Legal limbo pushes transgender people to unsafe medical services

Transgender people in Vietnam have struggled to access hormone treatment, psychological consulting and sex reassignment surgery due to lack of a transgender law, despite one being discussed four years ago.

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Transgender people join Hanoi Pride parade – an annual event celebrating gender diversity. (Photo courtesy of Hanoi Pride)
Representatives from Ministry of Health (MoH), the Institute for Legislative Studies under National Assembly and Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA) voiced the warning at a conference on transgender rights on December 3.

They said an estimated 500,000 Vietnamese transgender people would continue facing direct health threats by using non-prescribed hormone replacement therapy and unsafe surgical services.

According to a survey of 150 transgender people in Hanoi, Nghe An and HCM City, only 7.1 percent have consulted physicians for hormone use while more than 53 percent have never had any psychological consultation to prepare for the treatment.

Hospitals in Vietnam are not allowed to offer sex reassignment surgery, so most transgender people have turned to other countries for medical interventions, mostly the neighbouring Thailand, a global destination for gender change.

Up to half of those surveyed said they did not have any post-surgical care.
Most of them sought information about gender-transition medical services from the transgender community.

“Although hormone replacement therapy is a double-edged sword, most of them follow their friends’ advice rather than professional consultancy,” said Pham Nguyen Ha, a member of the research group from the non-governmental organisation Information Centre.   

Besides, transgender people face an uncertain future after undergoing sex reassignment surgeries including unemployment, harassment and discrimination, she said.

In November 2015, Vietnam made a breakthrough by recognising transgender people and allowing sex changes on legal documents.

The amended Civil Code, which took effect from January 2017, allows transgender people who have received sex assignment surgery to register as their new gender.

Despite this progress, a draft law protecting the legal status and rights of transgender people – both those who have undertaken sex reassignment surgery and who have not – has still not been submitted to the National Assembly nor featured on its official legislative programme.

“It actually offers us more time to develop and carefully evaluate the draft law,” claimed Dinh Thi Thu Thuy from the Legal Department under the Ministry of Health.

According to Thuy, the draft has some controversial contents that need further discussion, including only allowing single people to get hormone replacement therapy or those who have undertaken the therapy for a year to receive surgery.

“If transgender people decide to have sex reassignment, the process cannot be undone. These provisions aim to give them time to adapt, experience and reflect to clearly make up their mind,” Thuy said.

Sharing the concerns, Luong The Huy from the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE), stressed the lack of policies and medical services friendly to the transgender community.

“Threats also come from unready healthcare and legal systems which do not create favourable conditions for transgender people to ensure their safety and obtain their rights, not just the gender transition process itself,” he said.
VNA

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