Real life is stepping aside for tourists in Vietnam

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/03/26/asia/letter.php

DANANG, Vietnam: It was impossible, being a person of my generation, to sail into Danang harbor aboard a luxury cruise liner the other day without thinking of an earlier foreign embarkation on these same shores, which happened to take place 33 years ago this month.

On March 8, 1965, some units of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, arriving in Danang from Okinawa, Japan, became the first official American combat troops in Vietnam. Eight years later, this city was the site of horrific scenes when South Vietnamese soldiers shot and killed civilians in a mad scramble to board the last evacuation plane to leave the local airport ahead of victorious North Vietnamese troops.

It was a long time ago. A lot has changed, not least that you can arrive in Danang these days on a luxury ship rather than wading ashore. Still, for somebody whose formative experience was the Vietnam War and all the turbulence and protest that it engendered, arriving here as a high-end tourist served as a reminder of what Hegel called the ruse of history as it applies to this country.

Who, after all, could have predicted all those years ago when Lyndon Johnson decided to make the Vietnam War an American war, that after the Communist enemy won that war they would allow Vietnam to become more or less the kind of place we wanted it to become when Johnson sent those troops to Danang?

That kind of country would be an entirely independent one, taking orders from no large neighbors, near or far, having normal, even rather cordial, relations with the United States, even while opening its doors to foreign trade, investment and luxury cruise liners. To be sure, Vietnam still falls short on the human rights front, but so, for that matter, did the Saigon regime for the sake of which all that money was spent and all those lives lost.

Danang is as good a place as any to see what Vietnam is and what it is becoming, namely another one of those poor countries that strives to become a bit less poor by allowing its beaches, its scenic places, and its exoticism to be playgrounds for the wealthy.

Take the road from Danang south along the famed China Beach, that exquisite crescent of white sand known mostly to Americans by the popular television series of that name.

The whole beach, which is some 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, long, seems to have been carved up by big international hotel chains that either have already constructed, or will soon construct, luxury resorts.

The Furama is already up and running. Across the street from the yellowed concrete walls of what was once an American military base are signs promising the arrival of a Hyatt, a Raffles Hotel and Residences, and what looks like an immense development of hotels and luxury housing being put up by a Chinese company whose slogan, marked in Chinese characters on a wall facing the road, is “A One Hundred Year Big Plan.”

On the same side as the former base, automatic sprinklers send a swirling shower of irrigation water to nourish the grass of the new Montgomery Golf Links. Another future development, suitably enough called Eden, is advertised by a series of posters that stretch a kilometer or so along the road south of Danang, showing idylls on the South China Sea.

The road departs from the beach after 15 kilometers or so and ends up in Hoi An, a picturesque town of old wooden houses with courtyards, most of which have been turned into handicraft shops. There are restaurants serving local Vietnamese specialties and lots of cold beer. Hoi An is a Vietnamese version of one of those picture-perfect towns you might see in Tuscany or Provence, a place where real life is giving way to a kind of arts-and-crafts tourism.

And why not? Why should Tuscany and Provence have all the nostalgic seekers of bygone authenticity to themselves?

What is sad about it nonetheless is the contrast between the wealth of the visitors and the poverty of the country they are visiting. This is one of those countries where the arrival of a tour bus occasions the appearance of hordes of touts, cyclo drivers, would-be tour guides, sellers of T-shirts and ink paintings of women in flowing ao dais and straw conical hats. These are the economic opportunists who aren’t shareholders in the Hyatt or Raffles but who jockey and jostle to have a modest portion of the tourist trade.

On the shuttle bus from my cruise ship to the center of Danang the other day, there was such an aggressive rush of touts that most of the cruise-boat passengers refused to disembark, preferring to go back to the ship rather than brave the importuning horde.

Looked at economically and socially, Vietnam has restored a bit of the atmosphere of French colonialism, when wealthy Europeans occupied the seats at the café tables and restaurants and local people served them, except that for many visitors here today Vietnam is an incidental factor. It’s more the beaches, the scenery, the cheaper-than-Tuscany prices (and the marvelous cuisine) that attract many foreign visitors, not so much Vietnam as a cultural or historical entity. And the prices aren’t always cheaper than Tuscany.

