The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), and led by General Secretary and President Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Chairwoman of the National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan. The most recent National Assembly elections, held in 2016, were neither free nor fair, despite limited competition among CPV-vetted candidates.
The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for internal security and controls the national police, a special national security investigative agency, and other internal security units. The Vietnam People’s Army aids civilian authorities to provide relief in times of natural disaster. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearance; torture by government agents; arbitrary arrests and detentions by the government; political prisoners; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including arbitrary arrest and prosecution of government critics, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement including exit bans on activists; restrictions on political participation; significant acts of corruption; outlawing of independent trade unions; trafficking in persons; and use of compulsory child labor.
The government occasionally took corrective action, including prosecutions, against officials who violated the law, but police officers and state officials generally acted with impunity.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, in practice the government did not respect these rights, and several laws specifically encroach on freedom of expression. The government also continued to use broad national security and antidefamation provisions to restrict freedom of expression. Such laws establish the crimes of “sabotaging the infrastructure of socialism,” in addition to “sowing divisions between religious and nonreligious people” and “propagandizing against the state” as serious offenses against national security. It also expressly forbids “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to violate the interests of the state or lawful rights and interests of organizations or individuals.”
Freedom of Expression: The government continued to restrict speech that criticized individual government leaders or the party, promoted political pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned policies on sensitive matters, such as human rights, religious freedom, or sovereignty disputes with China.
Representatives from state-run organizations and progovernment groups visited activists’ residences and attempted to intimidate them into agreeing the government’s policies were correct, according to social media and activists’ reports. Family members of activists also reported numerous incidents of physical harassment, intimidation, and questioning by Ministry of Public Security officials. Harassment also occurred at workplaces and included threatening telephone calls and insulting activists in local media and online and attacks on activists’ homes with rocks, shrimp paste, and gasoline bombs. There were reports such abuses caused injury and trauma requiring hospitalization.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The CPV, government, and party-controlled mass media organizations exercised legal authority over all print, broadcast, online, and electronic media, primarily through the Ministry of Information and Communications under the overall guidance of the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission. The law requires editors in chief to be CPV members; many outlets apply this to additional managers as well. One of the leading newspapers, Thanh Nien, demoted 13 managing editors and deputy editors who were not party members in November 2018.
Many nongovernmental entities, however, produced and distributed publications by subcontracting, joint-publishing, or buying permits from government or other public publishing entities. State-run media reported private entities produced more than 90 percent of all publications in the country, although outright private ownership or operation of any media outlet or publishing house was prohibited. Media independent of government authority operated on a limited basis online, primarily via blogs and social media, but independent journalists faced government harassment.
By law the government may fine journalists and newspapers from five to 10 million Vietnamese dong (VND) ($220 to $440) for failing to cite their sources of information or for using “documents and materials from organizations and personal letters and materials from individuals.”
The law allows the government to punish publishers if they publish “untruthful information” in the fields of statistics; atomic energy; management of prices, charges, fees, and invoices; education; civil aviation; vocational training; hydrometeorology; cartography; and health.
In November 2018 the CPV publicly denounced Chu Hao, who at that time was director and editor in chief of the Tri Thuc Publishing House, for “disobeying the Party’s regulations” and “self-evolution.” Hao, a former vice minister of science and technology and a prominent intellectual, had directed Tri Thuc to publish books with themes of freedom and democracy, such as John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, which the CPV viewed as contrary to the official party line. Hao left the CPV, and as a result also lost his position at Tri Thuc.
The law limits satellite television access to senior officials, foreigners, luxury hotels, and the press, but persons throughout the country continued to access foreign programming via home satellite equipment or cable.
The government permitted activities of journalist employed by foreign-based media outlets. The law requires “live” foreign television programming to run on a 30- to 60-minute delay to enable content monitoring. In fact, such programming ran on a 10-minute delay. Viewers reported obstruction of various commentaries, documentaries, and movies on human rights incidents in the country, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Soviet era, or reports involving trade tensions between the United States and Vietnam.
Major foreign media outlets reported the government delayed or refused to issue visas for reporters who previously covered sensitive political topics, particularly reporters for the overseas Vietnamese-language press. In May an international journalist was refused a visa request to report on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Hamburger Hill. This same reporter had previously written an article likely seen by the government as unfavorable.
The information ministry may revoke the licenses of foreign publishers; foreign publishers must renew their licenses annually.
The government also sought to impede criticism by monitoring meetings and communications of journalists.
Violence and Harassment: There continued to be a significant number of reports of security officials attacking, threatening, or arresting journalists because of their coverage of sensitive stories. Independent journalists faced restrictions on freedom of movement, various forms of harassment, and even physical attacks in the form of staged motorbike accidents if they reported on sensitive topics.
Foreign journalists required formal permission to travel outside Hanoi for reporting. When foreign journalists requested access to an area considered sensitive, such as the Northwest or Central Highlands, or report a story the government might consider sensitive, authorities often either intentionally delayed their response or denied permission to travel.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information and Communications and the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission frequently intervened directly with media to dictate or censor a story.
