The Ministry of Public Security has proposed significantly higher fines for sexual harassment and molestation, but is yet to define the offences clearly.
A draft amendment to a government decree on social evils and public safety violations presented Thursday says people who sexually harass, molest others or perform sexual acts in public could be fined between VND3-5 million ($129-215). The current maximum fine for these violations is just VND300,000 ($13).
However, the ministry needs to properly define what constitutes harassment, molestation or public sexual acts to apply these fines effectively, as there is no document that does it, said lawyer Truong Anh Tu.
Vietnamese public and law experts have long discussed numerous legal loopholes that allow sexual offenders to get away with minor punishment.
Last March, a man was fined just VND200,000 ($9) after forcibly kissing a woman in an elevator in Hanoi. This provoked public outrage, with many saying the fine was too lenient and an insult to the victim, revealing major weaknesses in the current legal system for tackling sexual harassment.
Earlier this month, a man who groped a woman while she was drying clothes on the street in central Quang Nam Province also got away with a VND200,000 fine.
Such meager fines and other lenient punishments will not deter offenders and would discourage victims and potential victims from revealing the truth, Khuat Thu Hong, director of the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS), told VnExpress International.
Vietnamese law currently lacks effective sanctions against sexual harassment, said Dang Van Cuong of the Hanoi Bar Association. The 2015 Criminal Code addresses the act of rape, but has no specific provisions for sexual harassment, he said.
Sexual harassment is widely prevalent in Vietnamese society, with several studies showing that Vietnamese women are generally unsafe from the phenomenon. A 2014 report by Action Aid, an international NGO, found 87 percent of interviewed women and girls had faced sexual harassment in public places.