Outside Nha Trang, the beach town and port where my cruise ship is due after Danang, the Ana Mandara Six Senses Spa offers what its Web site calls “the ultimate seclusion,” because it is only accessible by boat. The cost for a two-story villa, the only kind of accommodation, is in the neighborhood of $800 a night. My guidebook describes it as a magical place where dirt tracks between buildings give the illusion of a jungle village. But, clearly, it’s an ersatz jungle. It’s not Vietnam.

Then again, the places where people have been going in Thailand or Indonesia don’t afford much contact with Thailand or Indonesia either. Vietnam, which, for obvious reasons, was slow getting into the game, is becoming like them, and, on balance, it’s a very good thing.

Vietnam’s abandoned children

http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/D55FFDED-6339-4E0A-9FCE-38A080426087.htm
A growing wealth gap is forcing many poor Vietnamese to give their children up for adoption

In a small detached bungalow on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City a teenage girl gently cries.

Her name is Que. She is 17 and pregnant, but she cannot keep her baby.

“I really want to,” she quietly sobbed, “but my family is too poor, we can’t afford to keep it. I am so sad.”

She is not alone. Twelve other women and girls at the house face the same tragic situation.

All want to be mothers, but cannot afford to be.

The home is run by a small charity. Pregnant women come here a few weeks before they are due to give birth.

“This is the tragedy of Vietnam today,” the manager of the home explained.

“Most of these women want to keep their babies. But many are from the countryside and they are from poor backgrounds. It is impossible to keep the baby because they don’t have the money.”

Per capita income in Vietnam is around $700 a year, a threefold increase from what it was 15 years ago, but still only reaching a subsistence level.

The country has one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, currently eight per cent a year. But it comes with a price.

Wealth gap

The gap between rich and poor is widening and Vietnam has one of the highest rates of abortion in the world.

Of those mothers that continue with their pregnancies, more and more are having to give up their babies after they are born.

The maternity unit at Tu Du hospital sees
almost 200 births a day

In the maternity unit of Ho Chi Minh City’s Tu Du hospital there is a daily logjam of women waiting to give birth.

With space at a premium, some women even wait two to a bed.

With almost 200 births a day – nearly 66,000 a year – the hospital’s maternity unit is one of the busiest in Asia.

And now even more couples than normal are choosing to have a baby.

According to the Chinese lunar calendar this is the year of the Golden Fire Pig, an extremely auspicious time to produce a child which happens every 600 years.

“The sheer scale of it is unbelievable,” remarked Dr Jane Hirst a visiting registrar from Australia. “But considering the scale of the birth load they are very professional.”

The hospital’s four birthing sections are in operation around the clock. For non-private patients there are no epidurals and no pain killers.

But despite this most women hardly utter a sound during childbirth.

Tough they may be, but the mothers faced with giving up their newborn child are often overcome with grief.

Of every 100 births at the hospital, an average of three are given up for adoption doctors say.

Nguyen Van Trung, director of Ho Chi Minh City’s Tam Binh orphanage says there are many factors driving mothers to take the painful decision to give up their babies.

“The reasons are economic, the consequences of the war, some children have diseases, some mothers are too poor,” he says.

Many come from the countryside and have to give the baby away because they have no means to look after it.

Lucky few

The Tam Binh orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City caters for some 500 young children.

In a country which has around half a million orphans, it’s not much, but in some ways the ones here are lucky.


Ho Chi Minh City’s Tam Binh orphanage houses
about 500 children waiting for homes

On our visit, children as young as three came out to meet us. They smiled and waved and began singing “we want a mama, we want a papa”.

All were nicely dressed, the girls in colourful dresses, their hair in pig tails, the boys in neat shorts with colourful T-shirts.

It’s a routine guaranteed to win the hearts of any respective parents.

It certainly won the hearts of Hollywood couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt who adopted a young boy from this orphanage last year.

Their photograph with staff is pinned to a notice board in the orphanage entrance.

Many of the children are like three-year-old Thi – incredibly cute, her mother was a drug addict and her father disappeared.

Staff at the orphanage hope that one day she may be reclaimed by her mother, but if not there will be no problem finding suitable parents. Thi is one of the lucky ones.

‘Untouchables’

The next building houses the children who are not so lucky.

They are mentally and mentally and physically impaired and the visiting Hollywood couple never saw them.

“These children are our priority,” explained Nguyen.

“Some private centres only receive healthy children and they send the disabled children to our orphanage,” he says.

“Our main purpose is to find happiness for the disabled children.”

