Some ethnic groups are on the decline because of inbreeding, according to the General Office for Population and Family Planning's Population Research and Development Centre.

The groups include the Si La in the northern mountainous province of Dien Bien, the Lo Lo and Mong in northern Ha Giang province, the Ro Man and the Brau in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum.

In these tribal groups, it is quite acceptable - and traditional - for cousins to marry to maintain family properties.

The population centre's survey in six communes in Kon Tum province's Sa Thay, Ngoc Hoi and Kon Plong districts in 2012's last six months found 350 early marriages, n early 60 of them between cousins and other close relatives.

Another survey in Lao Cai province's nine districts and cities last year found nearly 250 similar couples.
Duong Ba Truc, head of the National Paediatrics Hospital clinical ward, said that many of the tribal children suffered from Thalassaemia, an inherited blood disorder, due to inbreeding.

They had to go to hospitals occasionally for blood transfusions.

"While they are very poor, they have to buy the blood. The parents cannot give theirs because it is also affected by gene mutations," he said.

About 5 million Vietnamese children have hereditary diseases caused by gene mutations caused by close marriages. The gene leads to blood disorders and dwarfism, according to the hospital.

Statistics from Lao Cai province's health sector also show that 50 out of 600 children born to close-marriage couples develop abnormally. They often suffer from albinism, are mentally retarded, paralytic or dumb.

Deputy chairman of the Ha Giang People's Committee Sen Chin Ly said that the local authorities will ask families to sign a pledge not to marry early or to close relatives.

The provincial Department of Health has decided to help People's Committees to manage population and family planning. They will also provide training for village-based midwives.

Ban Ngo commune in Xin Man district shows how ethnic marriage problems can be overcome, said Ly.

In 2009, eight out of the 22 new couples in the commune had early marriages. Three of the group were also involved in close marriages.

By 2011, the number of early-marriage couples had fallen to five out of 24 - and these were not close marriages.

The commune set up two clubs to explain the problems and has attracted 50 members.

Traditional artists are also being mobilised in many districts to promote modern outlooks on marriages - and, for some unexplained reason, funerals.

Members of the association, including shamans, have become experts at disseminating information on the subjects.

Traditional festivals may be promoted so that young people can make friends with those from other villages and families, according local officials.-VNA