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Last Updated: Monday, 1 December, 2003, 12:11 GMT
Italy offers families baby-cash

By Frances Kennedy
BBC, Rome

In Italy, a country once known for its large families, the government is now offering a financial bonus to encourage people to have more children.

The 1,000 euro payment will go to those who already have at least one child and have a second by the end of 2004.

But demographic experts say such short-term measures will do little to redress the population imbalance.

They argue that the real reasons lie in the difficulties of combining work and motherhood and costly child care.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Experts say Mr Berlusconi's plan does not address real issues

The opposition says the limited timeframe for having babies is discriminatory and a 1,000 euro payment would be better invested in affordable state child care.

They also criticise the fact that only Italian or European citizens are eligible.

The Welfare Minister, Roberto Maroni, has hailed the baby bonus a concrete support for families.

Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world - 1.2 children per woman. A slight increase last year was largely attributable to immigrant families.

The Italian birth rate crisis is especially felt in small rural areas where the elderly now far out-number the young.

In some rural areas local administrators are offering their own economic incentives to try to reverse the trend.

In Laviano, near Naples, the mayor is offering 10,000 euros for any babies born in his village, with no deadlines and no strings attached.

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