The orphanage has had some success in finding homes for these children particularly in the United States and Germany.

But in the next building are children who are devoid of luck – those who almost nobody wants.

They are HIV positive and in the world of orphans they are the ‘untouchables’.

Out of 500 orphans in the Tam Binh orphange, 100 are HIV positive. In the last five years just two have been adopted.

“In a world of sadness, they are the saddest,” says one of the nurses.

Strict protocols

Vietnam has recently tightened up its adoption procedures, introducing protocols with 13 countries which increases safeguards for the orphans but has slowed the process.

Now around 500 children are adopted each year – most of them going abroad.

HIV-positive children are the ‘untouchables’
among Vietnam’s orphans

It costs up to US$10,000 to adopt a Vietnamese child and takes between six months and a year to complete the process.

In most cases they don’t get to see the child for real until the day of collection.

On the day we visited Sandrina Ventrilla and her husband had arrived from Callabria in Italy.

As they stood in the Ministry of justice in Ho Chi Minh City the joy was obvious – in Sandrina’s arms a nine-month-old baby girl they have called Paola.

“It’s like becoming a real mother,” says Sandrina. “For us the child is born today.”

Adoptive parents have to give undertakings to keep Vietnamese authorities informed of the child’s progress, but there is nothing requesting them to retain anything of Vietnamese culture.

As they left the ministry after the 10 minute adoption ceremony, Paola was whisked away to start the kind of life many in Vietnam can only dream of.

Back at the charity home on the outskirts of the city meanwhile, the day is approaching when Que will give birth and then give her baby away.

Here the dreams are altogether of a different kind. Not of a new life, merely a life which will allow her to be the mother she dreams of being.

It’s something so many in the world take for granted.

NA deputies concerned for improvement of farmers’ life

 http://www.nhandan.com.vn/english/news/191107/domestic_na.htm

National Assembly deputies on November 17 raised various questions on solutions to improve farmers’ life and the agriculture development policy after Vietnam joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

At the hearing, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat said the Government has taken measures for the purpose by reducing and exempting irrigation fees for farmers, readjusting agricultural production mechanism and promoting agricultural and forestry activities.

The Government has also instructed the prevention and control of cattle, poultry and plant diseases to reduce losses for farmers, provided timely relief aid to disaster and epidemic-ravaged areas and increased investment in transport and irrigation infrastructure and water supply systems for mountainous areas.

The Minister also acknowledged many development opportunities for the agricultural sector. However, he said, there remains a series of challenges, especially to the sector’s efforts to increase its competitiveness. Animal husbandry and fruits and vegetables can face fierce competition due to their limited production capability.

To overcome these difficulties, the minister said that the sector will focus on solutions to improve the export quality of farm products, especially rice, rubber, coffee, tea and seafood while enhancing scientific and technological transfer and ensuring food hygienic safety for export products.

In addition, the sector will also devise policies on aiding large-scaled concentrated breeding, promote the research to create high-quality hybrid plants and animals and present to the Government a scheme to increase investment capital for the agricultural sector.

Meanwhile, Minister of Transport and Communications Ho Nghia Dung admitted shortcomings in his ministry’s responsibility for the low disbursement rate in transport construction projects over the recent past.

At the Question – Answer session of the 12th National Assembly on November 17, Minister Dung spoke of the ministry’s weaknesses which have resulted in the low disbursement rate of capital in State, foreign-invested and official development assistance (ODA) projects.

He went on to say that contractors’ weak financial capacity, shortcomings in ground clearance, construction materials price hike and difficulties in implementing new regulations of the Laws on Bidding and Construction have also slowed down the disbursement rate.

On the increase in the number of traffic accidents and congestions in urban areas, he said dissemination work and strict punishment are considered effective solutions to the problem.

“It is necessary to develop public transport systems, encourage people to get the habit of walking and increase registration fees to reduce the number of private vehicles,” the minister suggested.

Regarding the Can Tho bridge collapse, Minister Dung said that the investigation is underway to find out the cause of the collapse and define the responsibility of those concerned. Vietnam is hiring a foreign consultation company to review the project’s technical design. (VNA)

High tech lake clean-up to save Vietnam’s legendary turtle

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5ixr_u-g7pZU2ppRwAssVHIQU_gKw

HANOI (AFP) — Pollution threatens the lake that is the heart and soul of Vietnam’s capital — and a legendary turtle who lives below its murky waters — but now a high-tech solution may be at hand to save them both.

