Vietnam To Fight Sex-Selective Abortions

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - The Vietnam government is planning to introduce a law to forbid doctors from carrying out gender tests on unborn babies, in an attempt to stop the abortion of unwanted baby girls.

A draft law is expected to be sent to the country's national assembly for approval next year, after discussion by various government departments.

As do China and some other Asian societies, many Vietnamese prefer to have sons rather than daughters, to look after them in old age.

But a high birthrate has prompted the communist government to introduce a "two child policy." Parents who have more than two children can be expelled from the Communist Party or lose property in extreme cases, and they are expected to pay for education and health care for the third child.

For those unwilling to accept these measures, the discovery during a prenatal ultrasound scan that they are expecting a daughter can be seen as a highly negative development and lead to an abortion.

Vietnam claims the policy has been successful - since the late 1980s, the average number of children has dropped from 3.8 per woman to 2.3.

A gender imbalance has already developed in Vietnamese society, and the authorities are worried it could get worse. For every 100 girls born, 106 boys are born. In some rural areas, the ratio reaches 100:112.

In China, the government enforces a controversial "one child" policy, using incentives and penalties to encourage couples to have no more than one baby. Abuses in China have led to a ban on sex-selective abortion after ultrasound screening, although the practice continues.

The girl:boy ratio in China has reached 100:117.

Across the border, the head of Vietnam's National Committee for Population and Family Planning has been quoted as saying a continuing gender imbalance in Vietnamese society could result in violence as men compete for partners from a dwindling pool of women.

Vietnam, with a population of around 80 million, has one of the world's higher rates of abortion. Every woman has an average of just below two abortions in their lifetimes - more than 900,000 officially registered abortions a year.

Sex-selection is only one reason for the large number of abortions. Many women also use abortion as a form of contraception.

According to Nicole Simons, a postgraduate student at the Asia Research Center in Perth, Australia, a policy introduced in Vietnam in the 1980s stipulates that most families should have no more than two children, although ethnic minorities are allowed three.

The second child is also expected to be born three-to-five years after the first, and urban women should be at least 22 years old (or 19 in rural areas) when they have their first baby.

On contraception, Simons says many Vietnamese women regard abortion as "a form of family planning."

Many fear and dislike what they regard as modern birth control methods. Some 20 percent of women rely on traditional methods like withdrawal.

"Some women believe that the Pill will cause cancer or infertility and men often express dissatisfaction with condoms."

Early on, the IUD was promoted to the exclusion of other methods, and it remains the one modern method more women tend to depend upon, she says.

Most pro-lifers regard the IUD as an abortifacient, in that it prevents implantation of an already living embryo into the lining of the uterus.

See Also:
China's 'One-Child Policy' Results In Forced Abortion, Infanticide (Feb 14, 2001)

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow