- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A government plan to stop the falling birthrate by paying $45,000 to mothers having a third child is foundering over the cost of the venture and the prospect of pregnant women getting abortions to avoid missing out before the scheme takes effect.

“Sickening side effect of the baby offer,” headlined the Cyprus Mail after a female parliament member reported calls from women in the early stages of pregnancy, who were considering abortions.

It also turned out that the proposal of the cash-for-baby system has not been adequately discussed in the Cabinet and surprised several ministers in view of its cost and possible side effect.

The plan calls for a bonus of about $45,000 to mothers having a third child and the same payments for a fourth and fifth child. It is based on similar, but less generous, measures taken in several countries with lowbirthrates, including France, Australia, Canada, Russia and Poland.

France has reported a considerably higher fertility rate of 1.9 children per woman in her lifetime after introducing bonuses and tax breaks more than a decade ago.

The cost of the planned baby subsidy system is estimated at $80 million to $100 million a year, assuming that the population of 700,000 Greek Cypriots maintains the present birthrate.

The proposal, outlined by Labor Minister Antonis Vassiliou, apparently without consulting the Finance Ministry, also includes foreign women who spend at least 183 days a year in Cyprus.

It would cost an estimated $2 billion over a 24-year period, a sum that the Mediterranean islandcould not easily afford.

The falling birthrate among Greek Cypriots below 10 births per 1,000 inhabitants a year also has political implications caused by the island’s division into two zones, the Christian Greek south and Muslim Turkish north.

The arrival of about 124,000 immigrants from the Turkish mainland in the Turkish-Cypriot areas has changed the island’s ethnic character and population ratio.

The question of possible abortions by women who would have missed the expected start of the plan next year has become a major moral issue on an island, where most people are practicing Greek Orthodox.

The report of such a prospect by Maria Kyriakou, an opposition parliament member, was viewed by some officials as a ploy to embarrass the government.

After receiving calls from several women inquiring about abortion, Mrs. Kyriakou said, “We decided to sound alarm bells to stop this from reaching epidemic proportions so that the Labor Ministry clarifies the amount and the date from which it will apply.”

Commenting on the abortion aspect, Mr. Vassiliou said he doubted that “our people would stoop so low to use such methods and actions. It is insulting to our people to make such claims.”

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