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Speech of Mr. Arthur Erken, UNFPA Representative in Viet Nam at press conference to launch the national campaign "Join hands to address the Sex Ratio at Birth Imbalance"

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Date: Tuesday 23 September 2014
Event: Press Conference to launch the national campaign "Join hands to address the Sex Ratio at Birth Imbalance"
Venue: Melia Hotel, 44B Ly Thuong Kiet street, Ha Noi

Mr. Nguyen Van Tan - General Director of the General Office for Population and Family Planning (GOPFP)
Representatives from line ministries and social organizations;
International development partners, UN colleagues and the media;

Ladies and gentlemen,

A good morning to you all. I am greatly honoured to be addressing you, on behalf of the UNFPA in Viet Nam to launch the national campaign "Join hands to address the Sex Ratio at Birth Imbalance". Let me from the outset thank the General Office for Population and Family Planning (GOPFP), for organizing this important press conference  and for its strong efforts in addressing concerns of skewed sex ratios at birth (SRB).

Today, 117 million women across Asia are "missing" largely due to the SRB imbalance, which is a direct manifestation of gender discrimination. Viet Nam is not the first country to face an imbalance in the sex ratio at birth, but the reality is that the challenge is significant and is increasing. The SRB rose from 106.2 boys per 100 girls in 2000 to 113.8 boys per 100 girls in 2013 and this sharp trend seems to have continued. If no interventions are undertaken, it is estimated that by 2050, Viet Nam will be confronted with a scenario of a surplus of around 2.3 to 4.3 million men, who will not be able to find a wife.

The imbalanced SRB will negatively affect Viet Nam’s population structure in the future, resulting in an excess of males in society. This imbalance can have grave consequences for the country’s socio-economic development and for the well-being of women, men, families and communities. The scarcity of young women will make it difficult for a large group of men to find a marriage partner. This "marriage squeeze" as it is called is likely to have a range of severe demographic and social consequences, including a possible increase in forced marriages, trafficking and all forms of violence against women and girls, and social unrest fuelled by male social and sexual frustrations. In this competitive marriage market, underprivileged men – those with less education and resources – will be particularly vulnerable. National and international migration for marriage purposes may also increase and, as a result, lead to social instability.

If this trend is not reversed, by 2035, the surplus adult men would amount to 10 per cent or more of the female population.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend the efforts of Viet Nam to address this issue from the onset. Already, we see many good practices through concerted efforts by the government to build a strong quantitative and qualitative evidence-base for policy and programme development, improve capacity for the system of data collection and data accuracy on SRB, as well as efforts to strengthen law enforcement. I understand that focused attention is being given to 23 high-prevalence provinces, where actions have been taken to eliminate advertising and marketing of sex-selection technology.

Despite the official ban on sex-selection, ultrasonography and abortion services continue to be misused for purposes of sex selection. Monitoring of private health care clinics and hospitals has not been undertaken and existing sanctions are apparently not strong enough to curb sex-selective abortions. This confronts Viet Nam’s policy-makers and health care professionals with the challenge of upholding the country’s strong traditions of securing women’s health and rights through access to prenatal screening technologies and safe abortion services while also avoiding misuse of new reproductive technologies. The challenge will be to balance between law enforcement of banning prenatal sex determination and women’s reproductive rights. The demand for prenatal diagnosis to identify the sex of the child has led to a booming private healthcare business in Viet Nam in defiance of existing laws, encouraging clients and practitioners to ignore the legal system at large.

Distinguished guests,
In order to effectively respond to these challenges, I would like to highlight four recommendations, which we feel need our attention and efforts:

First, recent UNFPA studies indicate that education, living arrangements, socio-economic class, geography, and childhood experience of gender inequality play a role in shaping men’s and women’s attitudes toward son preference. Therefore, it is very important to teach girls and boys about gender equality, non-violence, non-discrimination, healthy relationships and sexuality. It is also recommended to work with teachers to promote gender equality from early childhood education through tertiary education, engaging girls and boys, women and men in appropriate ways, because the school is an institutional setting where notions of gender are learned, practiced and reinforced.

Second, the heart of the SRB imbalance issue is not sex selection, but inequality and different gender values. Gender-biased sex selection is exacerbated by patriarchal family values, amplified in particular by male-oriented kinship systems, as well as lack of social and economic autonomy of women. Therefore, the solution is not to focus on the phenomena, but to address the broader context of socio-economic development and the promotion and protection of human rights to dismantle gender inequality so that the dignity and human rights of every woman, every young person and every individual are achieved. When women and girls have equal access to health care, education, and job opportunities as men and boys do, then women and girls will be able to do what men and boys are expected to do. Yet, women alone cannot address the issue; it must be done in partnership. Young men and boys must be encouraged to step forward as agents of necessary social and cultural change.

Third, despite the fact that health care providers in Viet Nam are not allowed to disclose the sex of the fetus or provide sex-selective abortions, these practices still occur. Therefore, interventions in both public and private health care sectors are needed, with a particular view to improving the communication skills of health care providers who face pressures from clients to reveal the sex of the fetus or to provide sex-selective abortions. Health care providers need skills to communicate with clients who are contemplating sex-selective abortions and to refuse to provide such services in an ethically appropriate and socially supportive manner. Furthermore, the Viet Nam Medical Association should be encouraged to formulate a Code of Conduct that includes a commitment to prevent sex selection.

Fourth, improving existing laws and policies and enhancing enforcement of current laws and policies to effectively address gender equality and empower women and girls is a key. Making this happen requires urgent, concerted efforts by all segments of the government and of society. It also requires strong political commitment as well as downstream actions at the community level to promote behavior change and to address complex socio-cultural realities. Indeed, addressing the SRB imbalance is not the business or task of one single agency, it's everybody's business! It requires the commitment of all involved to work under one comprehensive framework to address the SRB imbalance, and to be held accountable to ensure that these commitments are being fulfilled.

Distinguished guests,
Discrimination against girls anywhere in the world is a social ill and a human rights violation, which must be stopped. Girls, like boys, deserve equal love, equal opportunity and equal rights thorough their lives. We all know that gender equality is at the very heart of each country's sustainable development and Viet Nam is no exception. We must accelerate our efforts and give priority to developing programmes that foster zero tolerance for gender discrimination, harmful attitudes and unethical practices.

I would like to reaffirm UNFPA’s strong commitment to join hands with your efforts and provide all the support we can at the national and sub-national levels to help bring an end to this discriminatory practice. Together lets join hands to address this issue.

I thank all the distinguished guests for your attention and participation. I wish you all good health, happiness and success.

Xin Cam On!