Propaganda officials forced editors of major media outlets to meet regularly to discuss what topics were off-limits for reporting. More often, pervasive self-censorship, including among independent journalists and bloggers, due to the threat of dismissal and possible arrest, enabled the party and government to control media content. The government punished journalists for failing to self-censor, including by revoking journalists’ press credentials.
In August, two protests against Beijing’s maritime survey seeking information on petroleum reserves in an offshore area in the country ‘s exclusive economic zone took place in front of the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi and a third protest near a site popular with Chinese tourists in Danang received no local media coverage.
National Security: The law stipulates administrative fines of 20 million to 30 million VND ($880 to $1,330) for journalists, newspapers, and online media that publish or broadcast information deemed harmful to national interests and up to 50 million dong ($2,200) for information considered to be distorting history and the revolution’s achievements. In some cases, these “violations” may lead to criminal proceedings.
Citing laws protecting national security, police arrested and ordered journalists to restrict criticism of government policies or officials.
The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, and monitored private online communications without legal authority. The limited number of licensed internet service providers (ISPs) were fully or substantially state-controlled companies. The government monitored Facebook posts and punished those who used the internet to organize protests or publish content critical of the government. On September 22, in separate trials, the People’s Court of Cai Rang district, Can Tho City, convicted Facebook users Nguyen Hong Nguyen and Truong Dinh Khang of “abusing democratic freedoms,” and sentenced them to two years’ and one year’ imprisonment, respectively. According to NGO reporting, Nguyen reportedly used his Facebook account to read articles, watch videos, and view pictures with “antistate” content. Khang reportedly posted and shared articles on Facebook that reportedly “defamed the party, state, and Ho Chi Minh.”
The government sometimes blocked websites it deemed politically or culturally inappropriate, including sites operated by overseas Vietnamese political groups in addition to the websites of Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and the BBC Vietnamese news service. State-owned internet service providers (ISPs) routinely blocked domestic Vietnamese-language websites that contained content criticizing the CPV or promoting political reform.
An administrative rule compels owners of all websites and social networking sites to cooperate with the Ministry of Information and Communications to prevent the spread of “bad, toxic news.” The government has used this tool to remove nearly 8,000 video clips from YouTube since 2017, according to the ministry.
Another rule requires all companies and organizations operating websites providing content on “politics, economics, culture, and society” or social networks, including blogging platforms, to register with the government. The government also requires such owners to submit detailed plans of their content and scope for approval. Such companies and organizations must locate at least one server in the country to facilitate government requests for information and must store posted information for 90 days and certain metadata for up to two years.
The government forbids direct access to the internet through foreign ISPs and requires ISPs to provide technical assistance and workspace to public security agents to allow them to monitor internet activities. The Ministry of Public Security has long required “internet agents,” including cyber cafes, to register the personal information of their customers, to store records of internet sites visited by customers, and to participate in government investigations of online activity. Internet cafes continued to install and use government-approved software to monitor customers’ online activities. The Ministry of Public Security enforced these and other requirements and monitored selectively.
The Law on Cybersecurity, scheduled for implementation in January, had not as of December gone into effect, as discussions continued on the implementing decree.
The government continued to pressure firms such as Facebook and Google to eliminate “fake accounts” and content deemed “toxic,” including antistate materials. On July 9, the Ministry of Information and Communications announced Google removed nearly 6,700 video clips, YouTube blocked six YouTube channels, and Facebook blocked nearly 1,000 links, 107 fake accounts, and 137 accounts that defamed the CPV and government.
Force 47, a special unit within the Ministry of National Defense, monitored the internet for misinformation and antistate propaganda.
Authorities also suppressed online political expression by direct action against bloggers, such as arrests, short-term detentions, surveillance, intimidation, and the illegal confiscation of computers and cell phones of activists and family members. The government continued to use national security and other vague provisions of the penal code against activists who peacefully expressed their political views online. Political dissidents and bloggers reported the Ministry of Public Security routinely ordered disconnection of their home internet service. In September 2018 the People’s Court of Tu Son town convicted citizen journalist Do Cong Duong of “disrupting public order” for filming a forced eviction, according to an NGO. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Duong was subsequently convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms” and sentenced in October to an additional five years in prison, reduced on appeal to four. On November 28, a brother and sister and another activist were sentenced to a combined 23 years in prison for posting articles on Facebook criticizing the government’s weak response to Chinese actions in the South China Sea, corruption, and environmental degradation.
Social network and blog users are required to provide their full name, national identification number, and address before creating an account. In-country website and social network operators must allow authorities to inspect local servers upon request and must have a mechanism to remove prohibited content within three hours of detection or notification by authorities.
Despite this restrictive environment, numerous groups and individuals criticized current and former local and national officials or members of government affiliates on social media, particularly Facebook. In response to reports from the Ministry of Information and Communications alleging that content violated certain laws, Facebook drastically increased the amount of content restricted in Vietnam. According to Facebook’s Transparency Report, from July to December 2018, it restricted access to 1,553 posts based on local law, compared to 265 content restrictions in the first half of 2018 and only 22 restrictions in the second half of 2017.
The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Foreign academic professionals temporarily working at universities in the country could discuss nonpolitical topics widely and freely in classes, but government observers regularly attended classes taught by both foreigners and nationals. The government continued to require international and domestic organizations to obtain advance approval for conferences involving international sponsorship or participation. The government allowed universities more autonomy over international exchanges and cooperation programs, but visa requirements for visiting scholars and students remained onerous.
