Vietnam plans return to two-child policy to tackle population growth

Government fears baby boom will damage economic growth and strain health and education services

Ian MacKinnon, south-east Asia correspondent, Friday November 21 2008 13.02 GMT

Newborn babies at the central maternity hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam

Newborn babies at the central maternity hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photograph: Chitose Suzuki/AP

Faced with a new baby boom, communist Vietnam is planning to prohibit couples from having more than two children.

The government in the nation of 86 million people – two thirds of whom are under 35 – fears a population explosion will knock its economic growth off track and strain health and education services.

A two-child policy introduced in the 1960s was scrapped in 2003, though the one-party state’s rulers encouraged couples to have small families so they could adequately care for them.

But a spike in births this year to couples who already had two children sparked official alarm. In the first nine months of 2008, 93,000 babies were born, a 10% rise on last year.

The cabinet this week agreed a draft amendment ordering a two-child norm that will become law if approved by the national assembly.

The sanctions for flouting the policy were not outlined, but in the past families were punished with pay cuts and other penalties at work, while Communist party members suffered reprimands or even expulsion.

“The demographic boom is damaging the country’s sustainable development,” said Duong Quoc Trong, of the government’s population and family planning office.

However, critics say a young population is vital for Vietnam’s economic success and point to falling rates of growth and fertility over the past six years.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is puzzled by the regressive step as the country’s fertility levels had already fallen below replacement rates.

“In Vietnam now life expectancy is rising, the fertility rate is decreasing and in the next 20 years many people will be in the senior group,” said Tran Thi Van, of UNFPA. “If there’s not a sufficient labour force as the population is ageing, the country will face a lot of problems.”

Couples already have small families, but abortions and ultra-sound tests are commonly used to determine the sex of their children, ensuring they have at least one boy to meet cultural expectations.

The male-female ratio climbed to 112-110 last year, compared with international norms of slightly fewer male births.


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