The country's male-to-female sex ratio continued to widen in the first months of this year, reflecting a higher rate of abortions and a preference for sons, according to Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Viet Tien.

Out of 61 cities and provinces and cities, northern Hung Yen Province still has the highest average sex-ratio at birth of 131 boys for every 100 girls, Tien told Nhan Dan (The People) newspaper.

For the first five months of this year, the province's Nhu Quynh Town reported 38 female births out of 90 newborns.

Some of the province's communes such as Dinh Du, Chi Dao and Minh Hai had even more imbalanced ratios, with 257, 158 and 160 to every 100 girls, respectively.

Dr Pham Tuyet Mai, head of northern Hai Phong Obstetrics Hospital 's delivery ward, said the ratio in Hai Phong City in the first three months increased to 116 boys for every 100 girls for the mother's first birth, 111.3 boys for every 100 girls for the second birth and 146 boys for every 100 girls for the third birth.

According to Vinh Phuc Province 's report, its sex ratio at birth in the first four months of this year increased to 117.4 boys for every 100 girls.

The report showed that the ratio was widening rapidly.

For first and third births, the ratio remains high, especially among the high-income group.

Nguyen Thi Nga of Hai Phong City 's Centre for Population and Family said that most of families want to have sons in order to maintain the continuity of the family line and for security when they are old.

Luu Thi Hong, deputy head of Maternal and Child Health Department under the Ministry of Health, said that private health clinics are to blame for the continued gap as they provide counselling on how to have sons.

They also determine the gender of the foetus, which the law bans, and perform sex-selective abortions of female foetuses, she added.

Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan has asked the Ministry of Health to give guidance on working programmes to cities and provinces with the most imbalanced ratios.

Information will be given to the provincial and city Party committees and the People's Committees of nine provinces, Hung Yen, Hai Duong, Bac Ninh, Bac Giang, Nam Dinh, Hoa Binh, Quang Ngai, Quang Ninh and Vinh Phuc, and the city of Hai Phong .

Under these programmes, the ministry will try to control sex selection of foetuses.

Nhan has also asked the Ministry of Education and Training to offer teaching content at high schools on gender inequality, and reproductive education, as well as raise awareness among the general public.

Clinics that perform fetal gender diagnosis and sex-selective abortion should be punished and should cease their operations.

In January, the Ministry of Health signed an agreement with the Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, Vietnam Women Union's Central Committee and relevant authorities to conduct public education campaigns on issues of population and reproductive health.

The ministry has also provided updated information on population figures and reproductive health to the Ministry of Education and Training.-VNA