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Vietnam Proposes Increasing Penalty for Sexual Harassment to VND8m

Will the heightened penalties deter Vietnamese from harassing vulnerable victims?

Last month, the Ministry of Public Security released a draft amendment of the government decree regulating social evils and public safety violations, Decree 167/2013, reports Zing. The document includes several prominent changes that have caught the attention of the public over the past week.

Most notably, under the new amendment, those who molest or sexually harass others can be fined VND5–8 million, a 26-fold increase compared to the current fine of VND100,000–300,000. Other than a numerical increase, the amendment also introduces more scenarios where the punishment could be applied: molestation or sexual harassment; sexual harassment directed at under-16 minors; and lewd acts in public, including sexual acts.

Apart from paying fines, the ministry will also require that offenders must publicly apologize to the victim. Foreign offenders could also face deportation, depending on the severity of the incident.

In the past, harassers have been penalized in accordance with Article 5 of Decree 167/2013, which imposes an administrative fine of VND100,000—300,000 on “violent and provocative acts that tease or insult another person’s dignity.” 

The fine has often been the center of controversy, as activists and netizens deem it woefully inadequate and too vague to be fully effective in disciplining offenders.

The most notorious case surrounding the sexual harassment fine arose in 2019 in Hanoi when a Vietnamese man forced himself on a woman in an elevator. The act was caught on camera and the district police department fined him VND200,000. The incident became the butt of online jokes as social media users expressed exasperation at the amount they believed was too low.

In November last year, a similar incident caused uproar in Saigon: an Estonian man was filmed slapping the butt of a Vietnamese woman in an elevator in a building in District 2. After she reacted, he called her a number of racial slurs. The man was also fined VND200,000.

Decree 167 received a proposed amendment in 2019, which also sought to increase the fine for sexual harassment to VND3–5 million. The punishment, however, was deemed too light by some lawyers and activists, many of whom also decried the lack of a definition of sexual harassment that’s clear and specific enough to make these fines and future punishments enforceable.

[Top photo via Phu Nu.]