Ensuring sustainable population size and structure

Tuesday, 2019-03-12 09:45:53
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Vietnam has maintained the total fertility rate at less than 2.1 children per woman in almost all the past 10 years. (Illustrative image)
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NDO - Vietnam has achieved replacement level fertility and maintained the total fertility rate (TFR) - the average number of children born per woman - at less than 2.1 children per woman in almost all the past 10 years. However, the fertility rate also varies greatly between regions and localities, requiring specific solutions to ensure the sustainable development of each region as well as the overall development of the whole country.

Over the past 50 years, the TFR of Vietnam has continuously decreased, from 6.39 in 1960 to 2.09 in 2006 (below the replacement level fertility calculated by scientists at 2.1). Since then, Vietnam has always kept the rate below the replacement level fertility. According to scientists, Vietnam has avoided giving birth to 20.8 million children in the past 20 years which is of great significance to socio-economic development, contributing to raising per capita income, improving health indicators and the quality of life of the people.

Some opinions state that, with such a stable and sustainable fertility rate, Vietnam does not need to continue controlling birth rates. However, this figure does not reflect the true nature as the fertility rate in Vietnam is still unequal in each region. The Southeast and the Mekong Delta region have a fertility rate much lower than the replacement level fertility at 1.5 to 1.6. Several provinces and cities also have low fertility rates including Ho Chi Minh City (1.33), Dong Thap (1.57), Can Tho (1.58), Ca Mau (1.62), Binh Duong and Ba Ria - Vung Tau (1.7), and others. The total fertility rate in these provinces and cities is now equivalent to that in the Republic of Korea and Singapore, which are carrying out policies to encourage women to give birth due to a shortage of human resources and rapidly aging population.

In contrast, the Northern mountainous region, the Central region and the Central Highlands region have very high fertility rates and are trying to reduce the rate. If the average national birth rate is currently between 16 to 17‰, the rate in these regions climbs to nearly 30‰. Many provinces in Ha Giang, Lai Chau, Ha Tinh, Dak Lak and others report high average number of children per mother, over or below three children. In particular, there are localities where people give birth to six or seven children. Therefore, to reduce TFR from 3 to 1.8 in these provinces will be a long and difficult task. Thus, maintaining a reasonably low birth rate is the most effective solution in the current period, helping Vietnam to achieve the most harmonious scale and structure of the population, for the sustainable development of the country.

The Vietnam Population and Reproductive Health Strategy for the 2011-2020 period emphasises "proactively adjusting the population growth rate" through maintaining replacement level fertility. So, what is the replacement level fertility? When we choose this option, will we fall into the situation that the number of children per woman of reproductive age will gradually decrease and fall to too low a level and it will not be able to "stimulate" birth like the stories of some countries? The General Office of Population and Family Planning under the Ministry of Health has proposed that the Government maintains the rate of 1.8 to 2 children and not increase or reduce TFR. On a national scale, TFR at 2.1 is reasonable and we have maintained this replacement level fertility for 13 years.

According to General Director of the General Office of Population and Family Planning, Nguyen Doan Tu, several Northern mountainous provinces and Central Highlands provinces with high birth rates need to reduce the rate sharply to reach the replacement level fertility in order to improve the population quality.

Meanwhile, if the fertility rate in the Southeast region and the Mekong Delta region falls further, it will be difficult to achieve the replacement level fertility. This is an alarming issue as many people in Ho Chi Minh City only give birth to one child, while the proportion of infertile couples is on the rise. The control of fertility rates in the current population size has become more complicated, requiring appropriate and diverse plans to match the reality. Specific programmes and plans have been actively implemented to gradually overcome the imbalance in the population structure.

After the 2009 population and housing Census, the General Statistics Office outlined three different scenarios for the fertility rate in Vietnam, including high fertility, low fertility and replacement level fertility. This is the basis for long-term strategies and solutions to implement the set targets. Regarding the high fertility scenario, if the fertility rate increases again and the total fertility rate reaches 2.3 to 2.5, the population size will reach the maximum level at approximately 130 million to 140 million people after 2049 and the population density at roughly 400 people per km2. On the contrary, if the fertility rate is too low and the total fertility rate is estimated at 1.35 in 2049, the population size will reach a maximum of 95 to 100 million people. The third scenario is to maintain the replacement level fertility, with a total fertility rate of 2.1, resulting in the population size of about 115 million people by 2049.