The government continued to prohibit any public criticism of the CPV and state policy, including by independent scientific and technical organizations, even when the criticism was for a purely academic audience.
The government exerted influence over art exhibits, music, and other cultural activities by requiring numerous authorizations.
Many activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials threatened university leaders if they did not expel activists engaged in peaceful activities from their respective universities and pressured them and their family members not to attend certain workshops. Multiple activists also reported academic institutions refused to allow them or their children to graduate due to their advocacy of human rights.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly. Laws and regulations require persons wishing to gather in a group to apply for a permit, which local authorities issued or denied without explanation. Only those arranging publicized gatherings to discuss sensitive matters appeared to require permits, however, and persons routinely gathered in informal groups without government interference. The government generally did not permit any demonstrations that could be perceived as political. The law permits security forces to detain individuals gathering or protesting outside of courthouses during trials.
The Ministry of Public Security and local police routinely prevented activists from peacefully assembling. There were numerous reports of police dispersing gatherings of environmental activists, anti-China activists, land rights advocates, human rights defenders, bloggers and independent journalists, and former political prisoners.
Police and plainclothes authorities routinely mistreated, harassed, and assaulted activists and those demonstrating against the government. On June 25, approximately 20 family members of prisoners and activists were beaten by individuals in plain clothes outside Prison No. 6 in Nghe An province while attempting to visit prisoners engaged in a 30-day hunger strike to protest maltreatment in the facility. Activists identified a number of Nghe An police officials and prisoners detained on drug offenses among the attackers. Some family members were severely beaten with wooden sticks and metal rods. The attackers also stole personal papers, money, and cell phones.
In February more than 1,500 H’mong residing in the northern provinces were physically prevented from attending traditional spring festivals. Two of the H’mong were reportedly physically assaulted by local authorities, who told festivalgoers they had been ordered to prevent them from reaching the festival location.
The constitution affords individuals the right of association, but the government severely restricted freedom of association. Seeking to suppress unwelcome political and religious activities, the country’s legal and regulatory framework includes mechanisms particularly aimed at restricting the freedom of NGOs, including religious organizations, to organize and act. The government generally prohibited the establishment of private, independent organizations, insisting that persons work within established, party-controlled mass organizations, usually under the aegis of the VFF.
Laws and regulations governing NGOs restrict their ability to engage in policy advocacy or conduct research outside of state-sanctioned topics and prohibit organizations focused on social science and technology from operating in fields such as economic policy, public policy, political issues, and a range of other areas considered sensitive. Authorities also did not permit them to distribute policy advocacy positions publicly.
The 2018 Law on Belief and Religion requires religious groups to register with authorities and to obtain official approval of their activities. Some unregistered religious groups reported an increase in government interference.
According to some recognized groups and others attempting to register, implementation of the law varied from province to province. Some registered organizations, including governance, women’s rights, and environment-focused NGOs, reported increased scrutiny of their activities.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government imposed some limits on the movement of individuals, especially those convicted under national security or related charges or outspoken critics of the government.
In-country Movement: Several political activists on probation or under house arrest, along with others not facing such legal restrictions, were officially restricted in their movements. Authorities continued to monitor and selectively restrict the movement of many prominent activists and religious leaders, including Nguyen Dan Que, Pham Chi Dung, Pham Ba Hai, Nguyen Hong Quang, Thich Khong Tanh, Le Cong Cau, and Duong Thi Tan. Several activists reported authorities had confiscated their national identification cards, preventing them from traveling domestically by air or conducting routine administrative matters.
Religious leaders are required to specify no more than two to three geographical areas where they will be preaching. They reported that preaching outside of the approved areas was illegal, although enforcement of the law was inconsistent.
Government restrictions required citizens and resident foreigners to obtain a permit to visit border areas, defense facilities, industrial zones involved in national defense, areas of “national strategic storage,” and “works of extreme importance for political, economic, cultural, and social purposes.”
Citizens must register with local police when staying overnight in any location outside of their own homes; the government appeared to enforce these requirements more strictly in some Central and Northern Highlands districts. Foreign passport holders also needed to register to stay in private homes, although there were no known cases of local authorities refusing to allow foreign visitors to stay with friends or family. There were multiple reports of police using the excuse of “checking on residency registration” to intimidate and harass activists and prevent them from traveling outside of their place of registration (see sections 1.d. and 1.f.).
Authorities did not strictly enforce residency laws for the general population, and migration from rural areas to cities continued unabated. Moving without permission, however, hampered persons from obtaining legal residence permits, public education, and health-care benefits.
Foreign Travel: Prospective emigrants occasionally encountered difficulties obtaining a passport or exit permission, and authorities regularly confiscated passports of activists, at times indefinitely. There were multiple reports of individuals crossing the land borders with Laos or Cambodia illegally because they were unable to obtain passports or exit permission; in some cases, this included persons wanted for crimes and political or other activism.
