Most vulnerable to HIV infection

Street youth, for whom stable jobs are usually out of reach, are the most vulnerable to HIV infection, a Swedish NGO working with vulnerable children in Viet Nam has said.

There are no official figures on infection rates among street youths in Viet Nam, but Save the Children – the NGO – estimates that more than 30 per cent of them have HIV.

Le Quang Nguyen of Save the Children (Sweden), who has been coordinating several programs to support them, said without identity papers they could not get access to vocational training, healthcare and other social services or even rent a place to live.

Many, including younger street children, are forced into sex work, mostly sex with male clients, to feed themselves.

A recent study carried out by Save the Children that interviewed 600 street youth and found 17 per cent of them injected drugs. Thirty-two per cent were female sex workers, six per cent were male sex workers, and 16 per cent were men who have sex with men.

“Many who can not find stable jobs choose to be sex workers. Most of them cannot make their own decision. Economic reasons force them to do the job,” Nguyen said.

Sexual abuse, sex workers being forced to have sex without condoms, handing out sexual favors in exchange for money to indulge in online games and other habits, and other similar practices were reasons for the spread of HIV infections.

Although they are a high-risk group, their official invisibility provides them with no access to health services.

Nguyen estimated the number of street youths in the country aged between 15 and 24 to be around 100,000.

A survey of 406 street youths last September found more than 40 per cent of them engaging in one or more risky practices.

Some live on the streets after migrating from other places for economic opportunities while others leave home due to parental death, divorce, incarceration, and/or abuse.

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