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Cablegate: Vietnam's Population Policy in 2006

DE RUEHHI #2004/01 2200153
R 080153Z AUG 06





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) 04 HANOI 64; B) 05 HANOI 1818; C) 03 HANOI 2047

HANOI 00002004 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) While Vietnam officially no longer restricts the number of
children couples may have, GVN propaganda campaigns still strongly
encourage individuals to practice family planning (FP) and keep
family size to at most two children. Fines or administrative
sanctions for larger families are rare and seem to apply mostly to
Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) officials. There is no evidence of
more coercive measures to enforce this informal policy. While the
GVN remains focused on limiting population growth, it does not
completely fund FP programs in remote and isolated areas where they
are needed the most. Although the recent midterm review of
Vietnam's Population Strategy highlights the GVN's desired decline
in the country's fertility rate, flawed statistics raise doubts
about Vietnam's real progress in this area. This may mean that
Hanoi will be forced to lower its long-term goals. Vietnam has both
a high abortion rate and gender imbalance problems. End Summary.

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2. (SBU) Pol intern investigated the current state of Vietnam's
population policy and discussed the country's latest developments FP
practices with various Vietnamese and international officials.
Three main conclusions emerged in these discussions: 1) Vietnam has
abandoned its two-child policy while still promoting smaller
families; 2) the GVN's overall Population Strategy has not been as
effective as originally hoped; and, 3) the problems of sex-selective
abortions and the resulting gender imbalance appear static.

"Encouraging" Two-child Families

3. (SBU) Although Vietnam officially no longer regulates the number
of children individuals may have, in practice the GVN still
vigorously promotes small families and a lower birthrate. While the
2003 Ordinance on Population (Population Ordinance) allows couples
to "decide the timing, number and spacing of births," it also
stipulates that citizens "must practice FP for the development of a
small-sized family" and "respect the interests of the State in
regulating population size." The Ordinance's Implementing Decree
further specifies that couples are obligated to have "few children,"
which it specifically defines as "one child or two children."
Although numerous GVN officials have claimed that no administrative
sanctions or financial penalties are imposed for having larger
families (reftels), the GVN and CPV continue to "educate" families
to practice FP (Ref A) and admonish Party members and State
officials for having three or more children (Ref B).

4. (SBU) A mid-level official at the GVN's Committee on Population,
Family and Children's (CPFC) Population Department, stressed that
Vietnam no longer interferes with couples' FP choices. He justified
the contradiction between the Population Ordinance's permissive
article about individual choice and the Implementing Decree's strict
obligation to have "few children" by claiming that the principle of
individual choice formalized in the Ordinance is "too general" and
people with different education levels have different understandings
of what a small-sized family means. However, the Decree only serves
as a guideline and "families with more than two children are never
punished." Nevertheless, the GVN continues to promote the concept
of smaller families through extensive awareness campaigns, with
slogans that are "advisory encouragements" and act as "motivation
for the people."

5. (SBU) The CPFC official later admitted that local authorities in
rural areas may have fined couples with more than two children in
the past, but these practices have become "extremely rare."
Regarding those who work for the GVN, CPV or State-owned
enterprises, there are no clearly defined policies, and practices
differ among State agencies. For example, Resolution 47 issued by
the Politburo in 2005 calls for "each couple to have two children on
average" and recommends sanctions for violators (Ref B, Paragraph
6). While this measure does not apply to private individuals, but
only to high-level Party members, "the policy was very controversial
and is fading," he revealed. Instead, discriminatory measures
mostly originate in the private sector, where employers often
condition employment on strict FP practice to minimize business
costs. (Note: Under Vietnamese law, women are entitled to
four-month paid maternity leave, and employers are also required to
grant paid "sick leave" to parents whenever they need to care for
their children. End Note.) The CPFC is unable to prevent this
phenomenon because "we cannot interfere with private contracts and
consensual agreements," he asserted.

