VIET NAM – Vietnam struggles with high abortion rates due to sex selection: “people have to rely on their sons”

Viet Nam has the second-highest abortion rate in the world, according to a UN estimate, and most of the aborted fetuses are female. Hundreds of thousands of fetuses have been buried by a woman who has devoted her life to maintaining a cemetery where they are buried in the Soc Son district on the outskirts of Hanoi. The cemetery stretches over more than 1,000 square meters, located beside rice paddies .

Visitors pass through a wall filled with small clay pots before arriving at a cold, abandoned house. Inside, there are two 400-litre freezers, containing about 300 fetuses. Outside, you see tightly packed rows of graves.

According to Vietnamese tradition, the dead should be buried for at least three years, after which their bones are exhumed and placed in a small clay pot. These small pots are also used to bury children who die prematurely. All the graves in the cemetery are for mass burials. Some contain up to 10,000 fetuses.

“Every day, I receive about 15-20 fetuses – some delivered to the graveyard by volunteer students, some collected by my husband from nearby hospitals and clinics,” said Nguyen Thi Nhiem, 64, who has buried fetuses here for 16 years after converting her land into a cemetery.

“Despite gender-selective abortion being illegal in Vietnam, many parents are finding ways to make sure they have boys, who are preferred culturally,” said Dr Khuat Thu Hong, director of the Hanoi-based Institute for Social Development Studies. “In Vietnam, the reality is that people still have to rely on their sons so that when they get old, they will have someone to take care of them.”

According to Viet Nam’s General Department of Population, it is estimated that Vietnam will have 1.5 million more males than females by 2034, and 4.3 million more by 2050 if the level of sex imbalance at birth remains as high as it is now. Data from the General Statistics Office, released in 2022, puts the sex ratio at birth at 112.1 boys per 100 girls. In 2006, the ratio was 109 boys for every 100 girls.

Viet Nam has the second-highest abortion rate in the world, says the World Population Review, quoting the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). According to UNFPA, Viet Nam reports about 300,000 abortion cases each year, though local statistics show the number is much higher.

There are between 1.2 million-1.6 million abortions each year, the Communist Party’s newspaper Dang Cong San reported, quoting the Vietnam Family Planning Association. Viet Nam’s Ministry of Health has pointed to poor sex education and a lack of access to contraception as among the reasons for high abortion rates in certain areas. “Young people today are increasingly having more open thoughts about love and sex. They believe that love goes hand in hand with sex, which is proof of love, and are willing to have sex and accept abortion in cases of unintended pregnancy,” said Dr Hong.

VINAFPA says the fertility rates in Viet Nam have decreased by nearly half from a total fertility rate of 3.8 children per woman in 1989 to 2.1 children per woman by 2021. “Many women are forced to get pregnant multiple times to give birth to a boy. Others have to have multiple abortions to achieve that goal,” said one doctor. “Abortion has been normalised, but it is not a normal experience for women.”

SOURCE: South China Morning Post, 5 December 2023. PHOTO: AP