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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Infrastructure for Children

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The decline in the country's population has slowed and the birthrate has risen. First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is loosely responsible for improving the demographic situation in the country, said Monday that as many children are being born in Russia today as were being born at the end of the Soviet period.

"From January to July, 142,000 children were born in the country. This is the highest figure we've seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union," Medvedev said in comments carried on national television. If the figures were actually as Medvedev claims, he would have more reason to be sounding an alarm than celebrating.

Given a current death rate of more than 1 million for the same period, this would mean that the mortality rate was outstripping the birthrate by 7-to-1, heralding a record decrease in the population and a demographic catastrophe.

Fortunately, Medvedev's speechwriters made a mistake with the numbers, although not with the tendencies. In the first six months of 2007, 753,000 children were born in Russia, according to the State Statistics Service. This is 5 percent higher than the figure for the same period the year before and equaled 71 percent of the total number of deaths. Total births were equal to about 63 percent of total deaths in 2006.

Demographers say the birthrate in 2007 might not only top the figure of 1.5 million reached in 2004, but even surpass that of 1.59 million recorded in 1992. The signs of an impending baby boom have even caught the attention of the Education and Science Ministry: Despite a fall in the total number of students this year, the number of first-graders enrolled rose by 16,000, the first such increase registered in recent history.

In May 2006, President Vladimir Putin announced the introduction of a "maternal capital" initiative for women giving birth to a second child and, beginning in January of this year, an increase in mothers' allowance from 700 rubles to 1,500 rubles ($27 to $59) per month for the first child and to 3,000 rubles for a second. These payments were also extended to nonworking young mothers, of which there are 700,000. The payments had previously gone just to mothers with jobs.

That these measures might not actually generate any real effects doesn't mean that politicians are going to reconsider them any time soon.

The rising birthrate has been partially the result of a greater sense of stability and increased incomes, but a good part of it is due to the structure of the population itself. The women who are currently having their first and second children are products of the last baby boom, running from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s.

When the much smaller generation of women born at the beginning of the 1990s reaches reproductive age, and given the current number of 1.3 children born for every mother of reproductive age, the population could be in for another period of rapid decline.

At the same time, the condition of infrastructure related to raising children is more likely to deteriorate than get any better. The current hike in the birthrate will increase the number of children of preschool and primary school age, but this will be accompanied by a fall in the number of kindergartens. There were 50,000 kindergartens in operation in 2001, but the number had fallen to 46,200 by last year. In 2001, for every 100 places available in municipal preschool institutions, there were 83 children to fill them. By 2006, the number of children had caught up.

In many big cities, parents have to get in line for places in public kindergartens before the sons or daughters who will need them are even born. Even then, it doesn't guarantee they'll get a spot. There are currently about 1 million families on waiting lists.

This situation could be addressed by subsidizing fees for private kindergartens or hiring nannies, and many families would benefit from access to these services.

Even then, kindergarten and preschool are just part of the problem. Cities have to create the right conditions for families with children. City transportation networks pose real difficulties for mothers with baby carriages. There is a critical shortage of modern, safe playgrounds for children in urban areas. Only in some of the bigger stores and airports are there playrooms or special accommodations for the nursing of children, which are standard in civilized countries.

This appeared as an editorial in Vedomosti.