Cultivating Talented Individuals

Social Integration and Networking

Cultivating Talented Individuals:Support Scheme:Investigative Research Assistance (for student)

LE THANH MAI / Investigation Area: Hanoi, Vietnam and Canberra, Australia


Affiliation: GSAPS
Year: Third Year
Itinerary: 1/12/2010-2/25/2010(Month/Date/Year)

Destination (Name of city and country)

Hanoi, Vietnam and Canberra, Australia

Research objectives

  • To conduct field work, and collect primary data through in-depth interviews with child domestic workers (CDWs), ex-CDWs, and their employers in Hanoi, Vietnam with a view to completing my research on child domestic work in Asian developing countries
  • To attend and respond to any questions and comments on my paper entitled Competing Approaches to Child Domestic Work in Asian Developing Countries: Evidence from the Case Study in Vietnam at the 2010 Asia-Pacific Week, Australian National University from 8th to 11th February, 2010
  • To network with professors and scholars who share the same interest in Asian studies at the Conference

Research project

Title: Competing Approaches to Child Domestic Work in Asian Developing Countries: Evidence from the Case Study in Vietnam

Overall Goal:
Child labour is a sensitive subject and numbers regarding its magnitude play an important role in global policy-making and advocacy efforts. It is estimated that in 2004 there were about 211 million children aged 5-14 years who were at work in an economic activity in the world. Out of these, with 127.3 million in total, the Asia Pacific region harbours the largest number of child workers in this particular age group. In fact, due to economic and social changes as well as cultural factors, it is widespread to find young children working as child domestic workers (CDWs) in many Asian countries. The paper will, first, attempt to conceptualise and contextualise child domestics in Asian developing countries by looking at the definition of CDWs, and the profiles of these children. Then, the study will examine the debate among competing schools of thought to combat child domestic work with their explanatory theoretical arguments, and seek to justify and strengthen the significance of the multi-faceted approach based on the best interest of the child theory, which removes child domestic labourers from the most abusive cases, and humanises the working condition for those already at work. The third part of the paper will look at the living and working conditions of child domestics in Vietnam as the single case study, and attempt to reveal the relevance and significance in adopting the differentiated approach to combat child domestic work in Asian developing countries by empirically falsifying the appropriateness of the other schools of thought.


The field research was conducted in Hanoi, Vietnam from 12th January to 7th February, 2010, and between 13th and 24th of February, 2010. Adopting the snowball method to identify and approach the interviewees, I have made in-depth interviews with 18 current CDWs, 2 ex-CDWs, and 20 employers. All the interviews were conducted in the owners' households after detailed explanation about the purpose of the interviews by the researcher, and recorded with the permission of the respondents. And if the interviewees felt uncomfortable with the questions, they would have the right not to respond, and even drop out of the interview. Despite the fact that all those who participated in the interviews have done their best to cooperate with me for productive conversations, I have encountered a number of expected obstacles during my field trip. Due to the sensitive issue of children working as domestic workers in Vietnam, it has been very difficult to collect qualitative data for my research. Given the country's child labour related legal framework, and the Vietnamese government's commitment to combat child labour, having CDWs identified in the responsible areas might not position the local authorities as well as the employers with good image. So they are very reluctant to allow researchers to have access to child domestics, let alone have an interview with them. In many cases, the employers decided to turn down my request for an interview after consulting the matter with other family members. And those who accepted to be interviewed, and then allowed their child workers to attend the interview are usually good employers with their kind treatment towards the child domestics.

These in-depth interviews are being transcribed in Vietnamese, and will be later translated into English. The qualitative data will be generated using latent content analysis to deal with the depth and complexity of understanding about the working and living conditions of these child domestic servants. One of the preliminary findings from the qualitative data analysis is that child domestic work only offers the child workers and their family a short-term solution to their poverty. Sooner or later the majority of them will go back to their home town with no further education, no working skills, and thus no future. They are expected to live the same poor life as their parents. The in-depth interviews also reveal that in very rare cases some child domestics who are kinship to the employers are lucky enough to be allowed to attend non-formal education, and vocational training at local educational institutions. To have better understanding about the education quality, and the relevance of these institutions, I have also visited, and collected some research as well as reports of the Non-Formal Education Department at the Ministry of Education and Training. So with their employers' kind support, these children could then find a more stable job as a salesperson, or a government officer, and therefore, live a better and sustainable life in the urban areas. On the other hands, the study shows that the further education offer is sometimes used as a strategy to keep the child domestics staying on, and working for the employers. In fact, the house owners never keep their promise, i.e. giving the child worker an opportunity to go to school while working in their house. These children are, more often than not, non-relatives of the employers. These findings have justified the need for the consolidation of the multi-faceted approach within the paternal libertarianism framework. The strand aims to humanise the working and living conditions of child domestics by providing education opportunities for them while working in the employers' house. To this end, the necessity to call for serious cooperation from the house-owners should be considered as a priority for policy makers and NGOs workers.

Between 8th and 12th February, 2010, I flew from Hanoi, Vietnam to Canberra, Australia to take part in the 2010 Asia-Pacific Week at the Australian National University. The Conference and the Summer School have helped strengthen my academic background about Asian studies in a number of ways. First, among a variety of sections focusing on different areas of the Asia-Pacific region including the Pacific Islands, China, Japan, Indonesia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, I belonged to the Southeast Asia Group where I have been able to learn a lot. Rather than a traditional conference style in which each participant will present his or her own 15-minute paper followed by a few minutes of questions, the Southeast Asia Group used a workshop style during the Asia Pacific Week. This means I was assigned to present my colleague's paper entitled Khmer Rouge Children's Songs with my own comments about the main insights of his work. After collecting questions and discussion from the entire group for 15-20 minutes, the author was invited to respond to all the issues raised. I find this workshop style very interesting and stimulating as I have an opportunity to play not only the role of a presenter, but the part of a discussant as well. In addition, when my paper was presented by another group member, I was very delighted to receive tens of questions and observations from my colleagues which sparked a constructive and in-depth discussion about my paper. Also, interestingly enough, on the second day of the workshop, I was nominated to be chair of one of the conference sessions titled Challenging the Centre: Resistance and Collaboration from the Margins in Southeast Asia. Although this was my first-hand experience in this position, I believe that I have done a good job, and kept the conference running smoothly and effectively.

Second, during a week of activities, doctoral students have been offered a chance to participate in a wide range of training activities, introduced to the rich holdings on Asia and the Pacific at the ANU Library and the National Library of Australia, and participated in a stimulating program of events including keynote speeches, seminars on Asian studies, film screenings, cultural performances and social events. All of these activities have not only consolidated my research on Asian studies and Asian integration, but also provided me with a valuable chance to network with renowned professors and talented scholars all over the world.

Confirmed by person in charge of project promotion

Academic Adviser: Yasushi KATSUMA
Sub Adviser: Kazuo KURODA