Vietnam is making a U-turn in her population policy. Incentives will thus be given to encourage couples to give birth to more children in line with the Government’s effort to improve the quality of the national work force.
Nguyen Van Man, 37, is a civil servant living in District 10, HCMC. His wife is also a State employee. Man and his wife’s total monthly income from their main jobs is VND16 million (approximately US$670). Man also moonlights to earn an extra VND4 million. Each month the couple spends VND7 million paying the installment plan for their house, VND5 million for food and drink, and VND2 million for transport fees, including fuel for their motorbikes. Man and his wife’s only child, a four-year-old, requires the couple to pay VND6 million for the fee of the kid’s school, a privately owned kindergarten.
Man said the couple’s total monthly income squarely meets their family’s expenditure. “Our salaries can’t help us make both ends meet,” said Man. “So, I have to do a second job to earn more. Roughly speaking, our income is barely enough for our spending. I don’t think we will have a second child because of the family expenditure. Raising a single child is already so expensive for us.”
The above story of Man was told in an article featured in Thanh Nien newspaper published last Wednesday. The article, headlined “Childbirth Promotion for Golden Population,” sought opinions from population experts, sociologists and specialists in other fields about the Government’s new policy on encouraging Vietnamese to bear more children.
According to Thanh Nien, Decision No. 588 on the “Program to Achieve Appropriate Birth Rate in Areas and Categories by 2030” freshly signed into effect by the Prime Minister encompasses different key points about Vietnam’s population. Some of the points have attracted public attention. For instance, according to the decision, it is advisable for Vietnamese men and women to get married before they turn 30. It also abolishes the cap on the number of children each family is currently allowed to have. More remarkably, in selected localities, couples are supported if they want to have more children.
Statistics show that in 2011, the population of Vietnamese aged 60 or more accounted for 10% of the total, marking the time the country had begun to enter the population aging phase. Notably, Vietnam’s aging pace has been too fast. While it took many other nations decades or even centuries to transform into such a period, the process was way shorter in Vietnam, according to vnexpress.net.
For instance, it took France 115 years to enter the population aging phase, Sweden 85 years and the United States 69 years. Meanwhile, it began only after 20-22 years Vietnam had entered the golden population age stage.
Vietnam is projected to officially experience population aging in 2035 when her contingent of people aged 60 or older rises to 20%, or 21 million people.
A country enjoying her golden population phase when the number of people aged between 15-64 (working age) is twice as many as those aged under 15 and aged 65 or more. In other words, people aged between 15-64 account for 66% or more of the total population.
Nguyen Doan Tu, general director of the General Department of Population and Family Planning under the Ministry of Health, told Thanh Nien that over the past decade, Vietnam has maintained the birth replacement rate (2-2.1 kids per woman of childbearing age—those from 15 to 49). However, said Tu, currently, the birth rate significantly differs in different regions in Vietnam, being extremely low in urban centers while rising to 2.5 per woman in some areas where economic conditions are much lower.
Of Vietnam’s 63 provinces and centrally-governed cities, 33 have a high birth rate (2.2 children per woman of childbearing age), 21 have a low birth rate (less than 1.9 children) and nine maintain the population replacement rate (2-2.1 children).
Aggravating this issue, Nguyen Van Tan, former head of the General Department of Population and Family Planning, said according to the latest study, the marriage age in Vietnam has further risen compared with previously. On average, a Vietnamese man enters the wedlock for the first time at 27 while a woman at 23.
Pham Thi My Le, vice head in charge of the HCMC Sub-Department of Population and Family Planning, said the city’s birth rate is extremely low, and has been constantly declining (see Table 1).
In a different interview with Tuoi Tre newspaper, Nguyen Doan Tu emphasized that implementing childbirth promotion programs now may even be too late.
“In regions where the birth rate is low—such as the Southeastern part or the Mekong Delta and HCMC—it’s time to have policies on encouraging couples to give birth to two kids each,” Tu said.
Tu, however, warned that although many countries have successfully carried out family planning, none has proved they have effectively encouraged people to bear more children. Tu exemplified Japan and South Korea, two Asian countries relatively close to Vietnam.
“In South Korea, the birth rate is only 0.96, meaning a couple has less than one child,” said Tu. “Each year, this country spends US$2 billion for the committee on population. However, the birth rate has not yet improved.”
It is estimated that, according to Tu, if South Korea cannot bring about some radical changes in this regard, the South Korean population will drop to 35 million from the current total of 50 million by 2050, and to 18 million by the end of the century.
Prolonging the golden population phase
Speaking about social issues caused by population aging, sociologist Tran Hoa Binh told Thanh Nien that Vietnam has maintained the policy on family planning targeting one or two children per family for a long time, and has been successful in controlling the population growth. Nonetheless, Vietnam is in need of changes in her population policies to meet the new situation, Binh argued.
“Vietnam is still in the golden population age now,” said Binh. “Yet if we don’t revise our population policies, we will face risks of population loss and miss development opportunities in the future.”
Addressing worries about a lax population strategy possibly leading to overpopulation again, Binh said such a risk is low. “Higher social development and the people’s better education will spare us from such a grim scenario,” he said.
Meanwhile, Assoc. Prof. Pham Manh Ha of the Vietnam National University Hanoi maintained that the Prime Minister’s decision suits the current situation. He said the new population policy is likely to open up a good opportunity so that in 10-15 years, Vietnam will afford a new generation—the next golden population force—to meet national development schemes.
Dr. Nguyen Trong An, former vice head of the Department of Children under the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), said Vietnam has for a long time blindly copied Chinese population control policies. But it is now time for changes.
“I’m for a change with a new population policy which encourages the youth to get married and give birth to children earlier,” he said.
An, however, emphasized that such a policy must be accompanied by measures for improving the quality of the population. That means ensuring couples’ social welfare and children’s rights so that every child born is healthy and entitled to ample opportunities.
Trinh Thu Nga, vice director of the Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs under the MOLISA, argued that Decision 588 stipulates revisions and perfection of policies supporting productive health of citizens.
In HCMC, the municipal Sub-Department of Population and Family Planning will advise the city’s authorities on action plans to carry out the central Government’s decision. Among the measures to be taken will be the creation of conditions for mothers to give birth to two children, encouragement to couples who get married earlier and housing incentives for newlyweds.
(Compiled by the Weekly)