The Viet Nam government has recently come under intense international criticism for the human rights violations that occur within its drug detention centers. These detention centers have been found to be forced labor camps, responsible for the production and manufacture of many goods. Inmates are forced to work with little or no pay and are brutalized, abused and tortured.
Up to 40,000 men, women and children are detained in drug detention centers across Viet Nam. Many inmates voluntarily sign up for what they believe is treatment for their drug abuse problems without realizing the extent of these treatments. Torture, abuse, forced labor, terrible living conditions and lack of appropriate medical care all rapidly turn the rehabilitation into a nightmare.
Viet Nam labor therapy involves sewing garments, making bricks or processing cashews. Detention-style work in Viet Nam originated from the country’s re-education camps that were established after the American War in 1975. Officials believed that hard work can help a person can overcome their faults and contribute to society in a meaningful way.
One of the key products produced from the Viet Nam Drug Detention centers is cashew nuts. Viet Nam is the world’s leading exporter of cashew nuts, which it exports mainly to the US and Europe. Cashew nuts have been identified by the government as one of Viet Nam’s key export products over the next two decades. Reportedly, more than 380,000 hectares of cashew trees are under cultivation. Of these, 130,000 hectares are newly established plantation. Cashew nuts are now seen to be a significant contributor to the national economy.
Inmates at these centers are forced to husk between five to eight kilograms of cashew nuts a day, which requires husking around 5,000 nuts. Human Rights Watch reports that the work is hazardous and painful. Cashew nuts produce a resin that causes itching and burning, and the dust from the skin of cashews can irritate lungs. Protective gear is rarely provided.
Drug abuse is an increasing problem in Viet Nam. Young people who face significant employment and lifestyle challenges are taking drugs more often and in greater quantities. The most common drug used in Viet Nam is heroin, with up to 70 percent of the total using population taking the drug. Amphetamine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and ketamine are becoming more popular drugs of choice for young people. Reports indicate that up to 80 percent of those less than 35 years of age have used one of these substances in the last year.
Viet Nam faces a serious problem with drug smuggling. As such, the country has some of the world’s toughest drug laws. Individuals caught with more than 600 grams of heroin or 20 kilograms of opium can be sentenced to death. Poppies, the plant from which opium and heroin are produced, are still grown in the mountainous regions of Viet Nam. Drugs are smuggled in from the nearby countries of Laos and Burma into other regions by organized gangs.
Inmates at the Viet Nam detention centers are housed in unsanitary and harsh conditions where they have no access to legal counsel or medically appropriate treatment. Children and adults are made to perform unpaid hard labor and are at high risk of becoming victims of violence and abuse. [Individuals who refuse to work are beaten repeatedly] (http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2092004,00.html#ixzz1a5VrtQP2), given electric shocks, put into isolation for long periods and deprived of food and water until they oblige. When they do agree to work again, they are often made to work longer hours than before.
The Human Rights Watch report states that many of the detainees are unpaid for the work that they perform or they are paid well below the minimum wage. Items such as food, accommodation and other fees are charged to inmates and often represent the entire wage that they have earned. In some cases, they are in debt to the center when they are released.
Detaining someone under these conditions and permitting serious acts of violence and torture is purportedly carried out as a deterrent to drug use. However, drug addiction is a disease that requires appropriate treatment, understanding and care. Few (if any) addicts will not respond to this type of treatment, and many will probably use drugs again.
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