Speech at the ethnic minority policy forum

14 Aug 2012

Human Resource Development in ethnic minority and mountainous areas

Speaker: Ms. Pratibha Mehta, United Nations Resident Coordinator
Date:       08.30 am 14th August 2012
Event:      Ethnic Minority Policy Forum: Human Resource Development in ethnic minority and mountainous areas
Venue:     Melia Hotel Hanoi

Mr. Giang Seo Phu, CEMA Minister
Mr. K’Sor Phuoc, Chairman of the Ethnic Council of the National Assembly
Representatives from the National Assembly, Government Ministries and Agencies, provinces and ethnic minority groups,
Your Excellencies Ambassadors, International Development Partners, and Media Representatives
Colleagues and friends,

First of all, on behalf of the UN Country Team I would like to recognize and commend the Government of Viet Nam, and in particular the Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs, for engaging in open dialogue on ethnic minority issues and learning from international experiences.

These include a Policy Forum on Poverty among Ethnic Minorities in 2010, the Congress of Ethnic Minorities in 2010, and inviting review missions of the Independent Expert on minority issues and the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to visit Viet Nam, as well as ensuring an open and participatory process in preparation of Viet Nam’s periodical report on the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 2011 and the presentation of the report to the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination in February 2012 and today’s policy forum on “Human Resource Development in Ethnic Minority and Mountainous Areas”. The UN system is very pleased to support such open and inclusive policy dialogues and exchange of experiences.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Over the last decade Viet Nam has made substantial progress in achieving the MDGs and raising levels of human development, and has transitioned to middle level income status. At the same time, however, disaggregated data show that progress among ethnic minorities and in the areas where they live is significantly below the national average. While ethnic minority groups constitute only 14% of the population they represent half of Viet Nam’s poorest people who face chronic poverty.

Ethnic minorities also lag significantly behind on other MDG indicators. For example, the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted in 2006 and 2012 shows that while child and infant mortality rates have fallen at the national level and among the Kinh majority, rates for ethnic minorities have actually increased over time. School drop-out and illiteracy rates for people over 15 are significantly higher among ethnic minority groups. For example, the illiteracy rate among the H’mong is 61%, as noted in CEMA research on the human resource situation in ethnic minority areas in 2010.

As the UN Committee to Eliminate all forms of Racial Discrimination recommended in its concluding observations in response to Viet Nam’s CERD report in March 2012: “The State should take measures to promote equal opportunities for all persons and stimulate economic growth and development for the ethnic minority and indigenous groups, especially with regard to employment, education and health care. Furthermore, the State should ensure the active involvement of targeted beneficiaries through adequate consultation and participation in the decisions relating to their rights and interests”.

In this regard and while looking forward to the presentations and active discussions today, I would like to share a few thoughts on key priorities for human resource development in ethnic minority areas.

First and foremost it is necessary to have enabling policies that create opportunities for ethnic minorities; secondly, that all measures are taken to enhance the capabilities of ethnic minorities so they can avail themselves of opportunities; and finally, that they are empowered to make their own choices. National policies and programmes are in place to address ethnic minority poverty and promote equal access to services, including Programme 135-II and the National Targeted Programme for Poverty Reduction, policies for small ethnic minority population groups, and policies to support ethnic minorities to access schooling, including bilingual education. However, implementation of national policies and programmes in a culturally-sensitive manner, based on the needs and interests of ethnic minority communities is equally important. In terms of capabilities, an education, good health and skills for employment are among the key capabilities needed for ethnic minorities to develop their full potential. 

There are however, existing disparities and gaps between ethnic minorities and the Kinh majority in health, education and skills.  For example:

Access to quality health care: The policy of providing free health insurance to poor households including ethnic minorities is to be commended. However user fees for health care continue to limit access to health care for people living in poverty, particularly ethnic minorities groups living in remote areas that face geographic barriers to accessing services.

Better access to primary health care, maternal and child health and reproductive health care is particularly important to improve health outcomes.  Measures also need to be taken to enhance the quality of health services, and use of appropriate technology to improve access to water and sanitation, as well as to provide culturally appropriate training for health care workers to improve access to health care for ethnic minority communities.

Access to culturally appropriate quality education services: The language barrier is one of the key barriers to access to basic services between majority and minority ethnic groups. It is globally recognized that children learn the best when taught in their own language and using metaphors from their culture.  And therefore the curriculum must be adapted to be culturally sensitive and appropriate, and “pupil centered” teaching methods promoted to build the confidence of ethnic minority children and enable them to stay in and perform well at school. 

In this regard, Decree 82 is a significant step forward towards introducing mother-tongue based bilingual education.  I would like to acknowledge CEMA Minister Mr. Giang Seo Phu’s strong personal commitment to expand bilingual education beyond the current “pilot” approach.  I am very interested to hear more about the implementation of this Decree and experience regarding bilingual education which will be shared later in this workshop.

In addition, services providers such as doctors, nurses and teachers who are themselves ethnic minority people, speak these languages and understand these cultures can help reduce barriers to access to   services and ensure the right to medical care and consultation and education in ethnic minorities’ mother tongues is realized.  Furthermore, greater innovation in service delivery can help to reach out to ethnic minorities in remote areas, by for example, exploring the use of new technology such as tele-services in health and education which have been introduced with some success in India and Bhutan.

Access to skill development: Developing high quality human resources is one of the three breakthroughs indentified in Viet Nam’s 2011-20 Socio Economic Development Strategy (SEDS). While approximately 75% of the population in ethnic and mountainous areas is of working age, the proportion of untrained laborers in ethnic and mountainous regions is very high.  Concrete “breakthrough” measures are necessary to reach out and include ethnic minorities in skill training and then linking them to labour markets.

International experience shows that ethnic minority people’s participation in Government helps to ensure that national strategies and policies are formulated and implemented in a more culturally sensitive manner. Ethnic minority leaders and staff in government help promote better utilization of indigenous knowledge, culture, customary laws and systems in, for example, agriculture and rural development, land, forest and natural resources management, environment protection, health care and indigenous ethnic minority community management.  There is a need to increase ethnic minority people’s participation in Government at all levels in Viet Nam.

Current policies and mechanisms also need to be reviewed to identify gaps and new solutions, and best practices - such as Tuyen Quang Province’s efforts in ensuring staff of local government agencies obtain a university decree - need to be exchanged between provinces and ethnic minorities  through innovative mechanisms.

Let me close by once again thanking CEMA and the Ethnicity Council of the National Assembly and in particular Mr. Kso Phuoc and Mr. Giang Seo Phu for their leadership as well as CEMA staff who have worked hard to provide us with the opportunity to discuss important policy issues in this forum today.

The UN Country Team in Viet Nam views ethnic minority development as one of our first priorities in the new UN One Plan 2012-2016. We stand ready to support the Government, CEMA and the Ethnicity Council as the ethnic minority development “champions” in your efforts to further the development of ethnic minority communities in Viet Nam. I would like to reiterate our strong commitment to support your efforts to widen and deepen open and inclusive debates on ethnic minority policies that successfully engage ethnic minority women, men and children, policy makers, civil society organizations and development partners.

I look forward to interesting presentations, candid and fruitful discussions, and concrete conclusions and recommendations from our policy forum today.

Xin Cam On va Chuc Suc Khoe.