By Hilary White

THUA THIEN-HUE province, Viet Nam, July 17 2009 ( – The communist government of Viet Nam is punishing couples with more than two children, a local Catholic news agency reports. Catholic villagers in Thua Thien-Hue province told the Union of Catholic Asian News they are being fined for having more than two children under a revived government two-child policy.

Catherine Pham Thi Thanh, 44, told the service that since 1996, she has been fined a total of 3,800 kilograms of rice for having six children. This represents a significant loss for the family which makes an annual profit of only 700 kilograms of rice from their 1,000 square-meter farm.

Despite the fact that Viet Nam now has a below-replacement rate of fertility – 1.83 children born per woman – the communist government in the early 1960s imposed a 2-child limit for couples. The UN's leading population control group, the UNFPA, has been active in contraception and abortion campaigns in the country since 1997.

In 2000, the BBC lauded the policy for having reduced the overall fertility rate from 3.8 children per woman to 2.3, but admitted that a “degree of coercion” was used to ensure compliance. This included fines, expulsion from the communist party and confiscation of land. The original policy was scrapped in 2003 but revived in 2008 after a 10 percent spike in the birth rate alarmed officials who never stopped “encouraging” couples to have only small families.

But even the UNFPA was reportedly “puzzled” by the revival.  “In Vietnam now life expectancy is rising, the fertility rate is decreasing and in the next 20 years many people will be in the senior group,” said Tran Thi Van, of UNFPA. “If there's not a sufficient labor force as the population is ageing, the country will face a lot of problems.”

Viet Nam is following China and India on the path of demographic imbalance. The combination of ultrasound tests to determine the sex of the child plus abortion to favor boys, has forced the male to female ratio of the population to climb to 112-100 in 2007.

The Union of Catholic Asian News spoke to the local parish priest, Fr Joseph Nguyen Van Chanh, who confirmed that 90 percent of his 1,200 parishioners have agreed to pay fines as a way to be faithful to Church teaching and said that Catholics are taught natural family planning methods during marriage preparation courses.

Some local Catholics, said Father Chanh, are asking for donations from benefactors to support local people with large families.