The health ministry is finalising amendments to the draft Civil Code law, which is likely to acknowledge transgender people and their rights for the first time in Vietnam.

Nguyen Huy Quang, head of the ministry's legal department, said although Vietnam has banned transgender surgery and has not recognised transgender people, several of them went abroad for surgery.

Quang said the ministry is still collecting opinions on the alternative of not recognising transsexual people as is done at present, or recognising transgender people and their surgery under the supervision of authorised agencies.

"Personally, I prefer to address the fact and solve it," he said. "This is the right to live with their true gender."

Quang said currently, Vietnam does not allow transgender activities. However, up to 1,000 people have gone abroad for transgender surgeries. This caused huge expenditure for the transgender people and posed potential risks, as most got the surgery done at unlicensed health clinics. Worse, they became ‘invisible' after returning to Vietnam as they are not recognised legally. The photos on their legal papers such as identity cards and passports did not match their new appearance, causing them a lot of problems, he said.

Statistics from the Institute of Environmental Health Studies show about half a million people have unclear gender in Vietnam. These people feel they are of the opposite sex.

Twenty countries legally recognise transgender activities. In Asia alone, five countries — India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Thailand — allow transgender surgery.-VNA