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25 January 2023, 15:57

Family capital, free IVF, maternity support. How does Lukashenko deal with demographic problems?

Over the past 10 years the number of parents with many children in Belarus has doubled. Today there are 121,000 families in the country raising three or more children. Of course, this is not by chance. The government constantly invests in families. While last year more than Br2.5 billion was allocated to support them, this year the figure will be Br3.2 billion. But there are also concrete benefits and guarantees in addition to payments. About 7% of the GDP is spent annually to make Belarusian families feel more secure. In the new episode of BelTA's YouTube project After the Fact: Lukashenko's Decisions we will talk about how the state invests in families, why Belarusian women are having children later in life and how our country remains in the top of the most comfortable countries for mothers.

What kind of support do Belarusian large families enjoy?

“One child is your child. Two children? Let's look at the family, maybe someone needs support, but they are your children, too. But the third child is mine. I remember meeting with a women's group at some factory. All of them were young women. And they started talking about children. I said: ‘Let's agree: the third child is mine and a little bit yours. The fourth is 100%, and the fifth child and the next ones are mine. Agreed?' They were silent... I say: ‘Why aren't you saying anything?' ‘Oh, we will have to give a birth after all.' ‘Well, I can't give birth instead of you,' I say,” the head of state said in an address to the nation and the parliament more than ten years ago, in 2011.

Maternity benefits, childcare allowance for children up to the age of three, and bonuses for the eldest child if there are two children. And if anyone thinks that maternity pay is modest, tell that to U.S. mothers, for example. There is no paid leave in the USA at all. Three years of maternity leave is a luxury European women cannot afford. In Germany, for example, only 8 weeks are set aside for recovery after childbirth. 16 weeks in Spain. And no one cares about breastfeeding or the emotional connection between the mother and the baby.

In 2015 Belarus launched a family capital program. At that time parents were supposed to get $10,000 in the Belarusian equivalent at the birth or adoption of the third and subsequent children. Initially, the money could be used when the child came of age. Five years later the president prolonged the program. And not without reason. It is clear that the happiness of parenthood cannot be bought or sold, but knowing that you have financial resources to lean on, even at the stage of family planning, is extremely important.

“Families with many children are granted the maximum guarantees and those are somewhat larger in comparison with guarantees for other families. I will mention the main ones. These are the family capital, support for building or buying a home in the form of preferential loans, financial assistance, and targeted subsidies. Labor guarantees. The most popular one is a day off from work, which large families can enjoy and get paid for it,” said Svetlana Belash, Head of the Population, Gender and Family Policy Office of the Labor and Social Protection Ministry.

There are also guarantees and benefits concerning pensions for mothers of many, the official said. “Today mothers with 5 or more children retire 5 years earlier, and mothers with 4 children get a reduced length of pensionable service. There are a number of guarantees in the field of taxation. Reduced customs payments for importing cars for personal use are also a popular measure. There is a 50% reduction in customs duties,” Svetlana Belash added.

What do Belarusians spend family capital on?

“Do you have children and how many?” This question is very often asked by the head of state. And it doesn't matter where and on what occasion the president speaks to the people. Whether it is the harvesting of crops or the opening of an enterprise. During the entire existence of the Family Capital project, almost 122,000 deposits have been opened. This is a personal account to the tune of Br29,950. The money can be used ahead of time, for example, to build or buy a home, to pay off a loan, to study, or for medical services.

“As of 1 January more than half of the families with many children already use the family capital money. The most popular option for early use is improvement of housing conditions. About 75% of the decisions were made with this in mind in 2022. The demand for services in the field of education is increasing. 10% of the decisions made in 2022 focused on education. And the demand for medical services is rising, too,” said Svetlana Belash.

Supporting mothers and children is a national priority. The social and economic development program and the demographic security program provide for this, too. Moreover, traditional family values are guaranteed by the Constitution, which says in black and white that marriage is the union of a man and a woman while the family, motherhood, fatherhood and childhood are under the protection of the state. And this is the choice of the majority of Belarusians, who cast their votes in favor of the updated Constitution. Sociological surveys also show that 98% of the population of Belarus believe that the family is the most important part of life.

How does the state help families with two kids?

“Two children is a must. And having three, four children should be encouraged. As the benefits are reduced, the money will be directed here. At least as long as I am the president, this sphere will not be neglected. We should pay the most serious attention to it. If we have absolutely no money, for example, for housing construction, for supporting and preferences for housing construction, it is our priority, then we will give the last bit of money to large families for housing construction. We should proceed from this,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated back in August 2014.

