Digital Technology Helps Ethnic Minority Youth Protect Themselves

The EMPoWR project is utilizing information technology to create an online platform that provides youth with access to valuable knowledge and skills.

Applying digital technology to Fight against child marriage
The Em Vui platform is easily accessible via social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, making it convenient and readily available for marginalized Vietnamese youth.

On May 31, the Institute For Social Development Studies (ISDS) and its partner Plan International in Vietnam held a workshop in Hanoi to conclude the EMPoWR project. This project aimed to empower ethnic minority girls, boys, young women and men to use the digital space to better understand and assert their rights, access support services and make their voices heard by policy makers.

The EMPoWR project, co-funded by the European Union (EU) and Plan International Belgium and co-implemented by the ISDS and Plan International in Vietnam, has been established.

Low incomes, inadequate levels of education among young girls, and archaic traditions are the primary causes of child marriage in Vietnam. Families with numerous occupants, particularly in rural areas, are often unable to provide the necessary food and other necessities for all their members. This creates an urgent situation that typically leads to the marriage of young girls in an attempt to alleviate the family’s financial burden.

The EMPoWR project is situated in 52 communes of 11 districts of Ha Giang, Lai Chau, Quang Binh, and Quang Tri provinces. It helps to empower ethnic minority girls, young women, and men aged 10 to 24 to make use of digital space to acquire online safety skills, assert their rights, find support services, and make their opinions heard by policymakers.

Nowadays, an increasing number of people, especially teenagers, are taking advantage of the Internet for studying, working, communicating, entertaining, and accessing various other services. However, the online world also poses several risks, such as child marriage and other kinds of child and youth abuse. Therefore, it is essential for young people, especially those living in remote regions, to be provided with the necessary tools to protect themselves.

Applying digital technology to Fight against child marriage
Comics convey messages and help ethnic minority youth raise awareness. Photo: Van Anh

The Em Vui platform (meaning ‘I’m Happy’ in Vietnamese), is the heart of the EMPoWR project. It has been designed to be a safe and trustworthy environment for ethnic youth to engage in learning, exchanging, sharing, and disseminating knowledge. In addition to the website and mobile app, “Em Vui” also exists on six social networking sites that are popular with young people.

The platform is uniquely designed to be ‘data light,’ meaning it can be accessed even in remote areas with limited internet connectivity. To ensure that essential information is shared with those who lack internet and digital tools, an infographic leaflet is handed out.

By presenting data in engaging formats such as stories, cartoons, and games, the “Em Vui” platform is an effective tool for educating and communicating with young people, equipping them with the knowledge and confidence to prevent child marriage and human trafficking. This helps them improve their legal knowledge and take part in online policy dialogues with leaders.

For the past three years, from June 2020 to June 2023, Em Vui has produced around 200 videos and educational materials in the areas of online safety, reproductive health, prevention of child marriage and human trafficking, and legal knowledge. During the last 6 months, the website has been receiving an average of 400 daily visits.

Dr. Khuat Thu Hong, the Director of ISDS and the leader of the project, expressed his enthusiasm over the project’s reception among ethnic minority youth in four provinces. The products of Em Vui have been met with much love and have been widely utilized by children, teachers, agencies, and social organizations in the project area.

Applying digital technology to Fight against child marriage
Directly guiding about 50 key staff who are teachers, commune officials, women’s union officials, youth union officials of 10 communes in the Em Vui project area in Quang Binh province in 2022. Source: Em Vui platform

Despite the completion of the project, Em Vui remains a reliable and beneficial destination for young people, local officials, and teachers who join forces to combat child marriage and human trafficking, allowing young people to grow up safely, healthily, and happily, according to Hong.

Carina Neset, the Business Development and Grant Manager of Plan International Vietnam, has revealed that the organization’s 5-year program for 2021-2026 in Vietnam aims to collaborate with government agencies, donors, families and communities to help 2 million girls gain knowledge, lead, make decisions, and shine.

The EMPoWR project, with its primary product being the Em Vui online platform, has made remarkable strides in combatting human trafficking and fulfilling Plan’s pledge to advance gender equality and safeguard children, particularly ethnic minority children living in remote regions.

The project has trained 7,458 ethnic minority youths on internet knowledge and cyber safety skills, of which 4,766 had acquired basic knowledge on cyber security issues. In 2022, the project communicated directly to 8,771 ethnic minority youth on the Em Vui platform. Subsequently, in 2023, the communication activity had successfully promoted the use of Em Vui online platform, and attracted more than 20,000 ethnic minority youth.

Ho TRT, a member of the Bru Van Kieu ethnic group from Huong Hoa district in Quang Tri province, shared her experiences of using the local Em Vui Platform during the first discussion session. She has taken advantage of accumulating points and receiving gifts on the app. Furthermore, she has also watched episodes of the animated series Mi’s Journey about human trafficking and child marriage, and has learned about safety in cyberspace. “I truly enjoyed the educational lessons I learned from the Em Vui platform,” she concluded.

Applying digital technology to Fight against child marriage
At the closing ceremony. Photo: Van Anh

Nguyen Thi Hong Nhung, a teacher from Lao Va Chai commune in Yen Minh district, Ha Giang province, discussed the sustainability of the Em Vui platform during the second discussion session of the workshop. She asserted, “We have used many of Em Vui’s products in teaching and communication in our locality. We will continue to spread these materials to many generations of students to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to prevent child marriage and trafficking, and to grow up confidently, safely, and with a bright future.”

The Em Vui platform is a unique and open space that brings together individuals, agencies, and organizations of relevance to share knowledge and skills, as well as promote meaningful messages for the entire nation. It also serves as a platform for dialogue between ethnic minority youth and policy makers and leaders of relevant agencies at all levels.

Hannah Nguyen