Sons desired but often disappoint in Vietnam

Wish to have a son leads to many women aborting female fetuses
Sons desired but often disappoint in Vietnam

A man looks after an unofficial cemetery in Hue province of central Vietnam where more than 45,000 aborted fetuses are buried. (Photo by Joseph Vu/ucanews.com)

ucanews.com reporter, Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam
July 4, 2019
Hoang Van Thai expects “tin vui” — or good news — soon that his wife is pregnant with a son.

Last year he asked his wife to have their five-month fetus aborted at a hospital after an ultrasound showed she was expecting a third daughter.

“We must try our best to have a son to keep our family line alive,” said Thai, who has two daughters aged 8 and 7 and lives in Thua Thien Hue province of central Vietnam

The 38-year-old man, who works as a motorbike taxi driver while his wife sells vegetables at a local market, said his parents have four sons and one daughter. And his eldest brother is happy because he has two boys and one girl. The other brothers have, like himself, all daughters.

The pressure on families to have at least one son is a widespread occurrence in Vietnam. 

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Anne Nguyen Thi Ngoc from Ho Chi Minh City said her husband’s Buddhist parents used to ask her husband to divorce her because she had not become pregnant after three years of marriage.

Ngoc said they told her that they would feel guilty about not having a grandson to ensure the continuation of their family line as her husband is their eldest son.

“My own parents saved my marriage by borrowing money from other people to pay for the cost of my fertilization in vitro,” she said.

The 35-year-old mother said her parents-in-law changed their attitudes towards her after “I was lucky to give birth to a boy in 2017.” Now they spend most of their time looking after her son.

Ngoc, a hairdresser, said she and her husband have to work hard to pay back an outstanding debt of 200 million dong (US$8,620) for the fertility intervention that helped protect their marriage from a breakdown.

Vietnam still has a male-dominated and patriarchal Confucian culture and philosophy. Males are considered as supreme family decision-makers, with rights of inheritance and overall responsibility for conducting ancestor worship as well as the perpetuation of family lines.

Misconceptions about gender are a major reason for an imbalance between the number of males and females that are born in Vietnam, according to population experts.

The gender ratio at birth in 2018 was 115.1 boys to 100 girls — an increase of 3 percent on 2017, according to the General Office for Population and Family Planning. In some provinces, the ratio has been 120 boys for every 100 girls.

Experts warn that gender imbalances will affect the population structure in Vietnam, where it is estimated that 2.3-4.3 million males will, by 2050, not be able to find brides.

Gender selection

Lovers of the Holy Cross Sister Mary Nguyen Thi Nhung, who is member of a Hue-based pro-life group in central Vietnam, said many abortions are a result of gender selection.

Group members collect some five aborted fetuses per week from hospitals and bury them at an unofficial Catholic Church-run cemetery in Hue where there are the remains of more than 45,000 aborted fetuses.

Vietnam records 250,000 to 300,000 abortions each year, according to official figures.

Lucia Doan Thi Mai annually visits and offers flowers and incense in front of her unborn female child's tomb in a cemetery in Thua Thien Hue province. She had her five-month female fetus aborted in 1982 at her husband’s request.

Mai, 69, who has four daughters, said her husband was the only son in his family, so he wanted to have a son to maintain his bloodline. She said their only boy, who was born in 1985, was indulged and overprotected as a child by his father.

His sisters were forced to stop their studies when they finished elementary school and work to support the family. She said their idle boy left school young, moved to southern Ho Chi Minh City, abused drugs and stole from other people.

“We sent him to a rehabilitation center two times but he fled from the center and takes drugs,” Mai said, adding that he had contracted HIV/AIDS.

“I am very disappointed with our debauched son,” she said, stressing that it was wrong to have spoiled him.

Their previously ignored daughters took on the duties of ancestor worship after her husband died five years ago.

Anthony Dang Xuan Tiep, from Quang Dien district in Thua Thien Hue province, said his only son was given preferential treatment and became lazy. He was arrested for drugs in 2010 and is serving a prison term. 

Now the family rely on their two daughters for support after selling their farmland to assist the jailed son. Tiep's wife had female fetuses aborted before they had their later-to-be wayward son.

Tiep said his wife, a Buddhist, was deeply saddened by their son’s behavior and had entered a local temple.

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