European ministers told to encourage baby boom

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The ministers called for more government support for people wanting to have children.

Vienna -- The falling birth rate and economic crisis make it crucial for governments to support families who desire more children, the Council of Europe said Tuesday.

"The decision to have children is first and foremost an individual choice, but ... it must be a real choice," deputy secretary-general Maud de Boer-Buquicchio told journalists at the start of a two-day conference of family affair ministers from the council's 47 member states.

"Ministers of family affairs (must) lift any obstacles which could exist," she added.

According to a council report presented at the conference, the birth rate among member states varied immensely, from over 1.8 children per woman in Scandinavian countries to less than 1.4 in many eastern European countries.

And while child support, parental leave and good childcare facilities exist in most countries, these measures could be streamlined for all of Europe.

Paid maternity leave for instance varied between six weeks in Portugal to 52 weeks in Bosnia, Bulgaria and Serbia, and paternity leave went from two days in Greece and the Netherlands to 12 weeks in Slovenia, according to the report.

In Austria, most men and women said they wanted two children, but the real rate just below 1.4 children per woman, noted state secretary for economy, family and youth Christine Marek, whose ministry helped organise the conference.

In countries with fewer measures to support families, there were fewer children, she added.

Europe's birth rate must remain around 2.1 children per woman to prevent a drop in population.

In a draft statement seen by AFP, the conference urged incentives to encourage working mothers, to allow fathers to take care of their children and permit young people to have children while continuing their studies.

"In the current economic financial crisis, there is a risk that availability of funding for social services is going to be reduced ... this is a very serious issue," de Boer-Buquicchio warned.

"Family and work are not a contradiction," Marek said, adding that she hoped "that in the future more and more countries will be able to realise their wish to have children."

"We need more children than we have now, and we want more children," she said.


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