Tue, Dec 11, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Serbia seeks baby boom, but policies are criticized

AFP, BELGRADE

“Give birth, don’t delay,” says a rousing call by the Serbian state to young couples.

“Let babies’ cries be heard!” is another of the baby-making slogans Serbia is busy producing while it struggles to increase actual births.

Women say they need better support, not words of encouragement to boost the country’s population. Massive emigration coupled with a plummeting birthrate — which at 1.5 children per family is among the lowest in Europe — has brought Serbia’s population down to fewer that 7 million people.

According to the UN, Serbia’s population is expected to shrink a further 15 percent by 2050.

Desperate to reverse the trend, Serbian officials have made some head-scratching proposals, including a plan announced in June to construct “lower-story homes” in areas with the lowest birthrates.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said it was based on a study that showed couples have nearly double the number of children in two-to-four-story homes than in towering apartment blocks.

The comments befuddled the local press, with one newspaper going on an unsuccessful hunt to find any academic expert who had heard of such a study, discovering only “laughs.”

Serbian Minister Without Portfolio Slavica Djukic Dejanovic, who is in charge of demographics and population policy, nevertheless defended the idea that environment can play a role.

“It is a fact that on the edge of big cities where settlements include yards where kids play and parents have a coffee ... that kids’ joy and cries could be heard more often,” she told reporters.

In February, Djukic Dejanovic announced a campaign to tackle the declining numbers and awarded the best pro-birth slogan in a nationwide cash-prize competition.

Among the winners were: “Mum, I don’t want to be alone. Dad, I want a brother” and “Love and babies are what we need first!”

The ministry would also introduce an award called “The Best Family Friend” for companies that support young parents, Djukic Dejanovic said.

A new maternity care law passed last year provides some additional aid for parents who have a third or fourth child, entitling them to 10 years of 30,000 dinars (US$280) in monthly support.

That led Vucic to proclaim: “A mother who gives birth to a third and a fourth child will have 30,000 dinars a month from the state to do nothing ... just to give birth.”

However, critics say the law excludes many would-be mothers.

The full package of state aid for maternity leave is only available to women who have been working without interruption for 18 months.

“What about many women who either do unregistered work in the gray economy or volunteer in public service, like doctors or lawyers, without any payment?” asked Tatjana Macura, an opposition member of parliament who has been advocating to change the law on behalf of non-governmental organization Mame Su Zakon (Moms Rule).

The law also offers minimal maternity support to unemployed women in a country where the youth jobless rate was more than 30 percent last year.

Many women are also afraid to take maternity leave because it remains common for businesses to fire them afterward, despite the practice being illegal, Macura said.

The new maternity law also cuts support for women earning more than 1,200 euros (US$1,370) per month.

Instead of receiving five months of salary during maternity leave as the previous law allowed, they would only receive three.

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