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'Say No' campaigns use writing and painting to fight domestic violence in Viet Nam

Hanoi (Viet Nam), 5 September 2011
- "I never ever imagined finding such a neglected little girl in the center of Hanoi," says Nguyen Thu Trang. "When I first saw Nhu (not her real name), her body was covered with terrifying injuries, her lips swollen, with blue and black marks all over her body. I decided to rent a room next to her worn-down, dark home to comfort her and to dispel her terrible fear and loneliness."

Her voice stills trembles as Thu Trang, first-place winner out of 15 winners of the writing competition "Say No to Domestic Violence", remembers the first time she saw Nhu after neighbors contacted her about a little girl being mistreated next door. Trang, a reporter for Family and Society Newspaper, co-wrote "Help the four-year-old girl escape from a living hell", which tells the story of the brave rescue of Nhu, a little girl subjected to serious domestic violence. Today, Nhu lives with her grandmother and slowly recovers from the traumatizing experience.

Launched in August 2010 by Family and Society Newspaper, "Say No to Domestic Violence" was organized in cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Viet Nam to support the joint efforts of the United Nations in Viet Nam to raise public awareness of gender-based violence and violence against children by using mass media.

Other writing competition partners include the Police General Department for Crime Prevention and Control (Ministry of Public Security), the General Office for Population and Family Planning (Ministry of Health), and the Viet Nam Journalists Association in Hanoi.

The 15 prize-winners selected from 1,536 articles sent to the newspaper in the past year were honoured at a prize-awarding ceremony. General Nguyen Van Ba, vice head of the Police General Department for Crime Prevention and Control, said: "The competition helps prevent domestic violence and to implement the Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control and the Law on Gender Equality. It contributes to a change in attitude towards such violence, in particular moving away from the perception that it is a private family matter."

In addition, UNODC and the Family and Society Newspaper selected 20 paintings submitted in a "Say No to Domestic Violence" painting competition for primary school students in Hanoi. These paintings were exhibited at the National Arts and Culture Exhibition Center during the Family Festival in Hanoi in June 2011.

Talking about domestic violence is still a taboo in Viet Nam, even though one third of married women have experienced domestic violence, according to a national study on domestic violence against women in Viet Nam 2010, conducted by the General Statistics Office of Viet Nam in collaboration with the World Health Organization.

Many victims don't speak up out of shame and to preserve the image of a happy family. Breaking this silence is an important step towards preventing domestic violence and protecting victims. Failure to do so can have devastating consequences for those involved, as illustrated in the story of Mai, interviewed by Lan Phuong, the runner-up in the competition.

"I witnessed my daughter's miserable situation for many years, his beatings, the violence, the harassment and his love affairs," said Mai, the mother of a woman murdered by her husband. "Each time she visited, she cried. I always advised her to be patient, to avoid embarrassing and shaming our family. I believed that her husband would change if his wife and children were good-natured people and hard working. I could not imagine such an ending."

At the ceremony, Mr. Le Canh Nhac, chief editor of Family and Society Newspaper said, "The competition has encouraged journalists to write informative and powerful stories to fight against domestic violence in Viet Nam. We hope that reading these stories will give others the courage to speak up against domestic violence and to seek help for its victims too."

"Say No to Domestic Violence is part of a larger project called "Strengthen the capacity of law enforcement and justice sectors to prevent and respond for domestic violence in Viet Nam (VNM/T28)", established in 2008 by the UNODC and implemented with the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice.

The project objective is to help law enforcement and justice sector officers to deal with domestic violence and to facilitate the implementation of the law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control 2007. Other project activities assist and train the legal aid system to strengthen its support for domestic violence victims, and to collect and analyze data on services provided to domestic violence victims.

The VNM/T28 project is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the U.S. Department of State, the Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund (MDGF) through the UN-Government Joint Programme of Gender Equality, and the One Plan Fund (OPF) of the United Nations in Viet Nam.