The Ministry of Public Security continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against certain activists and religious leaders, including seven Catholic priests. Authorities banned and prevented dozens of individuals from traveling overseas, withheld their passports on vague charges, or refused to issue passports to certain activists or religious leaders without clear explanation although activists believed that international travel authorization was denied to reduce those activists’ opportunities to speak out against the Vietnamese government. Authorities also refused to issue passports to the family members of certain activists.
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.
According to 2018 UNHCR statistics, there were approximately 29,500 recognized stateless persons and persons of undetermined nationality living in the country. No updated statistics were available for the year. This was a substantial increase from the estimated 11,000 stateless persons acknowledged in 2016, due to increased government effort to identify such persons. The bulk of this population are ethnic H’mong living in border areas, but it also included a number of women who lost their citizenship after marrying a foreigner but then lost their foreign citizenship, primarily because of divorce. In the past the government naturalized stateless ethnic Vietnamese who had lived in Cambodia, but there was no information on naturalization efforts or options for those identified as stateless persons during the year.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The ability of citizens to choose their government through free, fair, and periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by a secret ballot that guaranteed free expression and the will of the people was severely limited. Although the constitution provides the ability to elect representatives to the National Assembly, people’s councils, and other state agencies directly, constitutional and legal provisions established a monopoly of political power for the CPV; the CPV was the only party allowed to put forward candidates for office and it oversaw all elections. National Assembly elections take place once every five years by secret ballot. The constitution sets the voting age at 18 and allows candidates to run for election to the National Assembly or People’s Council at 21. The last National Assembly election took place in 2016.
Recent Elections: The 2016 National Assembly election allowed limited competition among CPV-vetted candidates but were neither free nor fair, and the government did not allow NGO monitoring. The CPV’s Fatherland Front chose and vetted all candidates through an opaque, multistage process. CPV candidates won 475 of the 496 seats. The remaining 21 were non-CPV candidates unaffiliated with any party. There were no candidates from a party other than the CPV.
According to the government, 99 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 election, a figure activists and international observers considered improbably high. Voters may cast ballots by proxy, and officials charged local authorities with assuring that all eligible voters cast ballots by organizing group voting and verifying that all voters within their jurisdiction had voted. There were numerous reports throughout the country that election officials had stuffed ballot boxes to create the illusion of high turnout.
The law allows citizens to “self-nominate” as National Assembly candidates and submit applications for the VFF election vetting process. In the months leading up to the 2016 National Assembly elections, an informal coalition of legal reformers, academics, activists, and human rights defenders attempted to register as self-nominated, non-CPV “activist independent” candidates. In contrast to the party’s candidates, these candidates actively used Facebook and social media to advertise their policy platforms. VFF officials refused, however, to qualify any activist independent candidates, and authorities instructed official media to criticize some of them. According to press reports, the VFF allowed two self-nominated candidates on final ballots, but both individuals were party members.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Political opposition movements and other political parties are illegal. Although the constitution states that “all Party organizations and members of the CPV operate within the framework of the constitution and the laws,” the CPV Politburo in fact functioned as the supreme national decision-making body, although technically it reported to the CPV Central Committee.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process. The law sets a target of 35 percent of final candidates for the National Assembly and provincial people’s councils to be women and 18 percent of final candidates for the National Assembly to be from minority groups. The 132 women in the National Assembly comprise 27 percent of the body. The 86 ethnic minority delegates comprise 18 percent of the assembly.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There was, however, a noticeable increase in the number of high-profile arrests and prosecutions of high-ranking officials for corruption. This included existing and retired officials from the Politburo, central party, military, and public security services.
Corruption: The lack of public consultation on land-use plans and government land compensation frameworks was the primary driver of corrupt land transfers, the major type of corruption. Corruption in financial, banking, natural resource mining, and public investment sectors also remained significant political and social problems.
A new Anticorruption Law came into effect July 1. Highlights include provisions enabling stricter and more effective scrutiny of income and assets of public officials.
The Ministry of Public Security reported it processed 181 corruption cases in the first nine months of the year. Media reported that, in the first six months of the year, the CPV punished 256 party members for corruption, an increase of 21 cases compared with the same period in 2018. Among those punished were a deputy prime minister and 12 leaders of ministries or their rank equivalent. In February, two former ministers punished by the CPV in 2018 were arrested on accusations of receiving bribes in excess of $three million from a private businessman.
Financial Disclosure: The new Anticorruption Law requires all state officials, commissioned officers of police and military forces, career military personnel, holders of positions as deputy manager and above in public service agencies and state-owned enterprises, and state enterprise financial management officers to disclose to their agency their income and assets within 10 days from the date of designation or employment. Any change of at least 300 million VND ($15,000) requires an additional declaration. Directors of provincial departments and higher ranks, or persons in charge of official management, management of public funds, public property or public investment or who have influence over the operation of other entities as prescribed by the government are required to submit annual disclosures. Nominees to be National Assembly and People’s Councils’ delegates are required to do so in line with voting law. The law provides for reprimand, warning, suspension, or removal for noncompliance.
