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Speech by Mr. Arthur Erken, UNFPA Representative in Viet Nam at the Conference on Policy Direction of Population and Development with the Central Committee for Propaganda and Education

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UNFPA ArthurDate: Friday, 15 August 2014

Venue: Pullman Hotel, 40 Cat Linh Street, Ha Noi

  • Ass. Prof. Dr. Pham Van Linh, Vice Chairman of the Central Committee for Propaganda and Education (CCPE);
  • Distinguished members of the CCPE, PCSA, MOH and other line ministries
  • Ladies and Gentlemen,
  • Good morning to you all,

Let me from the outset, and on behalf of UNFPA in Viet Nam, thank the Central Committee for Propaganda and Education (CCPE) for hosting this important meeting and inviting UNFPA to co-chair this important interaction session with the members of the CCPE on the population policy and law.

The great leader of Viet Nam, Ho Chi Minh, once said: "To reap a return in ten years, plant trees. To reap a return in 100 years, cultivate the people". Those wise words should guide us, even today, as you discuss the future directions of the population programme and start considering the new Population Law. Following those wise words, allow me therefore to give you our perspective on the population issues of today in Viet Nam, as we consider the future.

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which took place in 1994, represented a remarkable consensus among 179 countries, including Viet Nam, that individual human rights, including reproductive health and rights, are a necessary precondition for sustainable development, and it set forth objectives and actions to accelerate such development by 2015. But perhaps the most important sentence in this context is from Principle 8 of the ICPD Programme of Action, which states that "all couples and individuals have the basic right to decide feely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so"! For the international community, this Principle is paramount in the implementation of population programmes, strategies and laws.

UNFPA highly appreciates Viet Nam's strong commitment to the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action since 1994. Recently, in the 47th session of the UN's Commission on Population and Development in April this year, Viet Nam joined 23 Governments reaffirming the determination "to ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights through achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health, information and services". Consistently, the National Assembly confirmed this commitment by sending a delegation, headed by Dr. Nguyen Van Tien, Vice Chairperson of PCSA, to the International Parliamentarians' Conference on the Implementation of ICPD Programme of Action in Stockholm, Sweden in late April. Parliamentarians declared at the Conference that "we call on all States to guarantee equality before the law and non-discrimination for all people, by adopting laws and policies to protect the human rights of all individuals, without distinction of any kind, in the exercise of their social, cultural, economic, civil and political rights".

It is commendable that Viet Nam has translated such commitment into the newly approved Constitution. The 2013 Constitution, in Article 12, states that Viet Nam conforms to the Charter of the United Nations and international treaties in which Vietnam is a member. Further, in Article 14, the Constitution states that "in the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, political, civic, economic, cultural and social human rights and citizen's rights are recognized, respected, protected, and guaranteed in concordance with the Constitution and the law".

Distinguished guests,

Data from the 2009 census and other population based surveys show that Viet Nam has made impressive progress in achieving its population goals. The average Vietnamese woman now gets just 2 children in her lifetime, down from more than 6 in the early 1970s. That means that Vietnam has reached replacement level fertility. A remarkable feat! So, the strong focus on fertility reduction in the population programme is no longer needed. Because, even though the population of Vietnam will continue to grow in size, due to its youthful population, other population features will quickly become visible and will affect the socio-economic growth of this country. Also, progress made at the national level masks disparities at the sub-national level. Inequalities and disparities have been increasing and are accompanied by new forms of poverty and vulnerability that will require greater attention in the coming years.

What is actually happening in Vietnam at the moment is quite unique: On the one hand, there is a significant segment of the population under the age of 24 years! This is giving Vietnam a once-in-lifetime unique demographic dividend, that, when used wisely, will translate into a demographic bonus. At the same time, ageing is on the rise, which will require urgent policy and fiscal measures, to ensure old-age security and protection. And third, we see an alarming imbalance in the sex ratio at birth in some parts of the country. Furthermore, migration and urbanization are fast emerging trends. Indeed, all these demographic trends, coming at the same time, have huge development implications.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As the Communist Party of Viet Nam is preparing for the 12th Party Congress in 2016, UNFPA appreciates the initiative of CCPE in reviewing the Resolution No. 47 issued by the Politburo in 2005. I believe that findings of this review and other evidences will be used as inputs to develop Party documents guiding the coming population policy that can effectively address new issues emerging from Viet Nam's unique population dynamics. Let me take this opportunity to highlight four key issues that are important for Viet Nam and the international community as we go forward:

Firstly, we need the coming population policy to address the population issues of Viet Nam for the next 20 and 30 years - a critical period of demographic transition to achieve sustainable development. Therefore, the population policy should link population to overall development strategies. Rather than narrowly focusing on fertility, now is the time we focus on the cultivation of the people, as Ho Chi Minh urged us to do! That means investing in the education and health and social protection and overall well-being of our people.

Secondly, as Viet Nam is developing a new population law, it is an excellent opportunity for Viet Nam to highlight the consistency between the Constitution and laws, and elaborate the commitment to ICPD into enforceable legal provisions, that is to protect and fulfill the rights of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have information and means to do so.

Thirdly, the population policy must ensure that all population groups, regardless of age, sex, marital, income or health status, geographical location or ethnicity have equal access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, including family planning. We should make the Population Law rights-based and let it squarely focus on universal and equitable access to sexual and reproductive health for all population groups.

And last but not least, the a legal basis should be developed for the integration of population variables into all development policies and sectoral planning to ensure that the needs of different population groups, particularly vulnerable groups, to be addressed in all development sectors.

Distinguished guests,

As a leading UN agency on population and reproductive health, UNFPA is happy to support the Party and the Government of Viet Nam in developing population policies which are an integral part of the country's national socio-economic development and which fully conform to the Principles of the ICPD PoA and other relevant international conventions, to which the Government of Viet Nam is a signatory.

During today's meeting, we will hear presentations from the GOPFP representative on the outcomes of the CDP's 47th Session and the needs to shift from population control and family planning to population planning and development. I believe that these presentations will facilitate our active discussions to ensure that the new Population Law of Viet Nam will be a well-informed law that will respond to the opportunities and challenges of population dynamics, as well as to the aspirations and desires of the Vietnamese people as it moves towards a bright and prosperous future!

I thank all the distinguished guests for your attention and participation. I look forward to a productive discussion. I wish you all good health, happiness and success.