The position of the head of state is unchanged. Even now, in the situation of unprecedented sanctions, not a single social program has been terminated. Belarus will provide housing to parents with many children within two years at most. It is also the president's decision. 8,000 large families got the keys to new apartments last year alone. People sometimes criticize large families, saying that all benefits are given to you, while we, for example, have two children and get nothing... But is it really so?

Svetlana Belash said: “Support for families with 2 children is not much less than support for families with many children. Take a look at the system of state benefits for families raising children. Allowances are allocated for every child at birth, regardless of whether it is one, two or three or more children. There are no separate allowances for families with many children. Benefits are increased with the birth of the second child.”

There are also multiple other measures designed to support families raising kids, the official stressed. “Children go to kindergarten. Parents pay only for meals for the children. If there are two pre-school children, the fee is reduced by 30%. Families with many children receive a 50% reduction. Public transportation is free for schoolchildren during the entire education period. No matter how many children are in the family. There are preferences for paying for school meals. Children from any family in primary schools receive free meals. Again, regardless of whether the family has two children or many children,” the Labor and Social Protection Ministry specialist said.

What are the reasons granting a free IVF attempt in Belarus?

If only the birth rate solely depended on material wealth... While some live for themselves, building careers, hesitating and reflecting, others dream for years of hearing the cherished word “mom”. Medical technologies help such couples. Of course, the procedure is complicated and not cheap. Different clinics around the world charge from $1,500 to $6,000 for a single procedure. Add to that the cost of consultations, examinations and tests. In our country it is not a VIP service. For two years already married couples have been able to make one free IVF attempt. The government will allocate another Br5.7 million for it this year.

“One free attempt is given to married couples if in vitro fertilization is a favorable option, if there are no contraindications and the wife is under 40,” said Leonid Neden, Chief Specialist of the Maternal and Child Care Department of the Healthcare Ministry. Citizenship of the Republic of Belarus is a condition, too.

The official noted that the procedure is performed in state healthcare institutions: the national applied science center Mother and Child, Minsk City Maternity Hospital No.2 as well as the Gomel Oblast Diagnostic Medical and Genetic Center Marriage and Family. “The program was launched in 2021. And 2021 saw 884 couples undergo free IVF therapy. In 2022, according to the latest information we have, about 2,000 IVF cycles were initiated. Efficiency of one free IVF attempt in state healthcare organizations is over 36%. I should note that this kind of aid is available in full and there is no waiting list for in vitro fertilization at the moment,” Leonid Neden concluded.

What is the optimal age for giving a birth?

Belarusian women give birth later in life now. And this is a fact. Although not only Belarusian girls first think about education, career and a home of their own. Women all over the world do not rush to go on maternity leave, although, as we remember, this concept does not exist in some countries. The once common and not very pleasant epithet "geriatric mother" does not frighten modern ladies.

“As the average age of a woman increases, her reproductive capacity changes. The ideal reproductive age is up to 35 years old, because later in life women can catch somatic diseases and have a greater risk of having children with chromosomal and genetic diseases,” said Venera Semenchuk, Deputy Director for Medical Expert Evaluation and Rehabilitation of the national applied science center Mother and Child.

The term “geriatric mother” was used in the past. It is no longer part of the daily parlance, the official noted. “Every woman has the right to realize her productive potential. Our healthcare system is designed to help them give birth. Our care is meant to help women detect these diseases at the level of pregnancy planning and to accompany and minimize risks relating to complications during pregnancy,” Venera Semenchuk concluded.

Of course, ideally everything in the family puzzle should come together: health, love and prosperity. Doctors will take care of the rest. The state will also lend a hand. It is not for nothing that Belarus is among the top 25 countries in the ranking of countries with comfortable conditions for motherhood.

“You cannot make a bang all of a sudden and abolish this support, benefits and so on. This will never happen as long as I am the president and you work with me! This is our achievement, we have to keep it! We see demographic security as the main emphasis of social policy of the future. No other matter is more important. We need solutions to create more comfortable conditions for young mothers to combine work and family, to receive education. For dads, too. In order to increase life expectancy, we will take early diagnosis of diseases to a new level. A very important problem. I have set the tasks and will control it uncompromisingly! Treat people any way you want, do whatever you want, but people have to live! This is the most important thing - to save a person's life!” the head of state guaranteed in an address to the nation and the parliament on 28 January 2022.

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