Vietnam promotes early marriage, children as aging population poses challenge
By Eric San Juan
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, May 13 (efe-epa).- After decades of a state policy capping the maximum number of children per family at two, the Vietnamese government is now encouraging people to marry early and procreate as the country’s population has been aging rapidly, especially in large cities.
In a resolution signed two weeks ago, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc called on the authorities of provinces with the lowest birth rates to encourage young people to marry before the age of 30 and women to have their second child before 35.
The director of the Social Life Research Institute at Ho Chi Minh City, Nguyen Duc Loc, explained that the government’s move was a response to a rapidly aging population, given that within the last 15 years, the average age in the country had shot up from 26.4 to 32.5 years.
“The biggest factor for the low birthrate is the change of young people’s mindset but it’s always linked to the economic uncertainty. The mindset is the result of the economic factors, new lifestyle and state propaganda that recommended to have only one or two children,” Loc told EFE.
The government recommendation marks the end of the two-child policy that had been in place for the last 45 years to prevent a population explosion and ensuring economic sustenance in a country coming out of three decades of war.
Although the rule in Vietnam was not as stringently implemented as the one-child policy in neighboring China, it conditioned the family planning of millions of Vietnamese working in the sizable public sector, where a third child would result in professional setbacks.
In its new quest to move from “reducing fertility” to “maintaining replacement fertility” – estimated at 2.1 children per woman – the Communist regime has called for ending penalties for having a third child, which continue to be enforced in some government bodies.
Instead, it has now sought to support families with two or more children with financial aid for education, better access to social housing, priority for enrollment in schools, while penalizing those who do not have children or have them late with increased “social contribution.”
While in some rural areas the fertility rate continues to ensure generational replacement, the average number of children per woman has mainly collapsed in the large cities and the underdeveloped regions that witness large-scale emigration of young people.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s main economic hub and the most populous city with more than 10 million inhabitants, has the lowest fertility rate with just 1.33 children per woman, well below the national average of 2.1, while having the highest per capita income.
“Urban lifestyle encourages young people to focus on their career and their own freedom, therefore leaving marriage behind in their priorities,” explained Loc.
Bich Ngoc Su, a 36-year-old woman who decided to have just one child, mentioned other factors such as higher cost of living in cities, especially housing; and competition between families in providing better opportunities to their children.
“It’s like a race for all parents in raising a kid. I’m not sure if it’s a culture or not but people always try to give a kid as many extra activities as they can with the hope that the kid will be better, compared to other kids. And that costs a lot of money,” she said.
“With limited money, time and energy, we decided to have one, giving them “high quality” (education), rather than two without spending enough time on them or (being) unable to give them the best conditions,” said Ngoc.
Ngoc’s parents moved from Hanoi (1,500 km or 932 miles from Ho Chi Minh City) to take care of her child while she and her husband went to work.
Ngoc understands that the government’s recommendation seeks to ensure labor for the future but feels it would be impossible for people to marry early and have children before 30 in the competitive environment of Ho Chi Minh City.
“I have some friends in their 30s who don’t want to get married, and for those who want to, it’s very difficult. I have a colleague, she’s 30, and really wanted to get married, but after five years in Ho Chi Minh City, she realized that it was too difficult. So she moved back to her hometown, near Hanoi, and after six months she got married,” she said.
Other urban women are even less accommodating of the government’s recommendation, considering it an attack on their individual freedom.
“I think it’s stupid. I get married whenever I want; telling me to do it before 30 is a violation of my rights,” stressed 28-year-old Nguyen Thi Mai Lien. EFE-EPA