The government reported that in 2018 approximately 1,136,902 government workers disclosed their assets and incomes, accounting for 99.8 percent of those required to do so. Only 44 of these statements were verified, of which six were identified as incorrect. Media, however, reported many cases of nondisclosure or false disclosure that were not followed up.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
The government did not permit independent, local human rights organizations to form or operate, nor did it tolerate attempts by organizations or individuals to criticize its human rights practices publicly.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits using or threatening violence against women, including rape, spousal rape, “other sexual contacts,” and “forced sex crimes.” It also criminalizes the rape of men. Conviction for rape is punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 years, depending on the severity of the case. Authorities prosecuted rape cases but did not release arrest, prosecution, conviction, or punishment statistics. There was little information on the prevalence of rape or on reporting of the crime.
Authorities treated domestic violence cases as civil cases unless the victim suffered injuries to more than 11 percent of their body. The law specifies acts constituting domestic violence and stipulates punishments for convicted perpetrators ranging from warnings to imprisonment for up to three years.
Domestic violence against women was common. The Women’s Union reported in November at least 58 percent of married women were worried about domestic violence on a daily basis and that 87 percent did not seek help. Officials acknowledged domestic violence was a significant social concern, and the media discussed it openly. Social stigma prevented many survivors from coming forward due to fear of harassment from their spouses or family.
While police and legal systems 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, community advocates, and judicial officials in the law; supported workshops and seminars that aimed to educate women and men about domestic violence and women’s rights; and highlighted the problem through public awareness campaigns.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Publications and ethics training for public servants did not, however, mention the problem of sexual harassment.
In serious cases, victims may sue offenders outside the workplace under a law that deals with “humiliating other persons” and specifies punishments for conviction that include a warning, noncustodial reform for up to two years, or a prison term ranging from three months to two years.
Coercion in Population Control: The constitution stipulates society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program,” which allows couples or individuals the right to have one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. There is no legal provision punishing citizens who have more than two children; however, there were reported instances where local authorities imposed administrative fees on families in Nghe An province who had more than two children. There were unsubstantiated reports this practice occurred in many localities across the country.
The CPV and certain government ministries and local governments issued their own regulations on family size for their staff. A decree issued by the Politburo, for example, subjects CPV members to official reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four children, and expels them from the CPV if they have five children. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.
Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality, but women continued to face societal discrimination. Despite the large body of law and regulation devoted to protecting women’s rights in marriage and the workplace as well as provisions that call for preferential treatment, women did not always receive equal treatment in employment, education, or housing, particularly in rural areas.
Although the law provides for equal inheritance rights for men and women, a son was more likely to inherit property than a daughter, unless otherwise specified by a legal document such as a will.
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, as well as protection from spousal abuse.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to 2018 data, the national average male to female sex ratio at birth was 115.1 boys to 100 girls, up three percentage points from 2017 and falling short of the target of 112.8 boys to 100 girls, according to the General Office for Population and Family Planning under the Ministry of Health. The government acknowledged the problem, highlighted reduction of the ratio as a goal in the national program on gender equality and continued to take steps to address it.
To address the issue of gender equality, the government has issued legal documents prohibiting gender identification prior to birth and prohibiting gender-based violence and discrimination. Violations of these provisions are subject to fines or even imprisonment. The government continued to work through the 2010 National Strategy on Gender Equality. At the local or provincial level, some authorities give cash incentives for giving birth to female children. For example, Hau Giang provincial authorities awarded couples that give birth to two females a one-time sum of VND 390,000 to 1.3 million ($17 to $56). In some provinces, females enjoy preferences in education, vocational training, starting up a business, etc.
Birth Registration: By law the government considers anyone born to a citizen parent to be a citizen. Persons born to non-Vietnamese parents may also acquire citizenship under certain circumstances.
Children born to stateless parents or to a stateless mother and unknown father may acquire Vietnamese citizenship if the stateless parents or stateless mother are permanent residents, making the process difficult in most cases.
The law requires a birth certificate to access public services, such as education and health care. Nonetheless, some parents, especially from ethnic minorities, chose not to register their children, and local authorities prevented some parents from registering children to discourage migration.
Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through age 14, although a variety of school fees are common. Under a government subsidy program, ethnic-minority students were exempt from paying school fees. Authorities did not always enforce required attendance laws or enforce them equally for boys and girls, especially in rural areas, where government and family budgets for education were limited and children’s labor in agriculture was valuable.
Gender gaps in education declined, but certain gaps remained. There were substantial differences in the education profile of men and women at the postsecondary level, notably in applied technology programs.
The government sometimes denied education to children from families not registered in their locality, with particular discriminatory effect on H’mong communities in the Central Highlands and on the children of some political and religious activists.
Child Abuse: The government did not effectively enforce existing laws on child abuse, and physical and emotional mistreatment was common.
According to a 2016 UNICEF report, the latest data available, violence against children occurred in many settings including schools and homes and was usually inflicted by someone known to the child. The most common types of school violence were bullying and corporal punishment by teachers. The number of reported cases of child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, was increasing. UNICEF stated there were no effective interdisciplinary child and gender sensitive procedures or processes for handling child abuse reports, and the responsibilities of the responsible agencies were unclear. The child protection workforce, especially at local levels, from social workers to relevant professionals such as police, judges, prosecutors, teachers, and medical experts, was poorly trained, uninformed, and generally insufficient to address the problem.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for girls and 20 for boys, and the law criminalizes organizing marriage for, or entering into marriage with, an underage person.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes all acts of sale or deprivation of liberty of children as well as all acts related to the exploitation of children in prostitution and forced child labor for children under 16. The exploitation of children in prostitution is not fully criminalized for 16- and 17-year-old children. Sentences for those convicted range from three years’ to life imprisonment, and fines range from five million to 50 million VND ($220 to $2,200). The law specifies prison sentences for conviction of acts related to the exploitation of children in prostitution, including harboring prostitution (12 to 20 years), brokering prostitution (seven to 15 years), and buying sex with minors (three to 15 years). The production, distribution, dissemination, or sale of child pornography is illegal, and a conviction carries a sentence of three to 10 years’ imprisonment. The country is a destination for child sex tourism.
