Most European countries have long suffered from a demographic crisis. Among them is Ukraine, which, according to the Countrymeters calculator, will lose 152,881 of its inhabitants this year alone. For many years, the low birth rate has been one of the key factors in Ukraine’s population decline. Unfortunately, its dynamics are lower than the death rate. Promote Ukraine asked the experts why such a situation has developed in Ukraine and how the state should support young parents?
Maria Yemelyanenko, political analyst
A baby’s arrival is by far the most exciting event in the life of any family, regardless of nationality. At the same time, the modern world offers young women many opportunities for self-development, often tempting them to postpone having children until later. A mother-to-be is often faced with the employer’s reluctance to “be in her shoes” and “understand the situation” related to future parenthood. Everything is usually complicated by typical bureaucratic procedures. Because of them, parents should spend the lion’s share of time after the birth of a child (and a postnatal medical leave lasts mainly two months) in the registration queue, and not alone with the baby.
Different European countries have a well-known practice of implementing financial programmes to boost the birth rate. Ukraine also has experience of its own measures, which over the past half-century have supported the country’s residents several times, increasing their life expectancy. This year, a powerful example of support for young parents was the introduction of a comprehensive service e-Maliatko, the multi-donor project initiated by the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine. Previously, in order to receive the necessary government services, parents had to visit about 11 institutions, collect almost 37 documents and spend about 10 days on this. e-Maliatko is a service that combines all services related to the birth of a child into one application. It can be submitted with the help of an administrator at a maternity hospital, administrative service centres or departments of state registration of civil status acts, as well as online on the public services portal Diia from 5 October 2020.
Tetiana Lupova, political expert
Since 1991, the birth rate in Ukraine has halved from 630,800 children in 1991 to 308,800 in 2019. Since 2013, this decline has accelerated. We can say that the main factors in reducing the birth rate are the unstable social and economic situation in the country, including the mass departure of Ukrainians to work abroad, and the insecurity of women. The factors also include a great number of domestic violence incidents, employment problems and lower wages compared to men, and problems with access to preschool education. This, of course, is connected with the hostilities in the east of the country: many young people of childbearing age were killed and post-traumatic stress disorder is of frequent occurrence among the population of Ukraine.
These are the main factors, but it is not an exhaustive list of issues that influence young people’s decisions to give birth.
By the way, the new bill on allowing dads to take paid parental leave should have a positive impact, although it will not change the situation globally.
To improve the birth rate, the state should take a range of measures to ensure, first and foremost, the financial and social security of citizens. Among the main measures are the availability of healthcare, preschool, school and out-of-school education, housing programmes for youth, employment programmes for young professionals, and the development of small and medium-sized businesses.
This is a standard, well-known set of tools to help improve the demographic situation. However, as practice shows, it is a long way. If the state is really interested in rejuvenating the population and increasing its number, we will have to use the practice of European countries. They opened the door to migrants from less developed countries.
In this regard, the UAE’s practice is interesting. The country has created convenient conditions for doing business and comfortable living – no taxes, a high level of security for citizens due to minimal crime rate, and easy access to medical services.
Unfortunately, we will hardly be able to create such conditions in our country in the near future. Moreover, if we open the door to migrants, we will have to solve a lot of new problems related to both the crime situation and access to healthcare, which, as the situation with the global pandemic shows, is insufficient even for the existing population. When solving current problems, it is important not to create new ones that the country cannot resolve or prevent.
Oleksandr Zakrynychny, human rights activist
The world experience shows that fertility rates are higher in countries with a short life expectancy, low social status of women, low level of education, and the like. The highest birth rates are observed in countries such as Somalia, Niger, Mali, Uganda, and in Tajikistan among the countries of the former USSR.
In Ukraine, this rate is even higher than in Singapore, Japan or Germany. Financial incentive programmes for birth rate were introduced in many countries around the world, but the only result is that families have started giving birth a few years earlier, and the overall birth rate has not changed over several years.
It should be admitted that many social factors affect the birth rate, and its decline is an inevitable consequence of economic and social progress. Therefore, the birth rate cannot be considered either as an indicator of public health or the effectiveness of the health care system. However, healthcare alone is not enough to increase life expectancy; measures are needed at the level of the whole society. They were successfully implemented in many developed countries but went unnoticed in Ukraine, which led to rather sad consequences.
I believe that in order for Ukrainians to want to have children, it is not enough to provide them with state social benefits. As practice has shown, child benefits encourage the birth of children in low-income families who count on such financial assistance. To balance fertility and mortality, more systematic approaches must be introduced: the development of the economy, social standards, life in general. And when citizens begin to see the development of the country and their individual economic growth, confidence is formed. I hope that if we start to make these changes now, the result will be noticeable in 10-20 years.
In addition to the financial component, the birth rate is affected by changes in social values and worldview. Family and children, of course, remain important, but higher levels are occupied by career, a desire to become self-fulfilled and live a full life at one’s own pace. Sometimes all this displaces uncertainty about the future, an unhealthy lifestyle, common carelessness and neglect of life. If the right steps are not taken, Ukraine’s population will continue to decline.
Oleksandr Khmelevsky, Ph.D. in Economics, independent expert
Scientists have long found that the birth rate in a country depends on the state of its economy. Even war does not harm demography as much as the economic crisis. At this time, the birth rate falls as people lose their jobs, businesses, their incomes decrease, savings are spent. People are unsure of their future and do not know if they will be able to feed their children.
The economic crisis in Ukraine has been going on for 30 years. From a developed industrial country, Ukraine has turned into a backward agrarian country. A significant part of the population does not associate their future with the country. People go abroad to earn money en masse, families are destroyed, children are left without parental care. Only Ukraine’s exit from the economic crisis and return to the path of sustainable development will help overcome the demographic crisis. Other measures can temporarily raise the birth rate slightly.
The incentive measures in Ukraine offer child benefit which amounts to UAH 41,280 in 2020. This sum has not changed since 2014, although the hryvnia exchange rate has depreciated more than twice over this period. Also, in 2014, the child benefit for a second or third child was canceled. In addition, in 2014, child benefits, assistance to single mothers and other social benefits were limited. All of these factors affected the birth rate.
Extortion of money by doctors at the birth of a child remains a shameful phenomenon in Ukraine. If someone wants the childbirth to go without problems, and have the mother and child stay in more or less decent conditions, they will have to pay a bribe to the doctor, or a tidy sum to various semilegal funds. Thus, a person will have to pay USD 1,000 or even more for the birth of a child in Kyiv. Such exactions deter families from having children. The authorities must put an end to this and ensure that childbirth is absolutely free.
Housing conditions are also a big obstacle to the birth of children. Many young families do not have their own housing. They are often forced to live with their parents. Therefore, there is simply no place for children.
In Ukraine, there are programmes to promote youth housing. In particular, for certain categories of citizens, the state pays from 30% to 50% of the cost of housing. However, these programmes are very limited, and very few young people can buy an apartment this way. In 2020, due to the crisis, the state budget does not envisage funds for the purchase of youth housing at all. The authorities should expand housing programmes for young people, as well as introduce a programme of preferential loans for the purchase of housing.
A big problem in big cities is the lack of places in kindergartens. The authorities in some cities transferred municipal kindergartens to private individuals, who set huge fees for a child’s stay there. In Kyiv, the cost of attending a kindergarten is sometimes higher than studying at a prestigious university. Many young parents cannot enrol their children in kindergarten, and have no one to leave them with. Kindergartens need to be returned to local communities. It is also necessary to launch a programme for the construction of new kindergartens. The payment for a children’s stay there should be significantly reduced.