Macedonia Mulls Ways to Tackle Baby Shortage

Macedonia plans fresh measures to boost population growth amind growing official panic over falling birthrate and rising number of pensioners.Amid talk of a growing demographic crisis in the country, Macedonia’s Social Affairs Minister, Spiro Ristovski, says the government is working on a new set of measures to combat what he calls the “demographic recession”.

“We are talking about a range of measures and activities in the education system, migration and infrastructure policies, economic development and the fight against poverty and social exclusion” Ristovski said.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski dedicated an entire speech to what he called the demographic crisis in Macedonia.

Referring to the tumbling birth rate and rising number of old people, the premier said that demographic changes posed a greater existential threat than the global economic crisis.

He noted that the current fertility rate of 1.4 children per mother was far below the minimum of 2.1 needed to maintain the population.

He also noted that only 22,000 children were born in 2011, as opposed to 40,000 in 1980, a drop of almost 50 per cent.

Gruevski said the population was also rapidly aging, with a ratio of employed people to pensioners of 1.7 to 1, as opposed to almost 5 to 1 in 1980.

“The trend is obvious” and “we have to fight it united”, Gruevski said.

While the basic facts of the demographic crisis are indisputable, the Prime Minister’s socially conservative agenda has angered human rights activists, who fear he is using the problem to attack women’s rights and the rights of sexual minorities.

“We are now debating perverted values, same-sex marriages or even adoption of children in those marriages, some kind of women’s rights, or men’s rights… and while spending energy on these issues, as a state we are running out of people,” the Prime Minister said.

The former head of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Mirjana Najcevska, urged the state commission against discrimination and the ombudsman’s office to take action against Gruevski for his words.

The Prime Minister’s speech “discriminated not only against women and but also against groups with different sexual orientations,” she said.

In 2009, the Gruevski government launched an attempt to boost population growth only to cross swords with the Constitutional Court.

In April that year the Court scrapped a provision in the child protection law that allowed cash bonuses to mothers with more than one child on the grounds that it was discriminatory.

This is because it envisaged state help only for mothers living in mainly ethnic Macedonian areas with a low average birth rate.

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