Hanoi: Vietnam’s birth ratio has become skewed toward boys, a trend that population experts are blaming on a traditional preference for male offspring and the availability of abortion and ultrasound fetal scans.
The international ratio at birth is about 105 boys for every 100 girls, but in Vietnam - in an echo of trends in China and India, the imbalance has grown to 110-100 and is as high as 120-100 in some provinces.
The “missing daughters” phenomenon, experts fear, may worsen in the current lunar Year of the Golden Pig, deemed a very auspicious time to have a son in Vietnam, a traditionally Confucian country.
In the mid-1950s socialist North Vietnam passed family laws promoting gender equality, but old habits die hard. Posters of naked baby boys and dolls, remain popular in markets and attest to a continued preference for boys.
Vietnam for decades had an official two-child policy and although this was never as rigorously enforced as China’s one-child policy, small families are still promoted by party officials in districts, villages and workplaces.
Although Vietnam in 2003 banned fetal sex selection, many doctors tell parents-to-be if they are expecting a boy or girl at ultrasound practices that have mushroomed in increasingly affluent Vietnam.
Demographers have long suspected a gender imbalance at birth in Vietnam, where abortion has been legal for decades and is widespread, but they have so far lacked reliable nationwide data to back up their fear.
Now a UN Population Fund report, using the latest census data released by the communist government, has set off alarm bells, highlighting a “growing concern that the sex ratio at birth is becoming unbalanced in Vietnam”.
“Reasons for this include pressure to adhere to the two-child policy coupled with a preference for sons and the ready availability of ultrasound and abortion,” said the report, adding that the highest provincial ratio was 123 boys to 100 girls.
Anecdotal evidence has long suggested a problem in Vietnam, where many kindergardens now appear to have more boys than girls.
Men in Vietnam have traditionally carried on the family lineage, inherited homes and land, and cared for elderly parents as well as overseeing funerals and ancestor worship rituals.
A similar “marriage squeeze” has hit one-child China. In South Korea and Taiwan it has been a factor driving bachelors to seek wives in other countries, including Vietnam, through illegal but ubiquitous marriage brokers.
A recent poll by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs showed the preference is on the decline in South Korea, with only 10.2% feeling they must give birth to a son. The decline was attributed in part to higher education levels.