Deputy Prime Minister called for stricter oversight of Vietnam's gender selection practices
Children at a kindergarten in Ho Chi Minh City. Health authorities in Vietnam have warned against serious gender imbalance over the past several years.
When doctors at a private medical service in Ho Chi Minh City's District 5 told Tran Thi Thanh Hoang that her unborn child was a boy, she was hit with a feeling of joy.
"I know it's illegal to inform pregnant mothers about the gender of their babies," said the 25-year-old employee of an advertisement company. "But I was too eager to know about that."
Hoang said the doctor conducting the ultrasound scan had a clever way to inform her and avoid being detected by health inspectors.
"He had placed two small cards in a drawer, one reading "˜son' and another reading "˜daughter.' The doctor opened the drawer, pointed to the "˜son' card and quickly closed it without saying a word," she said.
Such violations, which sometimes inspire parents to abort their unborn daughters, have exacerbated Vietnam's gender imbalances, officials say.
And the problem is only getting worse.
"The gender ratio has risen to 111 males per 100 females among children under four years old. This is much higher than in 2009, when it was 108.65 males per 100 females," said Duong Quoc Trong, director of the General Office of Population and Family Planning in a statement issued on June 6.
Trong said the imbalance has gotten worse over the past decades. In some provinces, the ratio is as high as 130 males per 100 females. Provinces with the worst imbalances include Hung Yen, Hai Duong, Bac Ninh and Ha Nam, he added.
Vietnam's sex ratio at birth (SRB) has been rising steadily for the past few years, from the "average" 105 boys to 100 girls in 1999 to 110:100 in 2006. According to the 2009 Census, sex selection is practiced most in Vietnam's Red River Delta provinces and among wealthier households.
Health authorities have warned that about ten percent of Vietnamese men, or two million men, will face problems finding a wife in the next 20 to 25 years.
Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan chaired a meeting on May 30 seeking strategies to curb Vietnam's gender imbalance.
"Ultrasound scans, cheap abortions and the legality of abortion of first-trimester babies have contributed to the imbalance," he said.
Nhan said that "the entire political system" should get involved in tackling the gender imbalance, with a particular focus on the ten provinces with the highest gender discrepancies.
He also instructed relevant agencies to enforce the laws banning the disclosure of prenatal gender information and tighten inspections of abortion facilities.
The Health Ministry was told to create an action plan for the ten provinces with the worst problems by the end of this month.
According to Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Viet Tien, Vietnam is among the countries with the highest abortion rate in the world. The abortion of female babies following ultrasonic scans was identified as the prime contributing factor.
A report presented by the Health Ministry at the May 30 meeting warned that there may be "unexpected socio-political consequences" when this lopsided generation reaches marrying age in 2025.
Many men will find it difficult to marry and this could lead to marriage with foreign bribes, which the report's authors called "an unsustainable solution."