VietNamNet Bridge – The latest statistics show that currently Vietnam has 86.5 million people, ranking 13th in the world. It has a density of 227 persons per square kilometre – six fold higher than the global level and double China’s figure.http://english.vietnamnet.vn/social/2008/12/820803/
The General Department of Population reports that by October 2008, approximately 95,000 third babies were born in 43 provinces and cities and the figure is estimated to rise to 142,000 by the year’s end. This means the number of the third child increased by 13.8 percent against in 2007.
The boom was attributed to families’ misunderstanding of the 2003 Ordinance on Population in terms of the time to give birth, the number of newborns and intervals between births.
Babies are held by their mothers at Tho Ha village in the northern province of Bac Ninh. Officials in Communist Vietnam alarmed by a new baby boom are to crack down on couples having more than two children, family planning chiefs said this week.(AFP/Hoang Dinh Nam)
To solve the problem, experts say there is no choice but to enhance public communication and have a decree imposing administrative fines on law-breakers.
Also many doctors have used technical measures to identify the sex of the foetus, as many couples are seeking ways to give birth to a boy rather than a girl. These practices have resulted in a gender imbalance and inequality, which are not acceptable in society.
According to the Ministry of Health, the traditional customs of an agriculture-based society and the far-reaching impact of the Confucian ideology on giving birth have posed a great challenge to Vietnam’s population and family planning programme aimed at ensuring gender equality and improving the quality of life.
The fact is that in an agriculture-based economy like Vietnam, people still have low incomes, infant mortality remains high and there are no insurance services for the elderly. Since rural people make up 73 percent of the country’s population, and basic social services are not well developed, many couples find it difficult to embrace the concept of having one or two children in their family.
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The government of Vietnam will decide on December 22 whether to penalize parents who have more than two children, reinitiating a coercive population policy it abandoned in 2003.
“We are considering an adjustment to our policy appropriate to the circumstances of the country,” Truong Thi Mai, chair of Vietnam’s Parliamentary Committee of Social Affairs, confirmed on Saturday. “The Parliament Standing Committee will decide the week after next.”
Ms. Mai, a leading figure in the government debate who sits on the influential Standing Committee, was attending a weekend conference of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development in Hanoi. She declined to provide details of the proposed policy adjustment, but said it was brought about by continuing poverty in rural areas associated with families with more than two children.
Asked whether the policy would violate the principles of family planning voluntarism, an approach that Vietnam government representatives agreed to at the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, Ms. Mai responded that the government “has consulted all international laws to which Vietnam is a party” and had discussed the proposed policy change with the United Nations Population Fund. The 1994 agreement lacks the status of international law.
UN sources confirmed that discussion and characterized the initiative as a return of population policy influence by government forces who believe Vietnam’s decline in fertility – it fell from 3.8 children per woman in 1989 to less than 2.1 today – is among its greatest social successes. The fertility rate has not risen significantly in recent years, but some Vietnamese officials nonetheless fear that a population “boomlet” may be occurring.
If approved, the new policy would impose fines on parents for any third and higher-order children, the UN sources said. Government officials and parliamentarians are already required to have no more than two children, risking advancement or continued service if they have more.
Initiation of the proposed new policy may also reflect the recent breakup of what had been a ministry devoted to population, maternal health, and child welfare, according to the UN sources. These three functions have since been split into three departments and divided among ministries, weakening the influence of former ministry officials committed to family planning voluntarism.
The Vietnamese two-child population policy had been in effect in the 1990s and until 2003, when – in part due to international pressure against coercive family planning policies – it was replaced with a policy encouraging a “small-family norm” throughout the country.
Reinstatement of the two-child policy would be reminiscent of the longstanding one-child population policy of China, Vietnam’s northern neighbor, which requires that most parents have no more than one child or face fines or other penalties. Despite this policy, China’s fertility averages around 1.8 children per woman, indicating widespread exceptions to or evasions of the policy.
Vietnam’s fertility rate rose slightly around the time its two-child policy was relaxed in 2003, but demographers judge the increase insignificant and doubt it stemmed from relaxation of the policy. The fertility rate has since fallen back to 2.1 or slightly lower, according to UN sources.
Fertility rates that stay consistently at two children per woman allow a population eventually to stop growing in the absence of significant net immigration. Most eastern Asian countries have experienced rapid fertility decline in recent decades, to roughly two children or fewer, due to the increasing popularity of small families and improved access to family planning services in the region.
Robert Engelman is Vice President for Programs at the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want, published in 2008 by Island Press.