Online cemetery highlights exponential increase in abortions among unmarried women
The grave of an unnamed baby, a fetus that was aborted in the eighth week, at the online cemetery www.nhomai.com. Photo: nhomai.com
The grieving mother visits the grave of her babies almost every day.
She burns incense, makes food offerings, beseeches them to forgive her.
"I am so sorry. I am such a coward who has aborted two lives. I only hope that you understand that a 16-year-old girl would never be able to give birth and raise both of you. Your dad abandoned me when I was pregnant."
The teenage mother mourning the death of aborted twin fetuses posts these messages on an online grave (www.nhomai.com nho mai means remembered forever) that she visits after finishing her high school classes.
Website founder Nguyen Anh Tu says he launched the cyber site in 2008 to offer people who did not have the time or opportunity to visit real graves the opportunity to express their feelings for deceased relatives and friends. The free service provides members with more than 100 gravestone samples and also allows them to create their own.
The online grave has different sections and the children's section, including those set up by women for aborted fetuses, is the most crowded place.
The large number of graves in the online cemetery as well as an increase in the number of real graves for aborted fetuses is worrying authorities and experts who say there has been an alarmingly high number of abortions among the country's youth of late.
It shows that efforts to educate the youth about safe sex as well as the dangers of having many abortions have not succeeded, they say.
According to the Ho Chi Minh City Health Department, the number of abortions equals 76 percent of the number of births, which means for every five babies born in the city, four fetuses are being aborted.
Figures from the three main pediatric hospitals in the city show that 2 percent of the abortion procedures are performed for girls less than 16 years old. Most are performed for women between 16 and 49 years of age.
According to the Health Ministry, each year, around 300,000 abortions are carried out for women between 15 and 19 years old, and an average of one woman dies per week because of unsafe abortions.
At a recent online conference, Nguyen Thi Hoai Duc, head of Ministry of Health's Reproductive Health and Family Institute, said that Vietnam "topped the list of countries with the largest number of abortions" and that "abortions among the country's unmarried teenagers was much higher than many other countries near the top of the list."
In Vietnam, 41 percent of maternal deaths are caused by hemorrhages, with convulsions accounting for 21.3 percent of deaths, infections for 16.6 percent and unsafe abortions for 11.5 percent, according to the Health Ministry.
The online cemetery has so far attracted more than 56,500 members and attracts thousands of visitors at a time.
The cemetery has sections for war martyrs, artists, children, orphans, foreigners, victims of accidents and natural disasters, different religions, pets and even virtual people (like game characters).
Many members who set up online graves admit that they are teenage students who visit the site frequently to "burn incense" for their aborted babies. Currently, there are more than 1,000 graves in the children's section.
Some give a name for the unborn and others use their family name, listing "no name" as the first name.
A mother using the nickname kimnen said she had chosen the moniker because it means "repressed". She said she has been repressing her feelings of guilt and sorrow for having aborted three fetuses of between three and seven weeks old, that she has named Ly, Sun and Tu Ti.
"I am sorry for a thousand times. I was too young then"¦ I have repented for it thousands of times and am doing good things to pray for you," she wrote in an entry.
A couple in Da Nang set up a grave for five aborted fetuses between five and 12 weeks old between 2005 and 2006 with an epitaph reading: "Rest in peace! So sorry because dad and mom were not ready to welcome you."
One young mother wrote that she prays for her aborted fetuses every day. She said "her babies still love me" because she became pregnant again after marriage.
Hoang, an administrator of the website, said the website's server gets overloaded very often, especially when it is reported on the media. Many of the visitors are teenagers who set up virtual graves for their aborted fetuses.
In tandem with the rising number of graves for aborted fetuses, the number of real graves is also increasing.
Last week, the VietNamNet news website carried a report about residents of Doi Coc Village in Hanoi's outskirt district of Soc Son collecting aborted babies and burying them at the local cemetery.
Nguyen Van Thao, the village head, they began doing this in 2000 when a villager found an abandoned dead infant on the roadside and buried it in the local cemetery.
Since then, more and more abandoned dead infants and fetuses have been left behind in the village and the locals have buried them. The villagers then set up a team to collect such aborted fetuses and dead infants from other villages and hospitals for burial.
"We want their little souls to rest in peace. No one advised us to do so, we only do it because we believe it is a good deed," said Thao.
Currently, there are more than 50,000 such graves in the village.
Nguyen Thi Lam, one of the team members, said that of late, they have been burying an average of 200 fetuses and dead infants per week.
Experts say that abortions have a major psychological impact on women. Guilty about their act they get easily stressed out or depressed.
Nguyen Thi Ngoc Giau, a psychologist at the Hon Viet Applied Psychology Center, said many teens setting up graves in the online cemetery showed that they are well aware that what they did was wrong, and are using it (the online grave) to seek redemption.
However, she said, feeling guilty and correcting themselves are two different things. Setting up a virtual grave does not work if it is not accompanied by corrective actions, she added.
"It is not a positive way to relieve their guilt. It's a way to indulge in unethical behavior," she told Vietweek.
"Some mothers set up virtual graves just to express their anger against their partners. Besides, after receiving sympathy from other members, they might not feel the pressure to change their behavior in real life.
Doctors are not being spared by the increasing number of abortions.
Whether they perform it for unmarried teens or for those wanting to have sons and choosing to abort female fetuses, doctors are suffering psychological trauma themselves.
Nguyen Thi Hong Minh, director of the Central Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital in Hanoi, said she is having to confronted her "worst fears, having to abort unborn fetuses that are 20-22 weeks old, when their bodies are fully formed."
Under Vietnamese law, there is no cut off limit for abortions as long as they are performed in public hospitals. Private hospitals are not allowed to perform abortions of fetuses more than six weeks old.
"I always feel a sharp pain along my back when I have to treat those unlucky babies," Minh said as she described the abortion procedure where "the nutrition between the mother and baby is cut and the fetus dies in the womb in most cases."
"But some fetuses are delivered so quickly and they manage to take a breath before they're gone. There's no way to save them as they weigh only 400 grams or so," she said, adding that her hospital does more than 40 abortions every day, many of them for students and teenagers.
Minh admitted that she and many others like her seek consolation after performing abortions by "visiting pagodas frequently, trying to find some peace."
"The psychological trauma faced by doctors could emerge as an important issue in the country, given the rapidly increasing number of people seeking to have abortions," she said.