The law prohibits all acts of cruel treatment, humiliation, abduction, sale, and coercion of children into any activities harmful to their healthy development and provides for the protection and care of disadvantaged children.
The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. Conviction for statutory rape may result in life imprisonment or capital punishment. Penalties for sex with minors between the ages of 16 and 18, depending upon the circumstances, vary from five to 10 years in prison. The penalty for rape of a child between the ages of 13 and 16 is seven to 15 years’ imprisonment. If the victim becomes pregnant, the rape is incestuous, or the offender is in a guardianship position to the victim, the penalty increases to 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law considers all cases of sexual intercourse with children younger than 13 to be child rape, with sentences ranging from 12 years’ imprisonment to death. The government enforced the law, and convicted rapists received harsh sentences.
Displaced Children: Media reported approximately 21,000 children lived on the streets and sometimes experienced police harassment, sexual exploitation, and abuse.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://www.travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There were small communities of Jewish foreigners in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution provides for the protection of persons with mental and physical disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against or mistreatment of persons with physical disabilities, mental disabilities, or both, and protects their right to access education and other state services, but the government struggled to enforce these provisions. Persons with disabilities faced widespread social stigmatization.
The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transport, judicial system, and other state services; however, the majority of persons with disabilities faced challenges in exercising their rights.
Services for the disabled were often unavailable, and policies declared were not implemented. For example, although representatives from a broad range of ministries, including Construction, Finance, Planning, and Transport, incorporate the need for accommodations for persons with disabilities in joint planning, and the law requires new construction or major renovations of government and large public buildings include access for persons with disabilities, enforcement was sporadic, particularly outside major cities.
Access to education for children with disabilities, particularly deaf children and children with intellectual disabilities, remained extremely limited.
There is no legal restriction on the right to vote for persons with disabilities, although many polling stations were not accessible, especially to persons with physical disabilities.
While the provision of social services to persons with disabilities remained limited, the government made some efforts to support the establishment of organizations of persons with disabilities and consulted them in the development or review of national programs, such as the National Poverty Reduction Program, vocational laws, and various education policies. The National Committee on Disabilities, the Vietnam Federation on Disability, and their members from various ministries worked with domestic and foreign organizations to provide protection, support, physical access, education, and employment. The government operated a small network of rehabilitation centers to provide long-term, in-patient physical therapy.
NGOs reported they continued to face challenges applying for funding and offering training for disability-related programs from certain provincial governments, which hampered access for international experts to conduct training.
The law prohibits discrimination against ethnic minorities, but societal discrimination was longstanding and persistent. Local officials in some provinces, notably in the highlands, discriminated against members of ethnic and religious minority groups. Despite the country’s significant economic growth, the economic gap between many ethnic minority communities and ethnic majority communities persisted. Ethnic minority group members constituted a sizable percentage of the population in certain areas, including the Northwest, Central Highlands, and portions of the Mekong Delta.
International human rights organizations and refugees continued to allege authorities monitored, harassed, and intimidated members of certain ethnic minority groups, particularly ethnoreligious minorities in the Central and Northwest Highlands, including Christian H’mong. Local officials in several provinces in the Central Highlands, including Doan Ket village, Dak Ngo commune, Tuy Duc district, Dak Nong province, continue to deny registration to more than 1,000 H’mong Christians who had migrated there in recent years, according to an NGO. As a result school officials did not allow the H’mong children to attend school.
Some members of these groups fled to Cambodia and Thailand, seeking refugee status as victims of oppression; the government claimed these individuals were illegal migrants who left the country in pursuit of economic opportunities. Human rights groups stated the government pressured Cambodia and Thailand to deny these individuals refugee or temporary asylum seeker status and to return them to Vietnam.
Authorities used national security laws to impose lengthy prison sentences on members of ethnic minorities for connections to overseas organizations the government claimed espoused separatist aims. In addition activists often reported an increased presence of Ministry of Public Security agents on historically significant days and holidays in regions inhabited by ethnoreligious minorities.
Government programs meant to address the socioeconomic gap between ethnic minorities and the majority community continued, and the government also continued to allocate land to ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, although land expropriation in these areas was also common.
As of December 2018, there were 315 ethnic minority boarding schools in 49 provinces serving 109,245 ethnic minority students, mostly in the Northwest and Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta. No statistics were available for the year. The government also worked with local officials to develop local-language curricula. Implementation was more comprehensive in the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta than in the Northwest Highlands. The government also subsidized several technical and vocational schools for ethnic minorities.
