Three years ago, Hoai Anh terminated her 14-week-old pregnancy after an ultrasound scan showed the baby would be a girl.
“I feel thoroughly miserable for having taken away my child’s life. If my parents had also had gender-selective abortion, I would not exist,” the Catholic woman said, in tears.
Pale and thin, she says she has not slept well and lost five kgs since she had the abortion.
Hoai Anh, 37, has been seeking medical treatment to help her give birth to a boy since last year. Vietnamese people traditionally give preference to male heirs, who are expected to look after their parents when they are old.
The cultural practice of valuing sons over daughters is considered the main reason for gender-selective abortion.The Health Ministry reports Vietnam records 1.5-2 million abortions each year, but pro-life activists estimate the number is closer to three million.
Hoai Anh’s husband is a high-ranking Communist Party member, so they cannot disobey the government’s two-child policy. They already have a nine-year-old daughter.
Already, official statistics show there are 112.3 boys born for every 100 girls in Vietnam. It is estimated that this rate will be 125/100 by 2020, and there are expected to be between 2.3 and 4.3 million more men than women by 2049.
Hoai Anh, who works as an accountant in Ho Chi Minh City, says she has no freedom. She cooks and cleans for the whole family; duties of a daughter-in-law.
“You have to have a male child or find another woman who can bear your husband a male child,” Hoai Anh’s mother-in-law told her.
Although gender selection and revealing a fetus’s gender is banned by law, enforcement is limited.
“If obstetricians from state-run hospitals refuse to reveal gender identity, pregnant women will have ultrasound tests at private clinics,” said Pham Thi Chau Ha, an obstetrician.
“It is hard to fine doctors who reveal gender identity because they often use ‘giong me’ [the fetus is like a mother]or ‘giong cha’ [it is like a father]. They do not violate the law.”
A draft decree from the Health Ministry stipulates those who provide, publish or spread gender selection methods can be fined five million to 30 million dong (US$476 to $1,428), and those who use medical examinations to reveal gender to pregnant women can be fined seven million to 20 million dong. The government also offers support to overcome the social stigma of only having daughters; couples who have only daughters will be given money, scholarships and gifts. An estimated US$150 million is expected to be allocated for the program.
But Hoai Anh says if strict regulations on gender selection are not issued soon, there will be more victims like her. For now, her mother-in-law ignores the unenforced laws.
“She does not care about abortion that means killing a child, and she ignores my suffering caused by her strong preference for a male child,” Hoai Anh said.
“If I have no male child, I will return to live with my parents and never marry again.”