Over the next three years, in time for Hanoi’s 1,000th birthday in 2010, scientists intend to clean up Hoan Kiem Lake, home to the creature that symbolises Vietnam’s centuries-old struggle for independence.

Vietnamese and German experts say they will use a new device, which borrows from the designs of corkscrews, submarines and tanks, to suck several metres (feet) of toxic sludge from the bottom of the ‘Lake of the Returned Sword’.

The 2.4-million-dollar project will be a delicate one.

The famed, algae-green lake is home to an elusive turtle that is a key figure in Vietnam folklore.

In a story that every Vietnamese child learns at school, the 15th century farmer-turned-rebel leader Le Loi used a magical sword to drive out Chinese invaders and found the dynasty named after him.

When Le Loi, by now the emperor, went boating on the lake one day, a turtle appeared, took his sacred sword and dived to the bottom of the lake, keeping the weapon safe for the next time Vietnam may have to defend its freedom.

Today, occasional sightings of a giant soft-shell turtle draw large crowds, and photographs and amateur video clips attest to the claim that at least one turtle indeed still lives in the lake.

The turtle legend is a staple of traditional water-puppet theatre, and reported sightings of the animal, a symbol of eternity, are deemed auspicious, especially when they coincide with major national events.

“Since 1991 the turtle has come up about 400 times,” said Vietnam’s pre-eminent authority on the animal, Professor Ha Dinh Duc of the Hanoi University of Science — better known here as the ‘turtle professor.’

“Several times when it came up, it coincided with important events,” he told AFP. “It’s something we can’t explain.”

The turtle has appeared when Chinese presidents have visited, during the inauguration of a Le Loi statute, at the start of last year’s Communist Party congress, and even during a conference on endangered reptiles, Duc said.

The professor says he doesn’t know the age of the turtle — which he says is a new species he has named Rafetus Leloiiis. He says it weighs around 200 kilogrammes (440 pounds).

Previously, at least four of the turtles lived here — one of them is now stuffed and on display in an island temple on the lake — but today only one is left and Duc frets about its well-being.

From his Hanoi home, crammed with turtle books, pictures and paraphernalia, he has pushed for efforts to save the turtle, also proposing to catch animals of the same species from another pond to mate with it.

“There has been coffee shop talk about cloning the turtle,” he said, “but I would oppose it.”

The more immediate threat to the turtle is man-made.

Stormwater run-off from the growing city has sullied the stagnant lake with chemicals and organic pollutants that feed algae blooms and choke off oxygen.

“The water quality is decreasing, and we expect a breakdown of the aquatic habitat within a decade,” said Professor Peter Werner of Germany’s Dresden University of Technology. “The lake could be dead in 10 years.”

Hoan Kiem Lake, about 600 metres long and 200 metres wide, is now only about 1.5 metres deep while a four-to-six-metre deep layer of sludge has accumulated on the lake bed, said Christian Richter of German company HGN Hydrogeologie.

German scientists have developed an “subaquatic vacuum cleaner” that will crawl along the lake floor using two corkscrew-like spirals that dig up and funnel the mud into a pipe while also propelling the device forward.

The remote-controlled “SediTurtle” will use buoyancy to rise and sink like a submarine and use brakes on its two coils to move left and right like a tank, said engineer Dr Frank Panning of company GSan oekologische Gewaessersanierung.

“We are using low-impact environmental technology that is silent and minimises turbulence and the release of toxic compounds,” said Werner. “This project is very sensitive. We have to take care of the turtle.”

In the first phase, set to start early next year and take 24 months, scientists will first analyse water and sediment samples from Hoan Kiem and test the SediTurtle in another Hanoi lake.

If all goes well, Vietnamese experts could then take over and use the new technology to clean up the famous lake itself, said Werner.

Professor Duc — whose support is deemed crucial for any project involving Hoan Kiem Lake — has given the green light after vetoing earlier offers for help from Japan, Thailand and elsewhere.

“Many international organisations have offered to help,” he said.

“This project is environmentally sound, and it’s good for the turtle. And the turtle is important for Vietnam.”

