About 4 million Vietnamese males under the age of 50, or 12 percent of the population, might have difficulty finding wives over the next 37 years if the country fails to take steps to curb the increasing gender imbalance.

The prediction was announced by Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Viet Tien at a national conference on gender imbalance at birth, held in Hanoi on November 3.

Tien said one of target groups for education was the elderly who should be advised not to put pressure on their children to have sons.

The General Office for Population Family Planning said the birth ratio of boys to girls in Vietnam had increased from 110/100 only six years ago to 112.3/100 at present.

The rate was forecast to climb to 125/100 by 2020 unless urgent measures were taken.

At the conference, experts and officials analysed socio-cultural factors involved and agreed that the imbalance must be addressed urgently.

Planning Office Director Duong Quoc Trong said that in most areas of the country, the desire to have a son was obvious and people tried several ways to achieve their goal.

He said the highest rate of gender imbalance at birth is seen in economically developed areas, in prosperous families and in people with high education levels.

Last year the rate was 114.2/100 in urban areas compared to 111/100 in rural areas. The rate of children of illiterate women was 107/100 compared to educated women at 114/100.

Trong said that in urban areas, residents could easily access gender choice services. Before conceiving, couples often chose ultrasound and a genes test to help them have sons.

Some couples even said their daughters were adopted so they would have the right to continue bearing.

Trong said the consequences of gender imbalance at birth could not be seen immediately but 20 years later boys would face difficulties finding wives and many would have to emigrate to find a partner.

Meanwhile, prostitution, rape and women trafficking would increase, he said.

Christophe Guilmoto, an expert with the United Nations Population Fund, said Vietnam had developed a gender imbalance at birth later than other countries but the rate had increased more rapidly.

According to him, measures should target prosperous families with high education levels, to reduce their desire to have sons and their access to illegal gender diagnosis before birth.

It was necessary to stop pressure being put on families having daughters only and to increase women's value in families and in society, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan said bringing the rate down would require pressure in the political system and education.

He suggested the Health Ministry increase the quantity and quality of its grassroots communicators and teach sex education and gender affairs at schools.-VNA