Preference for boys affecting society

Despite having two children - the maximum for each couple under recommendations in Vietnam’s family planning policy - Ms. Ngoc Van nonetheless decided to have a third, though her age of 42 raised some concerns with her doctor. 

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She felt more tired this time around than during her previous pregnancies. But she was happy, because tests predicted it would be a boy, which given she has two daughters was the idea behind trying a third time. 

Successful in her job as a sales manager, Ms. Van still felt the pressure put on Vietnamese women to bear a son, with such thinking leading to there being a serious gender imbalance in the country over recent years. 

The first sign of trouble in Vietnam’s gender balance was initially noted in 2006, when the ratio of births was 109 male to 100 female, compared to the global average of 103-107 male to 100 female. 

Though appearing later than in some of its neighbors, Vietnam’s gender imbalance has increased rapidly since, standing at 110.6 to 100 in 2010, 112.8 to 100 in 2015, and 115.1 to 100 last year, according to the General Office for Population Family Planning. 

Furthermore, the ratio is usually high for the last child in other countries, while in Vietnam it’s found from the first child, at 109.7, then increases to 111.9 for the second and 119.7 for the third. 

The desire to have a son among many couples comes from the long-standing influence of Confucianism, according to Professor Nguyen Dinh Cu from the Institute for Population, Family & Children Studies. 

Traditionally, a son is regarded as the continuance of the family line and must care for the graves of the family’s ancestors. The son also lives with and takes care of his parents when they are sick or become elderly. 

In the past it was thought that not having a son was the most serious act of disrespect towards one’s ancestors. While less so these days, it still has deep repercussions in Vietnamese society. 

Ms. Van is proud of her two daughters, who are both pretty and are doing well at school. But she feels she hasn’t fulfilled her duty as a wife to give her husband a son. This time, she tried all the methods she read or heard about to have a boy, such as diet and the “right time” for conception, though scientific evidence supporting such notions is thin on the ground. 

She looked forward to having a boy and confirming her role in the family. It was, however, another girl. She is now considering having one last try. “I feel insecure,” she said. “I’m worried my husband will try to have a son with another woman. He very much wants a son and so do his parents.” 

Similar to Van’s husband, many Vietnamese men want a son to in turn fulfill their responsibility as the son in the family, according to entrepreneur Mr. Pham Duy. A son is also a source of pride, exhibiting a man’s honor and masculinity. “I don’t know where it stems from, but those who only have daughters can be mocked by others for being ‘weak’ in the bedroom,” he said. “Obviously, no man wants that.” 

Another cause of Vietnam’s gender imbalance is the overall fall in births. In the past, Vietnamese families would usually have four or five kids on average to have a greater chance of bearing a son. 

With a ten-year-old son, Ms. Thu Quynh and her husband are nonetheless not planning to have more children despite earning stable incomes. Taking care of a baby requires a lot of time and effort, and Ms. Quynh doesn’t want to go through it again. She prefers to have time for herself and travel, which she didn’t have much of a chance to do before as she was married at 23 and had her son right away. 

“I talk with my husband about it and he has no problem,” she said. “If we had a girl, maybe it wouldn’t have been so easy. But, luckily, we have a son, so there is no pressure from my husband’s family.” 

In modern times, advances in medical care allow couples to know the sex of their baby before he or she is born. Many are willing to have an abortion if it is a girl, which contributes to the rising gender imbalance.

A gender imbalance at birth is more common in wealthy and intellectual families, at 112 male to 100 female compared to 105 to 100 in poor households. The highest income group, which accounts for 20 per cent of the population, has higher demand for a third child and the highest imbalance, of 133 to 100. This shows that the rich care more about the sex of their children and can afford high-end technology for determining the gender prior to birth. 

These boys, however, will have a tougher time finding a wife when they grow up, as Vietnam will be short of 2.3-4.3 million women by 2050 if parents continue to favor sons and terminate pregnancies, according to specialists. 

Such shortages are already found in China, India, Taiwan, and South Korea and there are social consequences, according to Professor Cu, such as broken traditional family structures as some men marry later or perhaps never find a wife, while many women feel they should marry earlier, both of which can result in an increase in divorces and second marriages. 

Another effect is labor shortages in certain female-dominated jobs, such as kindergarten and primary school teachers, nurses, and textile workers. Instances of rape, prostitution, and women trafficking, meanwhile, may also increase.

Vietnam is making efforts to deal with the issue. The existing ban on private and public hospitals revealing the gender of the baby needs stricter enforcement. Propaganda and education to change people’s view and raise awareness about the seriousness of the country’s gender imbalance also needs to be intensified. 

The Ministry of Health has proposed the government encourage people to have more girls by providing financial support and priorities in education and job opportunities. Welfare policies for the elderly in general and those who have two daughters in particular are also being given more attention, so parents will feel secure about being cared for in their twilight years regardless of whether they have a son or a daughter.

VN Economic Times

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