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Politics

Vietnam's declining birthrate spells end of two-child policy

Move may make little difference as rising expenses hinder bigger families

HANOI -- The Vietnamese government is reversing its decadeslong policy in a bid to counter the country's aging population.

Earlier this month the country's health ministry began showing a negative view toward its de facto two-child policy when it said that couples should be able to decide how many children they want.

Although Vietnam's limitation was never as strict as China's, the government has encouraged families to have no more than two children. Outside of rural areas, most couples have only two offspring. 

There are no punitive measures for violation, but the 4.5 million members of the Communist Party and some government officials with three or more children have found themselves not getting promoted or relegated to lower-status jobs in smaller cities. 

The government is shifting gears amid the country's declining birthrate. In Vietnam, the average age of citizens is 28, however the ratio of people aged 65 or older is expected to rise to about 20% by 2032, from over 10% in 2012. The country could experience an aging society without enjoying the so-called demographic dividend in which a rising working-age population boosts economic growth. 

A 35-year-old female worker at a trading house in Hanoi said ordinary citizens are having no more than two children not because of the government's policy, but because of costs, such as education. 

Some experts say that abolishing the policy will only benefit the privileged, such as executives of the Communist Party and state-run companies. Many of these senior officials have no male heirs and want to have a third child. 

Vietnam is one of the fastest-growing economies in Southeast Asia but has been witnessing widening disparities between the rich and the poor. The country should enhance its social welfare system to ensure that even those less well-off can nurture children without fear of what the future will bring. 

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