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The child abuse case that has shocked Vietnam has a NZ connection

Warning: This story contains a graphic image and content relating to the physcial abuse of a child. Reader discretion is advised.

The death of an eight year-old girl following a severe beating by her stepmother has caused outrage in Vietnam, with the nation’s political leaders, UNICEF and millions of citizens joining in condemnation of the crime and those involved.

The victim, known only in reports as ‘N. T. V. A.’ (referred to as ‘VA’ in this article) died in a hospital in the country’s capital Ho Chi Minh City on 22 December 2021 from injuries she received after a sustained period of physical abuse from her stepmother 26 year-old Nguyen Vo Quynh Trang (‘Trang’).

The girl’s father, 36 year old Nguyen Kim Trung Thai (‘Thai’), was not at home when the fatal beating happened, but was aware of the abuse his daughter had suffered over many months and did nothing.

Thai spent time in New Zealand, attending Victoria University of Wellington and graduating from there with a degree in business administration.

Vietnam child abuse case
Nguyen Kim Trung Thai, 36, with his fiance and stepmother of the victim, Nguyen Vo Quynh Trang, 26.

It has also emerged that in the days leading up to the death, Thai lied to medical staff about earlier injuries suffered by VA, which required stitches to her head on 11 December. Thai had told doctors his daughter had fallen over and hit her head.

On 22 December, Trang had beaten VA with a piece of wood throughout the day. When Trang noticed VA was having difficulty breathing she called Thai who arrived home a short time later. They took the girl to hospital where doctors found she was in a coma and suffering a cardiac arrest. Medical staff tried to save her, but were unsuccessful. An examination of the body showed VA also had severe swelling on the right side of her brain, and her spine was broken in three places.

A graphic photo taken at the hospital of the girl’s back shows the extent of the bruising in her lower spinal area.

Bruises identified on 8 year olds body news
Brusing on the body of the 8 year old victim known as ‘VA’.

VA’s death has highlighted a number of long-standing issues about the care of children. Vietnam’s economy has boomed over the last two decades, but family life is still very much governed by traditional practices and attitudes, especially in relation to the physical disciplining of children. There are no laws prohibiting physical punishment. Most see it as an acceptable practise, but an extreme case such as VAs has hit a raw nerve in the country with the savagery of the girl’s treatment seen by most as far beyond what is acceptable physical punishment.

Initially Thai was not charged by police, but due to the public outcry and intervention of the country’s Standing Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, as well as the urging of the girl’s mother and uncle, Thai was arrested on 27 December for ‘covering up the torture’ of his daughter.

Thai and Trang had been living together since May 2020, when Thai left his wife, VAs mother, for Trang. VAs mother did not take the separation well and made one attempt to take her own life by an attempted overdose. Thai used this, as well as his family’s connections, to claim the mother was unfit to care for VA, thus taking custody of the girl and denying any contact with the mother, who did not learn of her daughter’s death until reading about it online.

Thai and Trang lived in an expansive apartment in one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most affluent suburbs. Thai, a successful businessman, comes from an ‘upper class’ family. Ordinarily, a family of his means would be able to ‘pay off’ the police using a common practise of ‘lobbying’, but the police and government have made it clear such a resolution of the case will not be acceptable.

UNICEF spokesperson for Vietnam, Rana Flowers, said in a statement:

‘UNICEF today expressed its deep sadness and concern over the recent violent death of a young girl at the hands of someone who she should have been able to trust, to protect her’

‘The rising accounts of abuse of children, even greater during COVID-19 lockdowns, signal an urgent need for a strengthened approach,” Flowers said.

Flowers urged the Vietnamese government to establish a system to protect children, staffed with professional social workers who could indentify at risk children, and intervene if necessary. She also called on the nation to have ‘zero tolerance’ for child abuse, when it emerged that Thai’s neighbours often heard the abuse but did not intervene.

Thai and Trang are both in custody until their next court appearance in two months.

The body of VA was cremated. Her ashes were placed in the Buddhist pagoda in the seaside resort city of Vung Tau by her mother.

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