Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits using or threatening violence against women or taking advantage of a person who cannot act in self-defense. It also criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. Rapists are subject to two to seven years’ imprisonment. In severe cases of rape, including organized rape, a repeat offense, or extreme harm to the victim, sentences may range from seven to 15 years in prison. Authorities reportedly prosecuted rape cases fully, but the government did not release arrest, prosecution, conviction, or punishment statistics.
Domestic violence against women was common. A special 2010 UN report found that 58 percent of married women had been victims of physical, sexual, or emotional domestic violence. Authorities treated domestic violence cases as civil ones, unless the victim suffered injuries involving more than 11 percent of her body. The law specifies acts constituting domestic violence, assigns specific portfolio responsibilities to different government agencies and ministries, and stipulates punishments for perpetrators ranging from warnings and probation for up to three years to imprisonment for three months to three years. NGO and survivor advocates considered many of the provisions weak, and the government did not release arrest, prosecution, conviction, or punishment statistics. Officials acknowledged domestic violence as a significant social concern, and the media discussed it openly during the year.
While the police and legal system generally remained unequipped to deal with cases of domestic violence, the government, with the help of international and domestic NGOs, continued to train police, lawyers, and legal system officials in the law.
According to a March report by the Vietnamese Central Women’s Union and the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, authorities recorded 178,847 domestic violence cases between 2009 and mid-2012, of which more than 16,000 cases involved elders and 23,300 involved children, with the majority of the rest involving spouses, mostly wives.
Several domestic and international NGOs worked to address domestic violence. Domestic NGOs operated hotlines for victims in major cities. The Center for Women and Development, supported by the Women’s Union, also operated a nationwide hotline, although it was not widely advertised in rural areas. Although rural areas often lacked the financial resources to provide crisis centers and hotlines, a law establishes “reliable residences” to allow women to turn to another family while local authorities and community leaders attempt to confront the abuser and resolve complaints. There were 300 such residences in the country, all established through the Women’s Union at the commune level. Many women remained in abusive marriages rather than confront social and family stigma as well as economic uncertainty.
The government, with the help of international NGOs, continued to support workshops and seminars aimed at educating women and men about domestic violence and women’s rights in general and highlighted the problem through public awareness campaigns. Local NGOs affiliated with the Women’s Union remained engaged in women’s concerns, particularly violence against women and trafficking of women and children.
Sexual Harassment: No law prohibits sexual harassment of adults, and no law protects employees from sexual harassment in the workplace, although the law does prohibit employers from discriminating against female workers or offending their dignity and honor. A labor code prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Publications and training on ethical regulations for government and other public servants do not mention the problem, although it existed.
Victims of sexual harassment may contact social associations such as the Women’s Union to request their involvement. Victims with access to a labor union representative may lodge complaints with union officers. In serious cases, victims may sue offenders under a provision that deals with “humiliating other persons” and specifies punishments that include a warning, noncustodial reform for up to two years, or a prison term ranging from three months to two years. Nevertheless, there were no known prosecutions or sexual harassment lawsuits during the year, and most victims were unwilling to denounce offenders publicly.
Reproductive Rights: The constitution obliges society, families, and all citizens to implement “the population and family planning program.” The law affirms an individual’s right to choose contraceptive methods; access gynecological diagnosis, treatment, and health check-ups during pregnancy; and obtain medical services when giving birth at health facilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions. Nonetheless, unmarried women of reproductive ages continued to have limited or no access to subsidized contraceptives due to a lack of available government-approved contraceptives throughout the country. The social stigma attached to unmarried women who seek contraceptives further limited access. The government allocated additional resources for family planning services in 2010 with a goal of increasing the contraceptive prevalence rate to 80 percent by 2015.
The Population and Reproductive Health Strategy for 2011-20 applies to all citizens and strives to maintain the average number of children per reproductive-age couple at 1.8. The government, primarily through broad media campaigns, maintained its strong encouragement of family planning. A decree issued by the Politburo subjects CPV members to reprimand if they have three children, removal from a ranking position if they have four children, and expulsion from the CPV if they have five children. Violating the decree also increased the likelihood of job termination and decreased the likelihood of promotion.
Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality in all aspects of life, but women continued to face societal discrimination. Despite the large body of law and regulation devoted to the protection of women’s rights in marriage and the workplace, as well as provisions that call for preferential treatment, women did not always receive equal treatment. They continued to experience discrimination since they were not allowed to work in all the same industries or for the same hours as men (due to pregnancy or nursing). Moreover, no laws prohibit employers from asking about family status during job interviews. Women are expected to retire at age 55, compared with age 60 for men.
Although the law provides for equal inheritance rights for men and women, women continued to face cultural discrimination: A son is more likely to inherit property than a daughter is, unless otherwise specified by a legal document. A 2012 UN Development Program (UNDP)-funded study on land rights concluded that the law and cultural stereotypes limited women’s access to land ownership and inheritance. The law also prohibits gender-based preferential hiring for jobs, and while NGOs assumed that such discrimination occurred, allegations were hard to prove.
The Women’s Union and the government’s National Committee for the Advancement of Women continued to promote women’s rights, including political, economic, and legal equality, and protection from spousal abuse. The Women’s Union also operated microcredit consumer-finance programs and other programs to promote the advancement of women. The government’s National Strategy Plan for Gender Equality 2011-20 asserted that substantive equality between men and women should be provided in opportunity, participation, and benefits in the political, economic, cultural, and social domains to contribute to fast, sustainable national development.
During a seminar in Ho Chi Minh City in August to review the 30-year implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and to discuss other measures related to gender equality and women’s rights, the National Assembly Committee for Social Affairs reported that women accounted for 48 percent of an estimated 1.5 million workers. The law requires equal pay for equal work in principle, but many women complained about receiving lower pay than male counterparts do.
Gender-based Sex Selection: According to the UNDP, the national average male-female sex ratio at birth in 2012 was 112.3 to 100. The imbalanced ratio of newborn boys to girls continued to increase during the year, particularly in some wealthier areas of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The government acknowledged the problem (reduction of the ratio was a highlighted goal in the National Program on Gender Equality) and continued to take steps to address it. The Ministry of Health received additional funds and resources to address the imbalance.