Every year, the long-standing preference for boys in Vietnam’s society terminates 40,800 baby girls before they are born, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
While Vietnam has made progress in reducing gender discrimination over the past several decades, gender-biased sex selection continues to be a widespread practice.
This is an adverse manifestation of the “son preference, which is anything but a benign tradition, a product of gender-biased systems which place higher social status to men and boys, and which favors male over female children,” the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) stated as it released the State of World Population report 2020 in Vietnam last Friday.
The problem of a gender imbalance at birth in Vietnam was first highlighted in 2004, and since 2005, it has rapidly increased and reached 111.5 male births for every 100 female births in 2019 as indicated in the 2019 Population and Housing Census, against the biologically “natural” or “normal” sex ratio of between 105 and 106, the report noted.
It said this demographic imbalance was a result of pre-natal sex selection – termination of a pregnancy when the fetus is determined to be female, or pre-implantation of sex determination and selection, or “sperm-sorting” for in-vitro fertilization. Around 40,800 female births are thus doomed in Vietnam each year.
Globally, this figure is estimated at 1.18 million each year, with 666,300 in mainland China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong), and 461,500 in India.
Naomi Kitahara, UNFPA representative in Vietnam, said because of decades of gender-biased sex selection and the neglect of daughters relative to sons, a shocking 140 million girls globally are missing today from the world’s population.
“When men far outnumber women, social problems can emerge, exacerbating forms of gender-based violence, including rape, coerced sex, sexual exploitation, trafficking and child marriage,” she told the event to launch the report in Hanoi.
Commenting on the findings, Pham Ngoc Tien, director of the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs’ gender equality department, said: “Vietnam has always considered gender equality as both a goal and a driving force for sustainable development. We have built and continued to improve the legal framework to better work in this important and relatively unfamiliar area. However, gender equality remains persistent in the society due to the influence of Confucianism.”
“Imbalanced sex ratio at birth imbalance is deeply rooted in the social norms and practices which reinforce son preference and low value for women and girls. Making this ratio balanced is also one of the goals of the National Strategy on Gender Equality for the 2021 – 2030 period that we are developing to submit to the Prime Minister for approval in 2020,” he added.
At least 19 harmful practices, ranging from breast ironing to virginity testing, are considered human rights violations, according to the UNFPA report, which focused on the three most prevalent ones: female genital mutilation, child marriage, and extreme bias against daughters in favor of sons.
“What these diverse harmful practices all have in common is that they are rooted in gender inequality and a desire to control women’s bodies and lives.”
“Though they inflict a devastating array of harm on individual women and girls, the harms inflicted on the world at large, and on future generations, may be greater still. In this regard, men have a special role to play. I call on Vietnamese men to raise the value of girls and demand equal treatment and equal rights. In particular, we need men and boys to support this effort,” Kitahara said.
UNFPA executive director Natalia Kanem said: “Harmful practices against girls cause profound and lasting trauma, robbing them of their right to reach their full potential.”
“We must tackle the problem by tackling the root causes, especially gender biased norms. We must do a better job of supporting communities’ own efforts to understand the toll these practices are taking on girls and the benefits that accrue to the whole of society by stopping them,” Kanem said.