Vietnam’s Girls Go Missing

 http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1680240,00.html

Vietnam is the latest country to report an alarming skew towards boy babies, one that may lead to vast societal upheaval. This week, the United Nations Population Fund said that some 25,000 expected baby girls went “missing” — were not carried to term — in Vietnam last year. The implication is that some expectant parents are aborting unwanted girls once they learn the sex of the fetus through ultrasound technology. Government statistics and a separate U.N. survey in 2006 put the ratio of newborns at 110 boys to every 100 girls — higher than the “natural” rate of 105 to 107 boys for every 100 girls.

The phenomenon has been reported across Asia. The same U.N. report estimated that a stunning 95 million expected female babies in Asia were reportedly “disappeared” in 2000 — 85% of them in China and India. In China, the national average is 120 boys born for every 100 girls. India’s reported sex-ratio in 2001 was 108:100 nationwide, but as high as 120 in some areas; some 7,000 girls go unborn in India each day, according to a U.N. Children’s Fund report last year. The national “gender gap” in Vietnam may be narrower than China’s, but about a third of Vietnam’s provinces, mostly in the poorer north, reported sex ratios skewing as high as 120 boys, equal to China’s national average.

The societal ravages of such “gender imbalance” go far beyond the morality of sex-selection abortion: In both India and China, much-cherished sons in rural areas have been growing up to find a shortage of available wives. The U.N. report links the trend to increased violence among frustrated men as well as the trafficking women for sex. “Sex ratio imbalances only lead to far-reaching imbalances in the society at large,” says Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, the U.N. Population Fund’s executive director.

As in much of Asia, Vietnam’s Confucian-based society prizes male heirs to carry on the family name and care for parents in their old age. And like China, Vietnam has a history of strict population control. Until recently, couples were forbidden to have more than two children, and families went to great lengths to ensure that at least one was a son — including aborting girl babies, especially if they already had one daughter. Vietnamese online forums carry threads devoted to how to ensure conceiving a boy — everything from special diet to especially rigorous sex to pre-intercourse douching with an alkaline solution. “I’ve tried everything, and even cleaned with the special solution, but I am still pregnant with a girl,” lamented one woman on an online forum. “Do you think my doctor sold me a fake product?”

Vietnam’s government last year banned sex-selection abortion and even barred doctors performing routine ultrasounds from revealing the sex of the fetus. But the laws are all but impossible to enforce. Every expectant mother somehow learns whether she is expecting a boy or a girl. Abortions are readily available for around $5 in government clinics. “We must expand our propaganda activities to educate people aching to have boys,” says Nguyen Ba Thuy, deputy minister of health. Other Asian countries have seen the sex imbalance towards boys reverse, including South Korea, one of the first countries to report the missing-girls phenomenon. In recent years the skewed gender balance in that country has reversed down to near-natural ratios, thanks in part to societal changes that saw more young women working and thus able to support aging parents.

Vietnam’s pro-girl campaign depends on changing the attitudes of its own post-war baby boom — nearly 60% of the population is under 30 — who are now busy starting families. It’s an uphill battle, but the country’s previous success at changing attitudes is encouraging. Thirty years ago, most Vietnamese had a strong preference for families of four and five children. That has now been replaced with a general desire for smaller families, enough so that the official two-child limit has been eased. Sultan Aziz, the U.N. Population Fund’s Asia-Pacific director, says Vietnam might still be able to nip the gender imbalance in the bud. “If any country can do that,” Aziz says. “Vietnam can.”

At Hanoi Maternity Hospital, there’s at least one encouraging sign. Dao Thi Kim Oanh already has a 5-year-old daughter, and she says she saw the disappointment in her mother-in-law’s eyes when she learned the second baby was another girl. But Oanh, 41, couldn’t be happier. “Wanting only boys is the old way of thinking,” she says, protectively curling an arm around her bulging tummy. “I hope that when my daughters grow up, it won’t matter to anyone if their children are boys or girls.”

Abuse of Vietnamese Wives

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2007/11/202_13039.html

It’s Time to Better Protect Foreign Spouses

It is a national shame that foreign wives living with Koreans have suffered spousal abuse. This issue surfaced again on Tuesday when Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet asked the South Korean government to help Vietnamese married to Korean men lead better lives here. Triet made the request when he accepted the credentials of Im Hong-jae, the newly appointed Korean Ambassador to Hanoi.

