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Wednesday, 8 November, 2000, 16:14 GMT
Vietnam's two-child policy
Vietnamese children reading
Vietnam restricts families to two children
By Owen Bennett-Jones in Hanoi

Seven years after introducing a two child per family policy, Vietnam's population control programme has become one the most effective in the world.

In the late 1980s Vietnamese women had an average of 3.8 children - that compares with 2.3 children today.

children on a rickshaw
The population is still growing by more than 1m a year
Officials say that reduction has been a crucial element of the economic and social development programmes introduced in the era of Doi Moi or renovation.

"They have been very successful," said Omar Ertur the UN Population Fund's Representative in Hanoi. "They have achieved a tremendous reduction in a very short period of time."

A degree of coercion is used to enforce the two-child policy.

Communist Party members who have more than two face automatic expulsion and parents are often asked to pay the health and education costs of a third child. More serious sanctions include having land confiscated.

Sons and daughters

But while some local authorities and employers impose penalties, they are not enforced on a nationwide basis.

Woman with child
China has a strict one-child policy
Some families still go for three or more children. In many such cases they are couples who have had two daughters and want a son.

There is also a tendency for poorer families to have larger families.

Family planning officials argue that as their education programmes begin to hit home, there is less and less need for coercion.

"We have focussed on information and education so people can persuade themselves that having a smaller family will bring benefits to them," said Tran Tien Duc, the Information Director of the National Committee for Population and Family Planning.

"We have conducted surveys and have come to the conclusion that coercive measures do not play an important role in reducing population growth."

Changing attitudes

There is evidence that attitudes to family size are changing. Many young people - especially in cities - say they don't want too many children.

"My friends want just one or two children so that they can enjoy their life," said Khanh, 38, who works for a western company in Hanoi.

Vietnamese boy
Many Vietnamese prefer a boy to a girl
"Now we have a new concept of quality of life - if we have too many children we have to find the money to support the babies and we have to spend so much time looking after them."

Despite the steady drop in the population growth rate throughout the 1990s officials fear there are still too many people being born.

The Vietnamese population, currently 79 million, increases by over one million every year.

But there are no plans to emulate neighbouring China's one-child policy.

"We consider two children is a very reasonable fertility level for our country," says Mr Duc.


One reason why Vietnam is holding back from a one-child policy is a fear the population's gender balance would be affected.

"In so called chopstick culture countries - like Vietnam, China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan - there is still a strong son preference." added Mr Duc.

"If you have a one-child policy many couple will try to have only a boy."

There are already over 900,000 officially registered abortions in Vietnam each year.

In many cases people use abortion as a form of contraception. But as modern technology makes it easier to identify the sex of a foetus, abortions can be used to ensure the birth of a son rather than a daughter.

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See also:

25 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
China steps up 'one child' policy
04 Sep 00 | Business
The UN and world poverty
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09 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam's children suffer obesity
12 Oct 99 | World population
Population: Why we should worry
31 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
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