National Assembly delegates, academics and the public are discussing whether Viet Nam should end its population-control policy because the national birth rate has become alarmingly low. This could lead to an ageing population at risk of not having enough people and funds to support them.
The controversial issue has stirred public opinion since the Government, in a draft Law on Population, proposed allowing couples to decide the number and spacing of their children.
Since 2006, the country has kept its fertility rate below the replacement level of 2.1 per family. The average Vietnamese wom-an now has two children. The rate has consistently declined.
The policy of one or two children per family, first formalised as a mandatory national policy in 1993, has enabled Viet Nam to avoid almost 20 million births in the last 20 years.
Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Viet Tien said that the ministry wanted to keep the population-control policy. He said it would take at least five years to see if the birth rate remained the same or declined, reported Ha Noi moi (New Ha Noi) newspaper earlier this week.
"If this happens, the policy should be loosened", he said. Tien said that progress made at the national level masked disparities at the sub-national level.
The birth rate in northern midland and mountainous regions is 2.56 per family while it's 2.3 in the Red River Delta, 1.56 in the southeastern region and 1.84 in the Mekong Delta region. Tien said a more relaxed policy at this time could cause unexpected population growth. Birth restrictions were relaxed in 2003 and people started having a third child. However, restrictions were re-instated in 2009.
Nguyen Van Tan, vice chief of the ministry's General Office for Population and Family Planning, said at a policy dialogue with parliamentarians on population and development early this month that lessons from Japan and South Korea showed that pushing up fertility rate was more difficult than pulling it down.
The two countries spent almost 10 years to slash the birth rate from six to the replacement level of 2.1, but a few decades for it to rise from 1-1.5 to 1.7. Tan said that the countries faced challenges, including an ageing population, gender imbalance and labour shortages.
Professor Nguyen Dinh Cu, from the National Economics University's Institute of Population and Social Issues, said that Viet Nam achieved a low birth rate in almost 10 years and more noteworthy, it was steady.
"If we don't loosen population policy, the fertility rate will become lower," he said, adding that if the rate was lower than replacement level, the country would face the 4-2-1 problem that China did.
The 4-2-1 problem surrounding the one-child policy means that children have to bear the responsibility of supporting both their parents and, sometimes, all four of their grandparents, in their old age, as they have no siblings to help them.
Cu said that most people at reproductive ages in Viet Nam were born in the late 1970s or post-war and had a better understanding about family planning than the former generation. He said they should be empowered to decide the number of children they have.
At the policy dialogue, Ritsu Nacken, representative of United Nations population Fund in Viet Nam, said that it was time for the Government to shift its focus in population policy from birth control to a broader consideration on population and development.
Viet Nam officially entered the so-call "ageing phase" in 2011 as a result of declining fertility and mortality rates, and longer longevity and life expectancy.
She noted it was among the most rapidly ageing countries in the region with older people making up 10.5 per cent of total population.
"There is no need for Viet Nam to continue with the policy on fertility (child) reduction or population control," she said.
This writer thinks couples have a natural right to determine the number and spacing of their children. Government's population control policy is reasonable to orient people during the period of inadequate understanding and economic difficulties.
Government and its population agencies orientate people, help improve reproductive health and ensure good conditions for child development.
Vuong Thi Hien, of Ha Noi's Tay Ho District, remembered her husband being disciplined when they had a second child in 1987 two years after the first as it conflicted the policy. After that, they again had to pay a fine equal to 300kg of rice in 1997 when they had the third child.
She said State employees, if violating population policy, would not receive any rewards even if their work performance was good, adding that it was unfair and unreasonable.
Many young mothers have told this writer that they don't think of having more than two children and some are considering having only child because of economic conditions.
They say it's not a matter of fines or punishments imposed by the Government on couples having more than two children. They feel couples know that it is irresponsible to give birth to children without considering how to provide a good life for them.
This writer agrees. — VNS