Cultural Preference For Male Children In Vietnam Increasing Gender Imbalance In Asia

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A cultural preference for male children in Vietnam is "furthertipping the balance between the sexes in Asia," where couples in Chinaand India also prefer boys, according to a series of reports releasedthis week by the United Nations Population Fund, the AP/Washington Post reports.The reports -- presented at a reproductive health conference inHyderabad, India -- examined birth trends in China, India, Nepal andVietnam (Mason, AP/Washington Post, 10/31).

Vietnam for decades had a two-child-per-family policy, but it was not enforced as rigorously as China's one-child policy, Agence France-Presse reports.Vietnam in 2003 banned fetal sex selection, but many physicianscontinue to tell couples the sex of their fetus. According to thereports, the two-child policy, combined with increased access toultrasound and abortion, are fueling gender imbalance in the country (Agence France-Presse,10/31). The reports found that about 110 boys for every 100 girls areborn in Vietnam, compared with the typical sex ratio of about 105 boysto 100 girls.

In China, about 120 boys were born for every 100girls in 2005, and in India the ratio in 2001 was about 108 boys forevery 100 girls, according to the AP/Post. In some areas of China and India, the ratio is as high as 130 boys per 100 girls and 120 boys per 100 girls, respectively (AP/Washington Post, 10/31). The highest provincial ratio in Vietnam was 123 boys per 100 girls, the reports found (Agence France Presse, 10/31).

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Thereports estimated that Asia in 2005 was short 163 million females,compared with rates for other areas of the world and said that thegender imbalances increased social unrest and trafficking of women. Thereports called for increased awareness, government intervention andpromotion of gender equality in the region. UNFPA also recommended thatgender ratios be monitored in Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh to avoidsimilar trends (AP/Washington Post, 10/31). In addition,the reports said that Vietnam "needs to act now if it is to avoid thesituation of more men than women evident elsewhere in Asia" (Agence France-Presse, 10/31).

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Daniele Belanger, research chair and director of the Population Studies Centreat the University of Western Ontario, in a recent research paper wrotethat sex-selective abortion in Asia "has the power to free" women froma "clash between the high demand for sons and the low demand forchildren." Although sex-selective abortion empowers women in the shortterm, it likely will "further threaten their position in the longterm," she wrote, adding, "Once this imbalance reaches marriageable agegroups, a shortage of women poses serious problems, particularly insocieties where marriage is a nearly universal norm" (Agence France Presse, 10/31).

ChristopheGuilmoto, a report author, said that it is "difficult to imagine what'sgoing to be the exact impact of these missing girls in 20 years,"adding, "No human society that we know has faced a similar problem" (AP/Washington Post, 10/31).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser DailyWomen's Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for emaildelivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org,a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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