Vietnamese officials, in their search for new creative ways to end gender discrimination in the country, have somehow stumbled upon a controversial idea: offering financial support to elderly couples who only have daughters.
In the new Population Bill, drafted by the Ministry of Health, the government will give allowances to such couples, if they do not have any social insurance.
While experts say it is always advisable to support the elderly, they believe the new proposal will reinforce sexism, which is something the ministry is apparently trying to fight.
Nguyen Dinh Cu of the Institute for Population, Family and Children Studies said the bill clearly aims to encourage families to give birth to daughters and eliminate gender preferences.
However, it may accidentally worsen gender imbalance, by strengthening the wrong notion that daughters are lesser than sons and cannot take care of their parents.
“Families having sons will be unhappy with this policy, while families having only daughters may not want it at all.”
The bill has been announced amid worsening gender imbalance in Vietnam. The national sex ratio at birth in the first six months this year increased to 114.3 males per 100 females, far exceeding the previous numbers, according to the Department for Population and Family Planning.
Experts have warned that the imbalance could lead to detrimental social consequences later, including human trafficking, as many men may have difficulties finding a woman for marriage in the next decades.
Rewards for daughters
Cu said some cities and provinces have already granted rewards to couples for giving birth to daughters.
The problem is, he said, the reward can be misconceived as a form of compensation.
“The families will think that they are at a disadvantaged position just because they have a daughter,” he said.
He said the new bill can be perceived in a similar way.
A population official in Hanoi, who wanted to remain unnamed, said the bill should be revised.
"The financial support should be given to elderly people who are in difficult situations in general, irrespective of their children's gender,” he said.
Lawyer Nong Thi Hong Dung of Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association said the bill, in its current form, is actually violating the Gender Equality Law.
“The law stipulates that all males and females are equal and are not subjected to any form of discrimination.”
“How would relevant agencies answer if couples with sons also asked for financial support?” she said.
An official from the Health Ministry, who requested anonymity, said the problem of gender imbalance should be solved by changing existing misconceptions.
“Giving money to couples without a son will not make people stop wanting a son."