No Evidence of Forced Abortions

6. (SBU) Asked about any continuing instances of forced abortion,
contraception or sterilization -- during the 1990s and until 2002,

HANOI 00002004 002.2 OF 003

several media outlets and international NGOs reported that local
authorities in rural areas compelled women to strictly abide by the
two-child policy -- all of our Vietnamese interlocutors dismissed
the allegation and claimed that such practices have never existed.
A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative stated that
there are no indications Vietnam maintains a formal or informal
two-child policy, and said that he has never heard of enforcement of
such a policy by Vietnamese authorities. Since the Population
Ordinance brought the country in line with the Program of Action of
the United Nations' 1994 Cairo International Conference on
Population and Development (which prohibits abortion as a method of
contraception), the GVN has "faithfully abided by its international
obligations," he said.

Low GVN Funding Hinders Implementation of Population Strategy
--------------------------------------------- -------

7. (U) In 2000, the CPFC introduced a Population Strategy for
2001-2010, which promotes voluntary FP but also emphasizes the
benefits of small family size. The strategy outlines specific
objectives to be achieved by 2010: reaching replacement-level
fertility rate (i.e. 2.1 percent) nationwide; lowering the natural
growth rate to 1.1 percent; capping population at 88 million; and,
reducing the abortion rate by 50 percent. Unlike the previous
Population Strategy (1993-2000), the current plan focuses on
reaching these goals in remote and isolated regions and specifies
two implementing periods. During the first stage (2001-2005),
efforts were aimed at attaining replacement-level fertility rate at
the national level through awareness campaigns designed to change
reproductive behaviors. During the second stage (2006-2010), the
focus is to achieve the targets in remote and poor regions with
higher birthrates by enhancing reproductive health (RH) and FP

8. (SBU) A Senior Expert at the Vietnam Women's Union's (VWU)
Department of Family and Social Affairs acknowledged that "achieving
the Population Strategy objectives will be challenging and will take
time." Particularly in mountainous regions, people prefer large
families and women lack the education to resist peer pressure. She
pointed out that "the low quality of counseling and medical services
remains the main source of ongoing problems in remote areas." The
VWU currently works on raising awareness and disseminating
information about women's rights, but without adequate facilities
and trained personnel. She further hinted that implementing the
second phase of the Population Strategy will require "great
efforts." A high-level representative of the Vietnam Family
Planning Association (VINAFPA) confirmed these sentiments and
revealed that "the Government is not doing a great job in remote and
isolated regions." Blaming the insufficient State budget, she
complained that "low funding and investment aggravate the problem"
and the GVN effectively outsourced FP and RH services to the VINAFPA
and its programs. She also mentioned that "people in rural areas do
not use standard contraception methods and resort to abortion
instead," even though it is a dangerous procedure in remote areas.

9. (SBU) The CPFC official downplayed criticisms and argued that
while RH and FP services in remote regions are "not as good as"
other parts of the country, the problem remains mostly limited to
"the problem of access." He maintained that "existing facilities
are not fully utilized;" therefore, the CPFC plans to invest in more
mobile RH and FP facilities and services. Refusing to discuss
funding issues, he raised doubts about the reliability of abortion
rate figures and stated that 93 percent of all reported abortions
performed in Vietnam are actually "menstrual regulation." This
procedure allows women to end a pregnancy during the first trimester
by artificially triggering withdrawal bleeding. Some 20 percent of
women undergoing this procedure are actually not pregnant and just
"want to be on the safe side," he said. Therefore, the CPFC only
considers mid- or late-term abortion cases to be "real abortions"
and has allocated funding to try to reduce the number of these
cases, which account for seven percent of the reported abortions.

