10/19/2004, 00.00
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Church and State to join hands to counter demographic implosion

We must again consider life a gift, Aleksij II says.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – "Our society is in a spiritual crisis. We must again start to think of life as a gift of God and respect it for this reason," this according to Aleksij II, Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. In his opinion, this is one of the main factors behind Russia's precarious demography.

Speaking at a forum on demographic issues, the Patriarch warned that Russia "is facing a vital choice today. Will our Motherland survive in the future?" For him, the solution lies in a commitment by Church and state to encourage moral teaching, support the family, protect mothers and children, help orphans and the poor, as well as fight drug addiction among the young.

President Vladimir Putin spoke about the demographic challenges Russia faces last week. He said that "the first indispensable step towards finding a solution is the economic and social development of the country".

Russian Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov voiced similar concerns. "Today, Russia's population stands at 144.2 million people," he said. "This is insufficient for the country. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Russia's population has been on a steady downward slope. It has been decreasing since 1992." The Minister added that "for this period, the number of Russians dropped by more than six million people, or by more than nine million if migratory flows are excluded; [however,] the inflow makes up only for 8 per cent of the natural decrease".

In 2003, population growth remained negative (- 0.3 per cent). A low birthrate is the main cause. The ratio between live births and women in reproductive age (15-49 years) is 132 to 100, "insufficient," in the Minister's words, "to ensure the simple reproduction of the population".

But not all is doom and gloom. There are some positive signs according to him. Between 1994 and 2003 the number of abortions dropped by 41 per cent and, compared to 2002, the number of live births rose by 80,000 in 2003.

Still, Russia is in what experts call a "demographic coma". If its birthrate does not increase, its population is expected to drop to 50/55 million by 2075.

Russia has the highest abortion rate in Europe second only to Romania. According to official estimates six in every ten first time pregnancy end this way. This means that there are 13 abortions for every 10 births. In 2002, there were 1.78 million abortions.
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