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Vietnamese rescue teams halt work to recover body of missing 10-year-old

Vietnamese rescue workers are still trying to recover the body of a 10-year-old boy who fell down a hollow concrete pillar on New Year’s Eve.

Thai Ly Hao Nam was declared dead on Wednesday by the vice chairman of Dong Thap province’s People’s Committee. Doan Tan Buu said work would continue to remove the concrete pillar and cut the boy’s body out.

“In the past, we prioritized both the rescue and finding ways to save the child,” he said. “At this point, the conditions for sustaining the child’s life have ended. And there is sufficient evidence, it is clear that the baby has died. The dead body must be brought up as soon as possible to take care of the child’s funeral.” 

Work came to a halt Thursday morning, State media reported, because rescuers had reached a “special geological layer.”

Questions are now being asked about whether the boy should have been declared dead before his body was recovered.

Doan Tan Buu.jpeg
Doan Tan Buu, vice chairman of Dong Thap Provincial People’s Committee, announces the death of Thai Ly Hao Nam on the evening of January 4, 2023. Credit: AFP

“They say he is biologically dead to reduce pressure on the rescue workers,” lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan told RFA. “In reality I think they predicted the boy’s death from day one but now they’re announcing it. Legally that’s not correct, they just want to deal with it internally … they don’t want to bring it to the central government.”

In a Facebook post after the boy’s death was announced, lawyer Dang Dinh Manh wrote that the current law only accepts two states of death: biological and legal death.

He said biological death is “absolutely immutable” because there is a dead body, but legal death is a judgment based on the length of time a person has been missing. It is still not clear whether that person is dead, so legal death can be annulled if the person is later found alive.

“The case of “death” of the baby HN is not one of the two cases of death prescribed by the law. Therefore, the announcement by the [vice chairman] of Dong Thap province is only for temporary reference, or for the purpose of psychologically preparing the public only. Essentially, it has no legal value,” Manh wrote. 

He said, from a legal point of view, the boy must still be considered alive and local authorities are still responsible for making their best efforts to rescue him as a survivor.

Rescuers 2.jpeg
Workers try to remove a concrete pillar from a construction site in Vietnam’s Dong Thap province to rescue 10-year-old Thai Ly Hao Nam on Jan. 4, 2023. Credit: AFP

With work halted, rescue teams are now consulting domestic and foreign experts on how to recover the body. The rescue method has changed from bringing up the whole pillar to removing the joints and bringing up sections one-by-one.

Doctor Dinh Duc Long told RFA it was wrong to declare the boy dead in order to allow the rescue teams to halt their efforts.

“To say the boy died is very strange because they haven’t been able to prove that the boy is dead or not. They have no direct evidence. You have to have the boy’s body to be able to say that,” he said. “Did they say that to finish the story so the public doesn’t care anymore? That means no more day and night duty. No more time pressure. That’s scientifically inconclusive.”

The decision has been approved by the boy’s family, according to Vietnamese media. They reported that local authorities and forensic experts met with Hao Nam’s father, who agreed the boy should be pronounced dead.

According to Vietnam’s 2015 Civil Code, if there is still no news that a person is alive two years after an accident a court must decide whether or not to declare them dead. 

Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Written in English by Mike Firn.

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