The government granted preferential treatment to domestic and foreign companies that invested in highland areas populated predominantly by ethnic minorities. In addition the government supported infrastructure development programs that targeted poor, largely ethnic-minority areas and established agricultural extension programs for remote rural areas.
The law does not prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services. The civil code gives individuals who have undergone a “sex change” the right to register their new status. Sexual orientation and gender identity were the basis for stigma and discrimination.
HIV and AIDS social stigma and discrimination hindered HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.
According to the 2015 Stigma Index, the latest available data, 11.2 percent of persons with HIV reported having experienced violations of their rights within the 12 months prior to the survey. Individuals with HIV continued to face barriers accessing and maintaining employment. Being arrested and detained in compulsory rehabilitation centers for continued use of heroin or methamphetamine also prevented drug users from accessing HIV and health services, although such treatment is considered a basic right of such patients.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The constitution affords the right to associate and the right to demonstrate but limits the exercise of these rights, including by preventing workers from organizing or joining independent unions of their choice. While workers may choose whether to join a union and at which level (local or “grassroots,” provincial, or national), the law requires every union to be under the legal purview and control of the country’s only trade union confederation, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), a CPV-run organization. Only citizens may form or join labor unions.
The law gives the VGCL exclusive authority to recognize unions and confers on VGCL upper-level trade unions the responsibility to establish workplace unions. The law stipulates the VGCL answers directly to the CPV’s VFF, which does not protect trade unions from government interference in or control over union activity.
The law also limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions full autonomy in administering their affairs. The law confers on the VGCL ownership of all trade-union property and gives it the right to represent lower-level unions. By law trade union leaders and officials are not elected by union members but are appointed.
The law requires that, if a workplace trade union does not exist, the next level “trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize. For nonunionized workers to organize a strike, they must request the strike “be organized and led by the upper-level trade union,” and if nonunionized workers wish to bargain collectively, the upper-level VGCL union must represent them.
The law stipulates trade unions have the right and responsibility to organize and lead strikes. The law also establishes substantive and procedural restrictions on strikes. Strikes that do not arise from a collective labor dispute or do not adhere to the process outlined by law are illegal. The law forbids strikes over “rights-based” disputes. This includes strikes arising out of economic and social policy measures that are not a part of a collective negotiation process, as they are both outside the law’s definition of protected “interest-based” strikes.
The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses that serve the public or that the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, public health, and public order. “Essential services” include electricity production; post and telecommunications; and maritime and air transportation, navigation, public works, and oil and gas production. The law also grants the prime minister the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.
The law prohibits strikes at the sector- or industry-level and prohibits workers and unions from calling for strikes in support of multiemployer contracts.
The law states the executive committee of a trade union may issue a decision to go on strike only when at least 50 percent of workers support it.
Laws stipulate an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike may occur. Unions or workers’ representatives may either appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts or strike. The law stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. The law prohibits retribution against strikers. By law individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages.
The laws include provisions that prohibit antiunion discrimination and, nominally, interference in union activities while imposing administrative sanctions and fines for violations. The laws do not distinguish between workers and managers, however, and fail to prohibit employers’ agents, such as managers who represent the interests of the employer, from participating or interfering in union activity. Penalties were not adequate to deter violations.
According to the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA), there were 67 strikes in the first half of 2019. Most of them occurred in southern provinces. Approximately 82 percent of the strikes occurred in foreign direct-investment companies (mainly Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese companies). The strikers sought higher wages, better social insurance, and better meals between shifts. None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government, however, took no action against the strikers and, on occasion, actively mediated agreements in the workers’ favor. In some cases the government imposed heavy fines on employers, especially of foreign-owned companies, that engaged in illegal practices that led to strikes.
Because it is illegal to establish or seek to establish independent labor unions, there were no domestic NGOs involved in labor organizing. Local, unregistered labor NGOs, however, supported efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health issues and to support internal and external migrant workers. Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to train VGCL-affiliated union representatives in labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. The International Labor Organization (ILO)-International Finance Corporation (IFC) Better Work project reported management interference in trade union activities was a significant issue in garment factories.
Labor activists and representatives of independent (non-VGCL) worker organizations faced antiunion discrimination. Independent labor activists seeking to form unions separate from the VGCL or inform workers of their labor rights sometimes faced government harassment. In February 2018 a court convicted and sentenced peaceful labor and environmental activist Hoang Duc Binh to 14 years’ imprisonment under vague articles of the penal code. Binh, arrested in 2017, advocated for compensation for fishermen affected by a 2016 toxic waste spill and posted critical online content about the government’s response to the spill (see section 1.d.). In addition, authorities continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against labor activists, including the chairwoman of the independent Viet Labor Movement, Do Thi Minh Hanh (also see section 2.d.).
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor. The labor code’s definition of forced labor, however, does not explicitly include debt bondage. In January penal code amendments entered into effect that criminalized all forms of labor trafficking of adults and children younger than 16. The penalties were not sufficient to deter violations; in fact, the law does not provide any penalty for violating provisions prohibiting forced labor. NGOs continued to report the occurrence of forced labor of men, women, and children within the country (see also section 7.c.).
