Cablegate: Family Planning Policy and Practice in Vietnam

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary. A new ordinance on family planning
enshrines individual choice of family size and timing, while
"encouraging" small families and seeking "rational"
population structure and distribution. There is a clear
concern about growing over-population in urban areas and a
need to keep people in the countryside as much as possible.
GVN officials admit uneven implementation of earlier
decrees, including in some cases fines and other punishments
not entirely prescribed by law. The new ordinance may be in
part to respond to potential international criticism. Fines
for violations of family planning policies are reportedly
"abolished" but other Party and State statutes apparently
retain this option privately. End Summary.

New legislation

2. (U) The Standing Committee of the National Assembly on
January 9 passed a new ordinance on population and family
planning, which was promulgated by President Tran Duc Luong
as Order No. 01/2003/L-CTN on January 22 and went into legal
effect on May 1. It builds on the resolution on population
and family planning policy adopted at the Fourth Plenum of
the 8th Communist Party of Vietnam's Central Committee in
1993. It also marks a more formal version of Prime
Ministerial Decision No. 270-TTg of June 3, 1993, which had
originally approved the "Strategy on Population and Family
Planning to the year 2000," the "Strategy on Population and
Family Planning to the year 2010," and related other
instructions based on the party doctrine.

3. (U) Madame Le Thi Thu, Minister-Chairwoman of the
National Committee on Population, Families and Children,
told the media in February 2003 that the Ordinance was
designed to ensure that actual practices by Ministries and
local agencies were fully consistent with state policy and
law. Experience had demonstrated, she admitted, that
implementation and awareness of policies and legal
regulations on population and family planning differed from
locality to locality. She stressed that earlier State
policies on population focused primarily on adjusting only
population size via family planning, while the new ordinance
also mandates State efforts to regulate population
structure, quality, and physical distribution. The passage
of this ordinance should clarify policy and provide
comprehensive, definitive guidance on population activities,
she claimed.

Individual choice, but. . .

4. (U) The Ordinance explicitly guarantees that each
couple or individual shall have the right to decide when to
have a baby, the number of babies, the time between each
child, and the preferred method of contraception. At the
same time, it emphasizes that all citizens have the
"obligation" to practice family planning and to "build
families with few children." The ordinance prohibits any
activities either to obstruct or to force family planning,
to select the gender of unborn babies, to import or sell
fake or faulty contraceptive devices, or to engage in human
cloning. It calls upon the State to take adequate measures
to ensure gender equilibrium "according to natural
reproduction law," as well as to encourage pre-wedding
health checks and genetic tests for people "in danger of
genetic defects or being affected with toxic chemicals."
The State further is required to invest in "reproduction-
supporting technology" to assist "sterile and sterilized
people," and undertake measures to eliminate "all forms of
gender discrimination" and to encourage the "preservation of
multi-generational families."

5. (U) As part of its campaign to achieve "rational"
population distribution, the Ordinance instructs State
agencies to give priority investment to low population
density areas, as well as generally to rural areas in order
"to reduce the motive force for migration to urban centers."
The State is also specifically called upon to adopt some
policies (not described) to "restrict the concentration of
"population in a few big cities." The State will comment
and/or reward all agencies, organizations, and individuals
making "achievements" in population work, while reserving
the right to discipline, administratively sanction (to the
extent of possible penal liability), or seek compensation
from those who violate the provisions or this Ordinance.

6. (U) While the Ordinance prescribes the right of
individual to decide the number of babies and the time
between each child, a draft Government Decree to implement
the Ordinance still states that "each couple is suggested to
have only one or two children," and that "each couple is
encouraged to make duration between births of children from
three to five years."

. . . more than two is dangerous for your health
--------------------------------------------- ---

7. (U) According to Ha Dinh Bon, a senior expert from the
National Committee on Population, Families and Children, a
1993 law on the protection of citizens' health -- which does
prescribe that "each couple should have only one to two
children" -- technically still takes precedence over the new
Ordinance. He opined that seemingly more flexible
provisions of the Ordinance (i.e., the right of each couple
to decide the number of babies and the time between each
child) likely reflect the GVN's acknowledgement of
international human rights concerns. He also admitted that
various local administrations and agencies had sometimes
issued regulations not in conformity with State and Party
policies and guidelines, including in many cases fines that
are not prescribed by law. He added that some "mistakes and
wrongdoings are unavoidable at times." The draft
implementing Decree notably stresses that civil servants and
Party members need strictly to abide by the Law on Civil
Servants, as well as Party statutes, which require them to
follow guidelines and instructions issued by individual
agencies and Party organizations on issues including family
planning. According to family planning officials, this
means that -- regardless of the provisions of the new
Ordinance -- individual party cells, agencies, ministries,
and localities nonetheless may in practice retain the right
to impose limits on family size for their members/employees.

8. (U) Separately, Deputy Director General Le Hoai Trung
of the Foreign Ministry's International Organizations
Department stressed to Pol/C on August 5 that the 2003
ordinance was part of a new campaign by the GVN to lessen
State interference in family life and to leave family
planning decisions to individual families. He claimed that
henceforth the GVN's focus would be more on reproductive
health, while continuing only to "encourage" responsible
family planning practices. He stressed that fines and
punishment had been "abolished," tacitly admitting that such
practices had long existed in various family planning


9. (U) Billboards and other propaganda continue to
highlight the importance of small families, and certainly in
urban areas the lesson has largely been learned. Anecdotal
evidence indicates that average family size in rural areas,
as well as in mountainous ethnic minority areas is also
decreasing, although not as sharply as in more expensive
urban settings. Embassy in subsequent reporting from Hanoi
and provincial travels will follow the success of
implementation of the ordinance and relevant decrees,
particularly to see whether fines continue to be assessed in
violation of state policy and whether civil servants in
particular face administrative punishment, or face loss of
promotions and other benefits, when they exceed these
"healthy" prescriptive norms.

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