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'What's a condom?': Unsafe sex puts Vietnamese factory workers at risk
By Minh Hung - Thanh Nien News -

Two workers at a private clothing factory in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Minh Hung Two workers at a private clothing factory in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Minh Hung

She is 30 and from Hanoi. She has three children, apart from three miscarriages and three abortions. "I get pregnant easily," she said. 
She is 19 and from Bac Giang. She only had one abortion but it is still haunting her. “It was so scary when I had to throw what doctors took out from my body into the river,” she said. 
These are only two of the stories shared at a recent conference in Hanoi, where it became clear that many Vietnamese factory workers know very little about safe sex. 
According to the Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population, almost all factory workers have insufficient knowledge about safe sex practices and nearly one in three are not aware of the need to use condoms.
Up to 85 percent of workers have no idea what vaginitis or cervicitis is. 
Thuy, a 32-year-old worker at a garment factory in Tan Thuan Industrial Zone, said many young workers do not know how to protect themselves.
“I am managing a team and many workers often asked for days off to get an abortion. And of course unexpected pregnancy means they also don't know how to prevent from HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs),” she said.
Asked whether her labor union has organized talks about safe sex, she said there is no time because the foreign-invested factory wants its employees to work all the time. 
“Sometimes, the labor union distributes leaflets about occupational safety which also include information about family planning and HIV prevention. But not all workers are given one and they don't bother reading it."
According to a small survey by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) of 52 migrant female workers at industrial parks in Vietnam, only three heard about condoms.
About 34 percent of single workers, who have a sex partner, do not have sufficient knowledge about contraception, according to UNFPA.
Serious threats
Dr Ngo Thi Anh Dong of the Ho Chi Minh City HIV/AIDS Association, said that many workers do not practice safe sex and do not know if their sex partners have STDs or HIV, which often do not exhibit visible symptoms at early stages.
“Workers who have unsafe sex, which is common after parties, should be examined at medical centers on the following day, and again after one and three months.”
“If they do not contract STDs, they should consider it a lesson to learn from. And if they are infected, treatment for early infection would cost less," Dong said. 
A survey by Plan International in Vietnam found that nearly a third of 1,056 women having abortions in Hanoi were factory workers.
Hoang Tu Anh, director of Hanoi's Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population, said migrant workers, especially the vulnerable female workers, should be better protected.
“The media should not create social discrimination based on consequences they suffered from a lack of relevant knowledge,” she said.
Vu Dang Minh, director of the Youth Department at the Ministry of Interior, said that the 2005 Youth Law should be amended with more rights to sexual and reproductive health among young people.
“Young people should be consulted on love and on sexual and reproductive health, and should be trained about marriage and family, gender equality and domestic violence prevention,” he said.
The government should have policies on providing information to the youth on HIV and STDs, he said.
Minh also called for changes in the law to protect young people under 18 from sexual abuse.
The government should also have specific policies on sexual health and social welfare services for young migrant workers, he said.