Labor recruitment firms, most affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking overseas employment higher fees than the law allows, and they did so with impunity. Those workers incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The newly ratified labor code establishes that only people age 18 or older are eligible to work. However, other laws address conditions for employment of children under the age 18. The constitution prohibits “the employment of persons below the minimum working age,” generally 13, with exceptions set by the Labor Ministry. The law prohibits children under 18 from working heavy, hazardous, and dangerous jobs.
Illegal child labor was reported in labor-intensive sectors such as garments and textiles, construction, agriculture, and some manufacturing. Local media also reported children working as beggars in gangs whose leaders abused the children and took most of the children’s income. Some children started work as young as 12, and nearly 55 percent of child workers did not attend school.
In the garment sector, children as young as six and up to 18 reportedly produced garments in conditions of forced labor. The most recently available information from government raids, NGOs, and media reports during the year indicated this was most common in small, privately owned garment factories and informal workshops. Reports indicated these employers beat or threatened the children. In addition, there was evidence children as young as 12 were working while confined in government-run rehabilitation centers. Employers forced these children to sew garments without pay under threat of physical or other punishments.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Government officials may fine and, in cases of criminal violations, prosecute employers who violate child labor laws. As part of the government’s 2016-20 National Plan of Action for Children and National Program for Child Protection, the government continued efforts to prevent child labor and specifically targeted children in rural areas, disadvantaged children, and children at risk of exposure to hazardous work conditions.
International and domestic NGOs noted successful partnerships with provincial governments to implement national-level policies combatting child labor.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, disability, color, social class, marital status, belief, religion, HIV-status, and membership in a trade union or participation in trade union activities in employment, labor relationships, and work but not explicitly in all aspects of employment and occupation. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on political opinion, age, language, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
No laws prohibit employers from asking about family or marital status during job interviews.
The government did not effectively enforce employment discrimination laws but did take some action to address employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. Companies with a workforce composed of at least 51 percent employees with disabilities may qualify for special government-subsidized loans.
Discriminatory hiring practices existed, including discrimination related to gender, age, disability, and marital status. Women were expected to retire at age 60, compared with age 62 for men, affecting women’s ability to rise to managerial ranks and have higher incomes and pensions.
Women-led enterprises continued to have limited access to credit and international markets. Female workers earned, per year, an average of one month’s income less than male workers, with skilled female workers earning less than male workers with similar skills. Many women above the age of 35 found it difficult to find a job, and there were reports of women receiving termination letters at 35. The VGCL’s Institute of Workers and Trade Unions noted women older than 35 accounted for roughly half of all unemployed workers in the country.
Social and attitudinal barriers and limited accessibility of many workplaces remained problems in the employment of persons with disabilities.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage varies by region. In all regions, the minimum wage exceeds the World Bank official poverty income level.
The law limits overtime to 50 percent of normal working hours per day, 30 hours per month, and 200 hours per year, but it provides for an exception in special cases, with a maximum of 300 overtime hours annually, subject to advance approval by the government after consultations with the VGCL and employer representatives.
The law provides for occupational safety and health standards, describes procedures for persons who are victims of labor accidents and occupational diseases, and delineates the responsibilities of organizations and individuals in the occupational safety and health fields. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The law protects “labor subleasing,” a pattern of employment, and thus extends protection to part-time and domestic workers.
The Ministry of Labor is the principal labor authority, and it oversees the enforcement of labor law. The Labor Inspections Department is responsible for workplace inspections to confirm compliance with labor laws and occupational safety and health standards. Inspectors may use sanctions, fines, withdrawal of operating licenses or registrations, closures of enterprises, and mandatory training. Inspectors may take immediate measures where they have reason to believe there is an imminent and serious danger to the health or safety of workers, including temporarily suspending operations, although such measures were rare. The ministry acknowledged shortcomings in its labor inspection system and emphasized the number of labor inspectors countrywide was insufficient.
The government did not effectively enforce labor laws, particularly in the informal economy.
Credible reports, including from the ILO-IFC Better Work 2019 Annual Report, indicated factories exceeded legal overtime thresholds and did not meet legal requirements for rest days. The ILO-IFC report stated that, while a majority of factories in the program complied with the daily limit of four hours overtime, 77 percent still failed to meet monthly limits (30 hours) and 69 percent exceeded annual limits (300 hours). In addition, and due to the high prevalence of Sunday work, 40 percent of factories failed to provide at least four days of rest per month to all workers.
Migrant workers, including internal economic migrants, and uncontracted laborers were among the most vulnerable workers, and employers routinely subjected them to hazardous working conditions. Members of ethnic minority groups often worked in the informal economy and, according to the ILO, informal workers typically had low and irregular incomes, endured long working hours, and lacked protection by labor market institutions. Additionally, workers in the informal sector are only eligible to pay into a voluntary social insurance fund covering only retirement and survivors’ allowances. Workers in the formal sector and their employers contribute to a system that covers sickness, maternity, labor accidents, and occupational disease as well as retirement and survivors’ allowances.
On-the-job injuries due to poor health and safety conditions and inadequate employee training remained a problem. In 2018 the government reported 7,997 occupational accidents with 8,229 victims, including 972 fatal incidents with 1,038 deaths. Among the fatal incidents, 578 incidents involved contracted laborers, while 394 incidents involved uncontracted laborers.