They were speaking at conference in Hanoi Monday on "building a project to intervene in elements that affect gender at birth," organised by the general Department of Population and Family Planning.

The male to female ratio in Vietnam has climbed from 105:107 to 112:100 in the 1999-2007 period, said Pham Nang An, deputy head of the population and family planning bureau under the department.

He said the ratio was alarming as it was far beyond the natural gender ratio of 103-106:100.

The 112:100 ratio was similar to China's in 1987, An added. It had been estimated that in 2004 in eight to ten-years, there could be "40 to 60 million missing women" in China.

An warned that rising gender imbalance in Vietnam could lead to social disorder and an increase in sexual crimes.

Pham Ba Nhat, head of the bureau, attributed the ratio to the traditional preference for male children in Vietnamese society.

Nhat said gender diagnosis during pregnancy and abortion of female fetuses was the main cause of the imbalance.

He added that elsewhere in the nation, that when baby girls were born, some parents informed authorities that the babies were adopted, thus they had the right to give birth to more babies. Vietnamese law regulates that a couple can only have two children at the most.

Prof Nguyen Duc Vy of the Central Maternal Hospital said there was a need to distinguish between legal abortion and abortion based on gender. The latter must be banned, he added.

Vy said there should be a ban to abort fetuses of more than 12 weeks old, except for birth deformities, as at this time the fetus's gender could be known.

Nguyen Dinh Cu, head of the Institute of Population and Social Issues, said surveys showed that more than 66% of pregnant women knew their fetus's gender before giving birth, and up to 98% of the cases were thanks to ultrasonography check-ups.

Cu said the%age showed that the implementation of the population ordinance, which bans parents from choosing their baby's gender by any means, was lax.

He added there had been no penalties prescribed so far on violators including parents, doctors, and medical staff relating to checking fetuses' gender so far.

Dr Nguyen Thi Thuong from the institute said authorities should offer better welfare policies for the elderly and farmers as they still bore in mind that sons were the only people they could rely on to take care of them during old age. Daughters are considered outsiders as they have to live with their husbands' families after their marriage.

Another conference in HCM City last month disclosed that around three million Vietnamese men will have difficulty finding wives by 2030 due to the rising gender imbalance.

Thanh Nien News - December 26, 2008