Midterm Review: Is Vietnam Really on the Right Track?
--------------------------------------------- --------

10. (U) At a conference for the midterm review of the Population
Strategy on April 5, the CPFC announced that Vietnam lowered its
fertility rate to 2.11 percent and its natural growth rate to 1.33
percent, short of the expected 1.16 percent. Vietnam's population
reached 83.1 million, exceeding the first stage's target of the
Population Strategy by 700,000. While there was no mention of
progress on abortion reduction, and despite the GVN's apparent
setback on limiting population growth, then-Prime Minister Phan Van
Khai commended the decline of the fertility rate and reaffirmed the
necessity of achieving all objectives set forth in the Population
Strategy by 2010.

11. (SBU) The UNFPA representative praised the accomplishments of
Vietnam's population policy and suggested that UNFPA programs played

HANOI 00002004 003.2 OF 003

a large part in achieving some of the first stage's objectives.
Regarding the second phase of the plan, he optimistically declared
that "Vietnam will be on target" and noted that some of the
CPFC-UNFPA joint projects in the Central Highlands provinces will
now focus on increasing the availability of contraception other than
sterilization and intrauterine devices. A second UNFPA official
added that "Vietnamese already prefer a two-child family and do not
want to have more." The real challenge during the second stage of
the Population Strategy will be to offer broader contraception
choices. "Most people already recognize the value and economic
benefits of practicing FP," she claimed, and the UNFPA will
concentrate on family health by increasing its educational campaigns
and access to RH services.

12. (SBU) The CPFC official was more cautious in his assessment of
the midterm success of the Population Strategy and cited possible
flaws in the data provided by the GVN's General Statistics Office
(GSO), which he attributed to the limited sample size when the GSO
designed its surveys. (Note: In 2004, the UNFPA representative also
raised doubts about the accuracy of GSO figures announcing a
population surge. To corroborate the data, UNFPA conducted its own
study, which contradicted GSO survey results - Ref B, paragraphs 10
and 11. End Note.) He expressed disappointment that Vietnam was
not able to reach its birthrate reduction goals. "We are successful
in terms of fertility reduction," he said, "but we wish that the
birthrate slowed further and faster."

Sex-selection and Gender Ratio Problems

13. (SBU) The CPFC has acknowledged in the past a slight gender
imbalance, but maintained that the problem was not as pervasive as
in China or South Korea (Ref B, Paragraph 9). Validating these
claims to Pol intern, the CPFC official stated that "there are few
signs indicating an imbalance" and, unlike other Confucian-culture
countries, he claimed that no cases of abandoned girls have been
reported in the country. CPFC figures have not changed during the
past year, and Vietnam's male-to-female ratio still remains at 107
to 100, which he did not deem as a serious concern for the moment.
He nonetheless admitted that "this may be an emerging issue," and
the CPFC advised the Ministry of Health to ban prenatal ultrasound
services for sex selection. "We will review the statistics next
year and see if there is a reverse trend," he assured. Recognizing
that the Vietnamese public and local officials are ill-informed
about this issue, he said that a joint CPFC-UNFPA conference on
sex-selection this November will help the GVN develop better


14. (SBU) While State and Party propaganda continues to encourage
Vietnamese couples to have less than two children, Vietnam's
population policy comes nowhere near approaching policies adopted in
China in their impact on personal choice. While there may still be
a few instances of administrative or financial penalties imposed on
couples with more than two children in certain rural localities, the
main evidence of an "official two-child policy" is now limited to
signs located throughout the country, stating "Girl or Boy, Two is
Enough." The latest policy to relax encouragement of a two-child
standard is likely due to the positive results announced at the
midterm review of the Population Strategy.

15. (SBU) Comment, cont'd: Nevertheless, the questionable accuracy
of GVN statistics casts serious doubts on the actual success to date
of the GVN's population policy. The GVN is not much concerned about
gender disparity problems, so it is likely that Vietnam's population
policy will continue to focus on limiting population growth for the
time being. It appears doubtful that the objectives of the
Population Strategy will be fulfilled by 2010, and some media have
already reported that the GVN is revising its initial goals. End


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