Vietnam capital may close pagoda orphanage amid child trafficking probe
The Hanoi municipal government is preparing five social welfare centers to receive orphans and abandoned children from a pagoda that was caught up in a child trafficking scandal.
Dang Van Bat, deputy director of Hanoi’s social affairs department was quoted by news website VnExpress as saying that five public centers have been asked to report on their available space and budgets so the agency can act quickly once the city renders a final call on the transfer.
The fuss began after the August 4 arrest of Nguyen Thi Thanh Trang, a single mother who helped manage the orphanage at Bo De Pagoda.
Police say Trang sold a child for VND35 million (US$1,650). The buyer, Pham Thi Nguyet, was also arrested but claimed that the 2-year-old boy was the illegitimate child her husband had with another woman.
The child died in the recent measles epidemic that swept through the city.
After attention was thrown on the pagoda, a Phu Nu (Woman) newspaper exposé claimed its managers often sell donations of food, clothes and books for cash.
“We’re still waiting for investigation results and specific orders from the city. But we are prepared,” said Bat of the city’s social affairs department.
The department is currently weighing two options regarding Bo De–a philanthropic pagoda known for housing hundreds of abandoned children including those born with HIV.
One option is to let Bo De’s management board register as an official orphanage and pledge to strictly conform to government regulations.
That scenario, Bat noted, will be unlikely given that the pagoda does not meet the official requirements for a facility that cares for 106 children and 39 old people, not to mention its staff of untrained helpers.
Each child currently being housed at the pagoda occupies roughly one square meter, according to information from the department.
The other option is to take those people away, send anyone who still has relatives home and the rest to government-run care centers.
Some of those centers have already asked for more beds and staff.
Last August, the department ordered the pagoda to stop receiving children and old people after finding that its facilities were pushing their limits.
Since the order, ten children and six old people (including two HIV-positive patients) have been released from the pagoda. It’s not clear where they are now.
Nine other pagodas in the capital currently house nearly 50 orphans, also without official approval for running a welfare center.