Mon, Nov 26, 2007 - Page 5 News List

FEATUES:Maid's ordeal in Vietnam highlights domestic violence


Nguyen Thi Binh, a 24-year-old maid, is pictured on Nov. 1 at a village in the northern province of Ha Tay after she was rescued from her employers in Hanoi.


It was a case that outraged a nation: for 13 years a Vietnamese couple abused and tortured a young woman they kept as a virtual slave, until she was finally rescued by a compassionate neighbor.

When Nguyen Thi Binh, 24, emerged from the family-run Hanoi noodle shop that had been her prison, her tragic story and the scars covering her body triggered outrage at the perpetrators -- and anger at officials who did nothing.

The couple "used electric cables, wooden sticks and pliers to torture me," Binh told reporters and police about the couple who kept her as an unpaid maid and let her sleep only three hours a night.

The wife had kicked and beaten Binh and forced her to kneel naked in cold weather if she did not finish her cleaning and other domestic tasks, said Binh, 37 percent of whose body was found to be covered in scars.

Binh said her nightmare started when her mother dumped her in Hanoi at age 11 before leaving to marry in China. Binh never heard from her again.

Her suffering only ended after a 70-year-old neighbor spirited her away to a farm outside Hanoi.

"I felt sorry for her and had reported the abuse to local police three times, but they did nothing," said the neighbor, beef seller Ha Thi Binh, after rescuing the girl.

The restaurant owners "tortured her like Americans tortured communist soldiers during the war," the woman was quoted as telling state media.

The couple first denied, then admitted the barbarous treatment and are now in custody, charged with torture and other offences. If convicted, they each face up to 18 years in jail.

The case, which came to light early this month and led to the sacking of several local officials, has sparked public anger. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered authorities to look into the case and report back to him by the end of this month.

"It's unbelievable that there are people who mistreat children like that right in Hanoi," Tran Thi Quoc Khanh, a national assembly deputy representing Hanoi, told the VNExpress online newspaper.

The Thanh Nien daily commented: "If such a case could occur in Hanoi, in a ward that proudly bears the name of Nhan Chinh, or `human righteousness,' it might also be happening elsewhere, waiting to be uncovered.

"We must face a painful truth: a 70-year-old woman could do what the massive governmental apparatus could not. If necessary, let's start a process of improving it to make it transparent and strong," the paper said.

There is still no evidence that the global problem of violence within families and households -- highlighted yesterday by the UN International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women -- is worse in Vietnam than elsewhere.

But debate on domestic violence in Vietnam, a traditionally male dominated society, where many families employ rural women as maids for around US$50 a month, has only really started in recent years.

Binh's sad story dominated newspapers for weeks. According to the police-run An Ninh Thu Do (Capital Security) newspaper, one person dies every three days in Vietnam as a result of domestic violence.

The extreme case of Binh has done much to awaken the community to the scourge of violence in the home, said Hoang Thi Kim Thanh, head of the Center for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Family, Women and Youth.

"It has been a lesson for the authorities, the community and sociologists that we should not be so indifferent to the fate of a person, especially if she comes from a vulnerable group of migrant workers," Thanh said.

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