How do you talk to children about their right to their own body?

Published 29 November 2017 in:

The Swedish Embassy in Hanoi, in cooperation with Save the Children Vietnam and the University for Social Sciences and Humanities in Hanoi, have produced a Vietnamese version of the Save the Children Sweden handbook ‘Respect! My body!’

On 23 May, the Embassy organised the launch of the handbook at a school in Hanoi. Participating at the launch were the country director of Save the Children Vietnam, the rector of the University for Social Sciences and Humanities, a director-general from the Vietnamese Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, and one of Vietnam’s most famous singers.

Around the world, parents teach their children what is right and what is wrong, and it’s no different in Vietnam. But there are certain subjects that some adults find more difficult to talk to children about. How, for example, do you talk to children about their right to their own body, what can or cannot be done with the bodies of others and how to express themselves when a situation is threatening or uncomfortable.
The ‘Respect! My body!’ handbook (called Hãy tôn trọng, đây là cơ thể của tôi in Vietnamese) is an important tool for preventing child sex abuse. It provides, in an understandable way, advice and tips to parents and other adults on how to teach children of different ages to protect themselves from sexual abuse: how you speak openly about sexuality, private body parts, safe and unsafe touching, and what is and what is not allowed for adults to do when in contact with children.

The handbook is already available in Swedish, English, Spanish and Arabic. Now it has been translated into Vietnamese. The translation and launch of the handbook was a joint project between the Swedish Embassy in Hanoi, Save the Children Vietnam and the Vietnam Programme for Internet and Society (VPIS).

Major interest in the handbook

Around 100 people, and at least 50 different media representatives, attended the launch. The participants included head teachers and teachers, civil society organisations working with children’s rights, journalists, child psychologists and representatives of parent associations. The handbook has also been shared on the Embassy’s Facebook page and is available via the website of Save the Children Vietnam.

“In Vietnam, the public has recently been made aware of a number of cases of child abuse, including sexual abuse. According to statistics from the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, there were over 1 200 cases of child sexual abuse reported in Vietnam in 2016. The effects of such abuse on children are devastating,” said Dragana Strinic, Country Director of Save the Children Vietnam.

“We, adults, have responsibility to do our best to make sure that children are protected. Firstly, we need to be aware of what sexual violence and abuse is – that it is all conduct of a sexual nature that is forced on a child by another person, whether it is physical or non-physical. Secondly, we have to talk to children about the body and its boundaries, and how to say yes and no. That way we build their sense of security and a sense of what is good and right,” continued Ms Strinic.

Protecting children a priority

The Swedish Ambassador in Vietnam, Pereric Högberg, referred to Swedish experience and stressed:
“Investing in children’s future and protecting children from violence, abuse and exploitation has been prioritised by the Swedish Government. Ensuring the rights of all children is at the core of our work. Sexual violence and child abuse is therefore unacceptable, regardless of whether you are talking about Sweden, Vietnam or any other country.”

Dr Pham Quang Minh, Chairman of VPIS, added:
“The handbook that is now available in Vietnamese will not only have a direct impact, it will also have positive influence in the longer term now that awareness of sexual violence is beginning to increase in Vietnamese society.”

The handbook has received many positive reactions, a large number of articles have been published in Vietnamese media and the Embassy’s Facebook post on the launch has reached almost 7 000 people. The handbook is available digitally and the idea is for it to be spread as widely as possible to relevant actors, such as parent networks, schools, child rights organisations, and so on.