Young couples with family. Image by senivpetro via FreePix under creative commons license

Constitution obliged to help young couples


President Sergio Mattarella said Friday that it is a Constitutional obligation for the political world to help young couples start families.

In a message to a conference on reversing declining birth rates, the President said, “The country’s future depends on its ability to respond to the (needs of) younger generations,” Mattarella.

In a message to Family Minister Eugenia Maria Roccella for a conference entitled ‘For a Young Europe: Demographic Transition, Environment, Future”, the President continued.

“It is necessary for the institutions to be aware of this and implement active policies that allow young couples to realise their life plans, overcoming the difficulties of a material nature and those regarding access to services that make the path to parenthood difficult.

“It is a question of implementing what is dictated by the Constitution”.

 Premier Giorgia Meloni has said that reversing Italy’s declining birth rate is among her government’s top priorities. The 2024 budget bill allocates €2.5billion to addressing this issue.

“The demographic challenge, and the economic sustainability to which it is connected, is one of the main challenges for us,” she said.

“There is no point in managing the present, if the future is not secure.

“The government has the responsibility to guarantee a future for the nation.

“The approach with which this government is addressing these issues marks a fundamental change of pace compared to the past.

“Public spending to support births is good spending, with a very high multiplier effect. It cannot be considered in the same way as other budget expenditure.”

The budget includes measures for nurseries, tax breaks for firms that give working mothers permanent job contracts and payment of the social-security contributions of women who have two children or more.

Italian birth rate trend “serious”

National statistics agency Istat revealed provisional birth rate figures for 2023 last month. 2023 saw a 3.6% drop in births compared (14,000 in real terms) to 2022. This follows a drop of 7,000 in 2022 compared to 2021.

“The Italian birth-rate trend is serious,” Roccella told the conference.

“Inattention to this issue lasted too many years not to leave consequences and it will take a long time to halt and then reverse the trend.

 “The decline in the number of women of childbearing age is now too pronounced for birth rate measures to have the same effect as they would have had when the number of young women was still high”.

Surrogacy not seen as an option to address low birthrate

Despite the low birthrate, Meloni is still stating that surrogacy is inhuman. She is backing the bill to make the practice a ‘universal crime’.

On Friday, Meloni told the same conference, “I continue to believe that surrogacy is an inhuman practice.”  “I support the bill that makes it a universal crime. I hope it is approved as soon as possible”.

Surrogacy is already illegal in Italy but, by making it a universal crime, the bill, presented by Meloni’s right-wing Brothers of Italy (FdI) party, would make it possible to prosecute Italians who resort to using surrogate mothers in countries like Spain and the US where the practice is legal.

The bill, which is now before the Senate, would punish involvement in surrogacy with fines of up to €1million, as well as two-year jail terms.

Pope Francis has also repeatedly criticised surrogacy. The Vatican said in a new document on human dignity that it wants to see a “universal” ban on the practice.

Low birth rate not just an economic issue

Whilst many couples would like to raise a family but find it economically unviable, there are also other issues at hand.

Many women would like to focus on a career uninterrupted by maternity leave. This should also be seen as a human right. Women are not machines to churn out child after child. Biologically, it is in the hands of women. However, times are moving on and not every woman wants to be tied – and it is a lifetime commitment – to a family. Making maternity leave compulsory for 5 months (for employees) could be a career risk some women are not willing to take.

More and more couples are opting out of parenthood as they see the future as bleak for potential offspring. With climate change, wars, and dubious practices being carried out by governments across the world, the future is not looking bright. To that end, some couples are deciding not to bring more children into an uncertain world.

Quite simply, a growing number of people just do not want children. No longer is it seen as a ‘must do’ to make your life complete. Other experiences in the world are more easily available without the ‘baggage’ of children.

It will be interesting to see whether the budget incentives offered by Meloni’s government make a difference to the birth rate in the coming years. Because you can be sure, the budget does not address any of the issues mentioned above.

Perhaps a legitimate and concerted effort to address environmental issues, misogyny and remove obligatory maternity leave will have a positive impact aligned with the economic incentives.

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