Estimates released this week indicate that Portugal’s natural balance, the difference between births and deaths, will be negative once again this year and by its widest margin ever. Last year, Portugal ‘lost’ an estimated 6,000 people.
Back in 2007, President Cavaco Silva challenged Portuguese to come up with the answer to boosting the country’s dwindling population.
“A country without children is a country without a future”, the President said, but five years on, and with the country embroiled in what is arguably the biggest financial crisis in its history, the future looks decidedly bleak.
The birth rate in 2012 is expected to fall by approximately ten percent in relation to last year, slumping well beneath the 100,000 target required to avoid Portugal’s population from shrinking even further.
“The evolution of the birth rate in Portugal is deeply worrying”, Laura Vilarinho, director of the newborn vaccination programme said this week, adding that a total of 67,000 births were registered during the first nine months of the year, down almost ten percent (6,500) on last year.
Overall, 97,200 births were recorded in 2011, with forecasts currently projecting fewer than 90,000 newborns this year.
The downward spiral
in natality becomes more evident when compared with 2010, when 101,381 births were registered.
Latest available figures from Eurostat show that only Germany has a birth rate inferior to that of Portugal for the period 1999 to 2009. Over that reference period, the birth rate dropped by 19.7 percent.
Numbers for the past three years have not been included and expectations are that once they are, Portugal will be the country with the lowest natality rate in Europe.
Parents’ groups and associations have long argued that having children in Portugal receives little or no state incentives and is seen by most young potential parents as a burden.
“Unfortunately, this situation is not new nor is it surprising”, the Association for Large Portuguese Families (APFN) told The Portugal News this week.
“Portugal has not been renewing its generations for 30 years, and since 1982, this trend has become a constant and more serious”, explained Ana Poiares Madura Cid Gonçalves, Secretary-General of APFN.
“What makes this situation even more surprising is the total absence of policies to deal with this reality. We have reached this point due to policies which strongly penalise and attack families with children, be it in taxes, housing, employment and in the long working hours of both parents”, added the APFN Secretary-General.
One couple, whose joint monthly income totals €1,800, told The Portugal News this week they currently receive a total of €37 a month from the state for both of their two children aged four and nine.
With a target birth rate of 2.1 children per woman to maintain positive population growth, Portuguese women’s fertility rate currently stands at 1.32, amongst the lowest rates in the world.
But Ana Gonçalves says the figure should not be interpreted as Portuguese women not wanting children.
“The majority of women say they would like to have three or more children. It is clear to us that the most important factor is not the creation of incentives to boost natality, but rather to allow families freedom of choice and not to restrict their decisions”.
The APFN also called on the government to realise that the shortage of children not only strangles the social security system, but also the entire social state.
“Each child which is born generates wealth and the potential for economic growth”, stressed Ana Gonçalves.
But for those parents who can set aside the lack of financial incentives from the state and their own personal economic woes and intend boosting the country’s population, UNICEF says Portugal is currently in the top ten of countries with the lowest infant mortality rates, and is well above countries like the United Kingdom, the United States or Germany.
The 2012 Progress Report on Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, released by UNICEF, shows that Portugal has achieved substantial progress in reducing under-five mortality from 1990 to 2011, with a 77 percent reduction during this period.
The list of countries with lowest death incidences is led by Singapore with a child mortality rate of 2.6 per one thousand children, followed by Slovenia with 2.8, Sweden (2.8), Finland (2.9), Cyprus (3.1), Norway (3.1), Luxembourg (3.2), Japan and Portugal (3.4) with Denmark completing the top ten with a figure of 3.7.
Germany has a rate of 4 deaths per one thousand children to the age of 5, the United Kingdom is on 5 and the United States has a figure of 8.
Meanwhile, around 500 women had two abortions in 2011, according to the latest available figures from the national health board (DGS). It also revealed that at least eight women have had more than ten terminations.
Last year, 20,290 women had an abortion in Portugal, 97 percent of whom chose to voluntarily terminate their pregnancy within the first ten weeks.
Of those women, 71 percent had never had an abortion before; 20.4 percent had previously had an abortion; 4.2 percent of the women had had two previous abortions and 1.3 percent had had three or more.
During the course of 2011, 464 women had two abortions.
The DGS’s report further indicates that seven women who had abortions last year had endured six previous interventions; three had been subjected to seven preceding abortions and eight women had already had more than ten abortions prior to the one they underwent last year.
Age-wise, the majority of women having voluntary abortions were aged between 20 and 24, followed by the 25-29 age group.
The authors of the report identified an alteration in the distribution of women having abortions with regards to their work situation. It was noted that more unemployed women and those working in manual labour, such as farmers and factory workers had abortions last year, suggesting the decision to terminate a pregnancy was largely due to financial considerations.