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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lyudmila Putin Calls for More Babies

APAnti-abortion activists lighting candles at a Moscow Orthodox church on Thursday, International Children's Day.
President Vladimir Putin's wife said creating incentives for Russian women to have children should be a top priority for the government, Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported Thursday.

In his state-of-the-nation address last month, Putin focused on the drop in the country's population, which plunged by about 4 percent to 142.7 million from 1993 to 2006, according to the Health and Social Development Ministry.

"The government has already supported women. All my friends are going to have children," Lyudmila Putin said during a recent panel discussion, excerpts of which were published in the newspaper.

"If a woman has the [proper] conditions for having a baby, she will do it," she said.

In his state-of-the-nation address, Putin called the population decline "the most acute problem of contemporary Russia" and encouraged legislators to budget for more generous birth bonuses, childcare support subsidies and educational benefits for mothers to encourage women to have children.

Experts attribute the decline to economic turmoil that has hurt the state health care system. Increased poverty, alcoholism, crime and emigration have also taken their toll. Average life expectancy in Russia is 66 years -- 16 years lower than Japan and 14 years lower than the European Union average.

But the economy has grown sharply in recent years, largely thanks to booming oil prices, allowing the government to increase social spending.

Lyudmila Putin said her husband had not consulted her while working on the state-of-the-nation address.

"If I approached his desk and tried to look at it, he would hardly welcome that," she said.