Government approves national family policy

The Czech Republic currently has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, second only to Ukraine and China. Although there are conflicting views as to whether the state should interfere with demographic trends, the government has now approved a national family policy which would make it easier for Czechs to have children and enjoy parenthood.

Why are Czech women not having more children? When the demographic trend went into a steep decline after the fall of communism and young women started putting off having children, family experts attributed it to the fact that they wanted to travel, work on their careers and enjoy life before settling down and having babies later in life. But time has shown that the days of the average two-children family are well and truly over. Nowadays Czech women rarely chose to have more than one child - if any. Michaela Marksova Tominova from the family policy department of the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry says that being a parent is far from easy financially, but there is also more at stake.

"Financial support is not the only thing needed. I would say as well that the atmosphere in our society is not children-friendly. In west European countries if you go somewhere with a small child you are welcome. You are welcome in a restaurant, at an exhibition, public spaces are made for parents with small children - whereas in our country it is not like this. You could say that in Prague and some of the bigger cities restaurants have now started to be children-friendly, but still the feeling in Czech society is that if you have a very small child you should spend your evenings at home - and maybe during the day you can take the child to the park but you are not welcome in public places."

So it is a question of finances and not being able to lead a full life?

"I would say so. I am now 36 years old and have a three-year old child. And I remember thinking about it for a long time -whether I should have a child or not. And I didn't want to have a child much earlier."

Now Mrs. Marksova Tominova herself has helped to draft the national family policy that should make it easier for Czechs to have children and enjoy parenthood. The new policy should encourage fathers to take a more active part in child raising and enable parents to share the three year parental leave period as suits them best. Because the government's means of increasing financial support for families with children is fairly limited the idea is to allow parents to make more money - by working from home or taking a part time job -without losing child benefits. Various forms of tax relief should encourage firms to employ mothers with children and set up "children's corners". Kindergartens should be more flexible in meeting the work demands of parents by working longer hours.

Opposition politicians are sceptical, arguing that what families with children need is simply more money and that as far as kindergartens or firms are concerned the government can only make recommendations. Mrs. Marksova Tominova counters that you have to start somewhere:

"It is the first policy document dealing with family issues since 1989. It is very important to know that the government is acknowledging family issues and that it has been agreed that the family needs real official support."