budget for the care, protection and support of children in special circumstances."./.