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Viet Nam: TV Series on Preventing Domestic Violence

Hanoi (Viet Nam), 3 November 2009 - Domestic violence continues to be a serious problem in Viet Nam. Despite of being a violation of human rights, domestic violence is often not considered as a crime by the Vietnamese society and it is frequently believed that the husband has the "right" to teach his wife, including the use of physical violence. This attitude towards domestic violence can be explained by deep-rooted Confucian values of the wife being subordinated to her husband, the daughter to his father, and the widow to her eldest son.

In the light of the newly adopted Law against Domestic Violence, UNODC launched a three-year project called "Building capacity of law enforcement and justice sector to prevent and respond to domestic violence in Viet Nam". Its aim is to contribute to the prevention of domestic violence against women through a more accountable law enforcement and criminal justice response.

Domestic violence is a multi-faceted problem only a comprehensive approach can substantively prevent and reduce it. Therefore, next to building the capacity of the law enforcement and justice sector officers, an important project component focuses on raising public awareness on the existing problems with domestic violence and the right of women to live in a household free of violence. The media campaign consists in producing an awareness raising television series, called "Breaking the silence" and which is being broadcasted from the 22nd of October until the 5th of November 2009 on VTV 1.

The main project partner is the Centre for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Family, Women and Adolescents (CSAGA) and the soap will be produced by Diep Van Film Company. The film project is generously supported by the Swiss Development Agency and the US Embassy in Hanoi.

"Breaking the Silence" is divided into ten episodes and the story takes place in rural Viet Nam. The tele vision series aims at raising awareness of existing problems with domestic violence in Viet Nam as well as the lack of response and protection from the justice and police sector. Furthermore, it shows the public that things can only change if the community supports and reinforces the victims and that successful reconciliation should more focus on making sure that the violence stops.

Plots of the Stories
The main storyline is about the tragic life of Na who gets continuously beaten and ill-treated by her husband Nhan. At first, no one reacts to her cries for help even though she is chased through the whole neighbourhood. Typically, her husband blames her for having a miscarriage and for not being able to deliver the desired son and future heir. The latter is particularly fatal as Nhan will only inherit his father's house if he has a son, otherwise the house would entirely go to his brother who has two sons. Ironically, those sons are both drug addicts and get regularly beaten up by their father. Na escapes from her violent marriage and hides at her parents place and also at her sister's household. But her husband always finds her again and finally she is forced to leave the village and hide anonymously in the city, living isolated from her family and taking up random jobs. It is in that environment where she hears about the clubs for domestic violence victims for the first time and she becomes a member. After gaining back much of her strength and self-esteem she decides to return home to her family. Soon, her husband finds yet another reason to beat her but this time Na calls upon the commune for help and the police intervenes and forces Nhan to write a mistake review in the light of him breaking the newly adopted law on domestic violence. Still not stopping his violent behaviour, Nhan beats Na again but she successfully defends herself. By that time, there is talk about the new law in the village and the people's committee. The community starts to see domestic violence as a problem.

A second important story treats the reactions of the police and reconciliation teams towards domestic violence cases. Husband Hung physically abuses his wife Phai and their children. Violence includes cutting Phai's hair against her will and threatening her with a knife. After heavy drinking, he even beats up an elder man who tried to stop him mistreating his son. A committed police officer tries to intervene and help but he gets called off by his colleagues and superiors who still treat domestic violence as a private matter. Even the reconciliation team getting involved at one point try to keep Phai silent and do not help to stop the violence in her household. Towards the end of the series, the police officer loses control after another violent incident and slaps Hung who then sues him for beating a citizen. Luckily the court recognizes duplicity of Hung's behaviour and he receives a sentence of twelve months imprisonment.

A third story concentrates on psychological violence where the intrusive father tries to control his daughter's love life opening her letters and wanting to choose an appropriate husband for her. The marriage of the parents is conflict-ridden and the wife asks for divorce though in the end the husband admits his mistakes and asks for forgiveness.

To conclude, many aspects and problems related to domestic violence are taken up in the television series, including showing the normality and prevalence of abuse of women by their husbands as well as emphasizing the current ignorance of the law enforcement and justice sector. Still, it is a positive approach, showing how attitudes towards domestic violence slowly change in Viet Nam, how the implementation of the law against domestic violence starts taking place, and how Vietnamese women begin to take their destiny into their own hands.