Vietnam’s about turn on ideal replacement fertility rate meets dissent

By Linh Do    May 12, 2020 | 11:57 pm PT
Vietnam’s about turn on ideal replacement fertility rate meets dissent
Newborn baby Phuc An, wearing a protective face shield, is seen before leaving home for his vaccination in Hanoi, April 13, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Kham.
A call for Vietnamese to wed by 30 and bear two children to counter one of the fastest aging populations globally has tongues wagging.

Recent articles on the Vietnamese government’s well-timed effort to prevent what looks like an inevitable global population trend has attracted lively debate.

Many think it impractical to marry by 30, and have "two children" by 35, as Vietnam’s current policy slogan encourages - after three decades discouraging parents from bearing more than two babies to fight poverty.   

Rather than selfishly pursuing their own freedom or failing to handle traditional pressures as some psychologists suggest, many Vietnamese are adamant a family of four is not on the cards.

Common reasons include career concerns, high expectations for child rearing, and sensibilities towards human and global problems like overpopulation and environmental destruction.    

The ideal single offshoot  

For many readers, to graduate from school, find a job, start a career, in short, to be financially capable to be ready for marriage by the age of 30 is much easier said than done.

According to Hanh Le, the government’s policy is based on a scientific perspective that advises women to get married by 30 and have their second child by 35 without considering other social and cultural conditions.

"Most young people by 30 don’t yet have stable jobs and still depend on their parents," wrote hanhle.hcmc, adding if people get married and give birth prematurely, they would add an unnecessary burden on their parents, who may still be of working age.

Others agree, pointing out that when young people graduate from college, they are 22 and need to spend the next few years of their life exploring the world and finding their footing in an extremely competitive job market, let alone get married and have babies.  

"A 22-year-old male college graduate would need 10 years to gain some necessary assets. For a woman, it’s about scarifying her career for marriage. Marriage on shaky grounds or without family support could easily lead to divorce," says Thai Tung.  

Chi Cuong suggests the government should improve the labor market plagued by unemployment and low wages, if it wants to increase the fertility rate.

Huong Thao says with a wage of about VND5 million ($216) in HCMC, it’s hard enough to support oneself, let alone two babies.

Some estimate it costs a couple about VND20 million ($862) a month to raise just one kid if they rent an apartment. The prospect of owning houses for ordinary working people who weren’t born into rich families is considered dim.

To encourage people to have two children in areas with low fertility rates, the government does plan to offer financial incentives like lower personal income taxes, housing and rent support, as well as priority acceptance into public schools.

Yet to many, such external forms of aid don’t come near in helping cover exorbitant child-rearing expenses. And even if they did, having a second child would still mean taking resources away from the first.

Their priority is to provide their one child the best possible opportunities in an increasingly complex world.

Besides, Vietnam suffers too many problems ranging from school violence to overcrowded hospitals to traffic jams to unsafe food and environmental pollution for them to give birth and doom their children. 

"I don’t want to give birth when climate change is approaching and people are still carelessly discharging nylon waste. How would our children live in such a garbage-filled environment?" asks Mai Thuong.   

Others say humans are pushing the earth’s resources to the limit, so with its top-ranking population density, Vietnam has enough people.

"Giving birth to few children and providing them with good education isn’t just good for the country’s quality of living but also for the overburdened, overworked earth," Thuc An Luong concludes.

After going through the physical hardships of delivering and rearing one child, many mothers say they had enough.

"All in all, mothers should give birth to one baby as an investment, then spend their time living their own life, making money, take caring of their health and beauty," Le Nguyen sums up, capturing a general mood.    

Missing a child?  

With social and cultural ideals revolving around birthing only one child, some suggest adopting abandoned children or donating to orphanages to rebalance to population issue.  

Indeed, according to UNICEF Vietnam, there are now over 170,000 children in Vietnam who don’t receive parental care and many are either very poor, or abandoned.

Other child-related problems like abortion and child abuse remain intractable. The idea of churning out new babies thus strikes many as both impractical and illogical.

According to Phan Nhu Hoa, a project officer at NGO World Vision International in Vietnam which supports vulnerable children, the government could more effectively develop early educational programs to raise awareness on marriage advantages, ideal child-bearing ages, life balancing skills, and so on.

Similarly, training young people on gender equality and marriage skills to avoid unhappy unions and divorce has been touted as another practical alternative.

A bigger picture

According to a recently released UNDP report which surveyed over 14,000 men and women in all 63 provinces and municipalities, 82 percent of women, and 72 percent of men, agreed that they needed to have children to feel fulfilled. 

For many people, marriage still holds its promises. For instance, 26-year-old Nguyen Quynh Anh from Hanoi said getting married early allows young people to build skills, become more disciplined and responsible.    

For their parts, ativists also express a common concern about the policy’s possible negative effects on women’s careers, unmarried couples and the LGBT community. 

According to Dang Huong Giang, who runs the youth-led Vietnam Organization for Gender Equality, the policy reflects the politics of childbirth in which women are expected to reproduce for capital accumlation and social goods.

Giang, however, ambivalently hopes that it will also lead to better maternity benefits for both men and women. 

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