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#10 - JRL 7130
April 3, 2003
Duma fails to stimulate birth rate
By Viktoria Malyutina, Boris Sapozhnikov

On Wednesday State Duma deputies, together with government officials, debated measures for countering the demographic crisis in Russia, but stopped short of increasing the material assistance to young mothers.

Yesterday the State Duma held ''a government hour'', during which the Health and Labour Ministries officials briefed lawmakers on the current demographic situation in the country and shared their proposals as to how to overcome the crisis of sagging birth rates.

Government officials admitted that the situation ''remains grave'', though, as Deputy Health Minister Olga Sharapova imparted, at present, positive trends are taking shape in Russia. For instance, in the past year the number of abortions in the country has dropped dramatically. Sharapova noted that the number of abortions and the infant mortality rate in Russia decreased over the past five years as the economic situation in Russia has gradually improved. There were three abortions registered for every birth in Russian in 1997. That figure fell to 1.3 abortions for every birth last year. Furthermore, there has been a decrease in cases of pregnancy among girls aged 12-14.

At the same time the birth rate in the country remains low, amounting to only 1.25 children per woman, while the level required to keep the countrys population from falling is at least 2.15. At the same time, the majority of Russian women, nearly 80 per cent, still suffer complications during pregnancy.

To change the situation, the government officials have called for an increase in the financing of the domestic health care system, so that pregnant women, young mothers and children can get the necessary level of medical assistance.

In the opinion of the health officials, it is necessary to pay close attention to the state of health of children at kindergartens and schools, by increasing the amount of money allocated for breakfasts at schools (which currently does not exceed 3 roubles less than $0.1), and to help schools hire more nurses. Presently, one school nurse is in charge of 500 pupils. Also, the Health Ministrys representatives called for an increase in payments to women on maternity leave, and to step up the fight against abortion.

The Duma deputies, who took part in the debates, also made their proposals. Some of them suggested that the state should reward regions showing higher birth rates. Other interesting proposals were made on Wednesday during a round table discussion dedicated to the current demographic crisis in Russia and measures to overcome it.

Taking part in the discussion were academicians from the Russian Academy of Sciences, experts of the Family World (Mir Semyi) foundation and of the Centre for Demographic Studies. The participants admitted that the situation regarding the birth rate in present-day Russia is extremely complicated. According to deputy Sergei Glaziev, Russians are refusing to give birth to children, since the state ''lacks an ideology''. In response to that, someone suggested ''the businesswoman image be removed from TV''.

Deputy Chuyev reiterated earlier proposals on banning late abortions, and the draft bill on taxing childless workers, rejected by the lower house earlier this year, was also raised once again. Immediately afterwards, however, the State Duma refused to endorse amendments envisaging payments to young non-working mothers.

The deputies also reviewed amendments to the bill on welfare payments to citizens with children. If adopted, those amendments would entitle young non-working mothers to higher welfare payments. Presently, those women are entitled to a one-off payment of 4,500 roubles following childbirth, and 70 roubles per month for the next 1.5 years.

The new draft suggested an increase in monthly payments to non-working mothers up to 500 roubles per month. Given that over 300,000 Russian women need aid, enforcement of those amendments, should they be passed, would require 4.3 billion roubles. But the Labour Ministrys Galina Karelova said the bill was ''non-conceptual'', and it was rejected.

At the end of Wednesdays session the parliament also rejected the draft address to President Putin, asking him to take ''urgent measures to overcome the demographic crisis''. The draft wanted to see increases to the one-off payments to women who have just given birth; an increase in monthly payments to the level of the minimum monthly wage; help given to young parents in solving their housing problems, as well as the setting up of a special presidential organ for tackling maternity and child-related problems. The author of the document Chuyev was advised to write a bill, not just an address. But, he complained, it could take over a year before such a document is adopted.

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