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As Vietnam's women go abroad, dads tend the home

Thursday, July 17, 2014 - Updated: 8:40 AM

VU HOI, Vietnam (AP) -- When his wife moved to Taiwan nine years ago to work as a maid -- earning far more than she could in the rice paddies of this northern Vietnamese hamlet -- Pham Duc Viet took over the household chores and raised their two children on top of his regular work as a farmer and carpenter.

Now, the double duty is second nature for Viet, 48, as it with many male neighbors. Hundreds of women have left the village of Vu Hoi, 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Hanoi, to take better-paying jobs in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea and send money home, part of a wider migration of female labor from Vietnam over the past 15 years.

"Not a big deal," Viet said of the extra chores. "I'm willing to sacrifice so that my kids can have a better life." His wife's earnings are covering university tuition for their two children and paid for a furniture workshop next to their house.

As more women leave the country, Vietnam is following a trend seen in other Asian nations such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, where women make up at least two-thirds of workers who leave the country. Vietnamese women accounted for about a third of migrant workers in 2011, according to the United Nations.

Working as maids or nurses overseas, women can often earn more than men doing manual labor such as construction or farming.

The trend has left behind legions of what experts call "father-carers," many of them in countries with previously well-defined gender roles regarding housework and child-rearing.

The changes have contributed to some social problems in Vietnam, and domestic media reports have portrayed Vu Hoi as a village where many "left-behind" fathers have turned to drugs, alcohol and prostitutes.

Fathers interviewed in the village and in nearby Vu Tien said that while that may be true in some cases, the reports were exaggerated. Most men were willing to take on the additional work to support their families.

Preparing meals was a challenge, some said, but never an insurmountable one.

"In a farming family like ours, dinners are pretty simple anyway," said Vu Duc Hang, whose two children helped with the cleaning and cooking when they were at home. Now they too have been able to attend college.

There are few comprehensive studies on father-carers, and scholars say the social and psychological effects of female labor migration on Asian societies are still far from clear.

Some migration studies of Southeast Asian communities have found that female relatives typically took over child-rearing responsibilities when mothers left for jobs abroad.

But a 2008 survey that tracked about 1,100 migrant-mother households in Vietnam and Indonesia reported that more than two-thirds of primary caregivers were fathers -- a sharp contrast to earlier findings in the Philippines and Sri Lanka, where as few as a quarter of dads played a similar role.


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