Pham The Duyet, president of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, also made a similar request. He told Im that South Korea should pay more attention to the Vietnamese immigrants so that they can better integrate into Korean society. There is no doubt that the Vietnamese leadership is concerned about the alleged abuse of Vietnamese women by their Korean husbands. The Southeast Asian country has been hit by media reports that Vietnamese wives are the victims of various kinds of spousal abuse.

A horrible case in Daejeon in July involved a 19-year-old Vietnamese woman who reportedly died after being violently beaten by her husband. In another case, a Vietnamese woman entered into a marriage with a Korean man who only wanted her to give birth to a baby. The man divorced her and took the baby to reunite with his infertile ex-wife. Some people fear that such incidents could harm diplomatic relations between Seoul and Hanoi.

The abuse of foreign wives is not confined to women from Vietnam. Many foreign women getting married to Koreans in search of the “Korean dream” confront the stark reality of domestic violence, verbal abuse and discrimination in Korean society. Some of them even fall prey to human trafficking. An annual U.S. report on human trafficking showed that a growing number of foreigners are trafficked to South Korea for sexual or labor exploitation though brokered marriages. The report carried a photograph of a roadside billboard advertising an international marriage broker who promises to offer Vietnamese brides who would not run away. This indicates how serious the human trafficking issue is in the country.

Cases related to Vietnamese women have drawn much attention because their numbers are rapidly growing. The number of Chinese women married to Koreans last year was estimated at 14,450. But most of them are ethnic Koreans from China’s northeastern provinces. The number of Vietnamese wives stood at 9,812. Thus, Vietnamese women have actually emerged as the largest foreign wives’ group in South Korea. The number of women from the Philippines and Mongolia reached 1,131 and 559, respectively.

The Seoul government has worked out policy packages to protect the rights of foreign spouses and help them adapt to Korean society. However, such steps have yet to produce any remarkable results. A Seoul National University survey showed that one out of every 10 foreign spouses has suffered domestic violence, while three out of every 10 has experienced verbal abuse.

Policymakers should take more fundamental measures to ensure foreign wives’ human rights and crack down on domestic violence and other types of spousal abuse. South Koreans will also have to warmly embrace not only foreign brides but also migrant workers as our society increasingly moves toward globalization and multiculturalism.

Alarm over “missing daughters” trend in Vietnam

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5i5IpSiJosmXuqasKlXlbPeT27TSw

HANOI (AFP) — 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 echoe 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.

“In some locations the preference for a son is simply stronger than others, and with high-tech ultrasound, sex can be detected at an early stage and a female fetus can be aborted,” it said.

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.

One Hanoi woman, Tran Hanh Linh, 30, says she remembers what her mother-in-law said when she moved into her husband’s family home.

“She told anyone visiting our family that if I delivered a baby boy, she would treat me like a queen,” said Linh. “I wondered what would happen if my child was a girl. Would she kick me out?”

Linh got lucky, saving the family peace by having a boy two years ago.

But another woman, 33-year-old Thao, was devastated after recently finding out that, having already borne one daughter, she would now have female twins.

“My parents-in-law are from a very conservative generation,” she said. “I must say I suffered a lot of pressure, from them and even from my husband. He was obsessed with having a son, maybe to prove his manliness.

“My parents-in-law want us to have a boy because they are really afraid that after they die, no one will maintain the family bloodline and no one will pray for them on their death anniversaries.”

Thao, who did not give her full name, said she earlier had an abortion after a doctor and two fortune-tellers told her she would have a girl. She went ahead with the latest pregnancy after being told she would have twin boys.

“We were really happy then,” she recalled. “But two months later, when the doctors could observe the babies better, they said I would have twin girls instead. We were really sad. My husband was in shock.”

Daniele Belanger, a Canadian expert who studies the trend in Vietnam, said: “Women suffer a great deal from the clash between the high demand for sons and the low demand for children.

“Sex selective abortion has the power to free them from such contradictory internal desires and external pressures,” Belanger, Canada research chair and director of the Population Studies Centre at the University of Western Ontario, wrote in a recent research paper.

But, while empowering women in the short term, she warned, sex-selective abortions would most likely “further threaten their position in the long term”.

“Once this imbalance reaches marriageable age groups, a shortage of women poses serious problems, particularly in societies where marriage is a nearly universal norm,” she wrote.

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 percent feeling they must give birth to a son. The decline was attributed in part to higher education levels.

The UN report warned that “Vietnam needs to act now if it is to avoid the situation of more men than women evident elsewhere in Asia”.