Cablegate: A/S Dewey Discusses Population, Family, And

Published: Wed 20 Aug 2003 10:55 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: Hanoi 2047
1. (U) Summary: In discussions with A/S Dewey, National
Committee for Population, Family, and Children's Affairs
officials stressed that GVN policies guarantee and respect
the right of citizens "freely and responsibly to choose the
size of the family." At the same time, they said, GVN
policy also emphasizes the responsibility of the entire
society to carry out family planning and population tasks.
Population policy focuses on propaganda and education so
that people will make the right decisions on family size.
Officials stated that there is no doctrine, law, or policy
applying fines or incentives to families on the basis of
family size, and that the GVN regards giving birth as a
fundamental human right. A/S Dewey said that the USG wants
to work with Vietnam using the voluntary/informed choice
approach. End Summary.
2. (U) A/S Dewey, EAP/BCLTV Desk Officer Charles Jess,
Charge Porter, and Poloff met with National Committee for
Population, Family, and Children's Affairs Vice Chairman
Phung Ngoc Hung on August 14. Also on the Vietnamese side
were Nguyen Van Tan, Chief of the Executive Office; Ta Thanh
Hang, the Deputy Chief of the Department of International
Cooperation; Pham Ba Nhat, the Chief of the Population
Department; and Le Do Ngoc, the Chief of the Family
3. (U) A/S Dewey said he had heard positive things about
population issues in Vietnam and was interested in hearing
from the officials responsible. Vice-Chairman Hung welcomed
A/S Dewey on behalf of the committee and explained that the
committee was new, having been created in August 2002 by the
merger of the Committee for Family Planning and Population
and the Committee for the Protection of Children. He noted
that the Chair of the committee (Ms. Le Thi Thu) is a member
of the cabinet, and also a minister. The reason the
Committee is not itself called a ministry is that the
Committee also includes the deputy ministers of Justice,
Health, Education, and Public Security. "Many" mass
organizations also assist the committee, and the deputy
chiefs of those organizations are also members of the
committee, he added. The Committee employs a total of about
300 cadres.
4. (U) Vice chairman Hung said that, while the GVN had been
trying to control population growth since 1961, it had only
been successful since 1993. According to Hung, the birth
rate had fallen from 3.8 children/woman of childbearing age
in 1989 to 2.2 in 2003. In addition, he noted, the number
of children desired by women of childbearing age in 1988 was
3.3, but fell to 2.4 in 2003. The Vice chairman attributed
the success of the program to the efforts and commitment of
the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and mass organizations
under the Vietnam Fatherland Front, and noted the assistance
of other countries, especially NGOS from the United States.
5. (U) The Vice chairman expressed his concern that the
situation in the Central Highlands, among ethnic minorities,
and in the mountainous northwest was not improving as
rapidly as in other parts of the country, however. In
contrast to the national average, the number of children of
woman of childbearing age in the mountainous regions was
3.4. In the Central Highlands specifically it was 4.3. The
consequences of this, he said, was increased migration to
the major cities from these more heavily populated and
poorer areas. The Committee intended to address the problem
by focusing on the Population Ordinance ratified in February
2002 and which came into effect on May 1, 2003. (reftel)
6. (U) Hung emphasized that the ordinance's basic principles
guarantee and respect the right "freely and responsibly to
choose the size of the family." At the same time, the law
declares the responsibility of the entire society to carry
out family planning and population tasks. The GVN, Hung
said, continues to encourage people to have small, healthy
families so they can avoid hunger and illness. The GVN also
emphasizes to families that smaller family sizes enable
better prenatal care and healthier children.
7. (U) In response to A/S Dewey's question regarding
incentives or penalties for families having more or less
children, Hung stated that there was no doctrine, law, or
policy in Vietnam applying fines or incentives to families
on the basis of family size. The GVN, he emphasized,
regards giving birth as a fundamental human right.
Population policy focused on propaganda and education so
that people would make the right decisions on family size.
In Vietnam, he added, independent and social organizations
elicited family commitments to have only one or two
children. Chief of the Population Department Pham Ba Nhat
added his own personal experience, noting that he himself
had three children, and that neither he nor his family faced
any sanction or harassment. Nhat observed that "here and
there" the media might report differently, but that the GVN
was dedicated to a policy of "awareness and voluntarism" to
control population. He said that many World Bank experts
and American experts had visited villages and communes where
family planning projects were underway. These experts
completely supported the extension of the projects to other
areas, he stressed. (Note: Le Dinh Phuong, the head of the
International Cooperation Department, made a similar point
the previous evening at a reception at the Charge's
residence. When asked about Vietnamese population policy,
he declared that coercive measures were "totally
ineffective" and "no longer" used in Vietnam. Tran Tien
Duc, Country Director of POLICY Vietnam -- a Vietnamese NGO
and USAID partner -- agreed. End note.)
8. (U) Le Do Ngoc, the Chief of the Family Department,
stated that Vietnam was the first in Asia (and the second in
the world) to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child. After the ratification, he added, Vietnam had issued
two laws: the first was on the universalization of primary
education, and the second was on the protection and care of
children. Of greatest concern now, he said, was the
protection of "special children," including homeless
children and the disabled. He explained that the rights of
children to care, education, entertainment, and opinions
were assured by the population, families, and children
system. Most children in Vietnam could go to school, he
said, and were covered under the immunization program. Ngoc
admitted greatest challenges in mountainous and remote
areas, including the Central Highlands, but said that the
GVN was dealing successfully with children's problems in
those areas thanks to funding and technical assistance from
international organizations and "from the United States."
9. (U) Ngoc stated that in the 20 years he had been working
on the issue of children's welfare there had never been as
much government attention, but the issue had never been as
complicated as it is now. In the past, he said, the country
was poor but the children were all right. Now, he said, the
country was richer but the children had more problems. He
listed several, including:
- Children from the countryside living on the street in
the cities;
- 300,000 children disabled from contact with toxic
- Children who had contacted HIV/AIDS;
- Children without parents, or from divorced families;
- Children who were in accidents and were disabled;
- Children who fled the flooded Mekong region to come to
Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.
To resolve these difficult issues, Vietnam needed resources
and technology, Ngoc said. He said he hoped Vietnam could
call on U.S. experience to help resolve these problems.
10. (U) A/S Dewey praised the Committee's presentation as
encouraging and clear, noting that the GVN's stated
population policies indicated that the emphasis in Vietnam
is on informed choice, the rights of women, and the right to
choose the number and spacing of children. Dewey said he
hoped that other countries that have coercive policies would
review Vietnam's record and learn from Vietnam's lessons.
The USG, he said, wanted to work with Vietnam using the
voluntary/informed choice approach. A/S Dewey added that
the USG was in negotiations with China regarding the return
of the U.S. to the UN Population Fund, and that, if
successful, many countries -- including Vietnam -- would
11. (U) COMMENT: The GVN's population policy and the
commitment of its senior officials are clearly against
coercive measures to control population. Propaganda efforts
and local peer pressure are the preferred solution, although
the references to occasional reports of abuses at the local
level suggest that peer pressure may sometimes cross the
line into coercion. Still, reports of coercion are
relatively rare and it seems reasonable to take the GVN's
description of a voluntary/informed choice approach at face
value. End comment.
12. (U) A/S Dewey did not have a chance to clear this
message before departing.
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