Will new Russian benefits boost births?

The Russian government has implemented a series of initiatives to try and cut the falling birth rate. However some of the women who are supposed to benefit from the measures say they don't go far enough.

Around nine months ago Ekaterina Yemelyanova was what is usually called a “business woman”. As a 30-year old finance director of Deloitte, every day she was forced to take the kind of decisions the future of her company directly depended on. But then she took an even bigger decision and one that would change her life forever. She chose to become a mother.

Ekaterina is in no haste to return to work – her company is happy to support her new role at home.

“I've got additional benefits which were enough to stay at home but at the same time to feel comfortable. It was my request to have my computer with me. I'm working at home but am not pushed to do so,” she says.

But unfortunately Ekaterina's case is more of an exception to the rule. For the majority of Russian women to have or not to have a baby is not a question of desire but economics. According to the “Law on Welfare Payments to Citizens with Children”, during 70 days before and 70 after a child's birth, a woman is paid 100 % of her average salary every month. At the same time, under another law – about social insurance fund budget – the sum may not be over 16, 125 rubles, which is about 600 dollars. As a result, women making more than that simply loose out.

Olga Barkovskaya, an economist from the Moscow region, had to return to work when her daughter Angelina was only two months old because the family's income was dramatically cut after the child's birth.

“I cried day and night, I wanted to be with my baby, but the benefits were not enough. If I hadn't had a husband or his salary was too small, we would have rejected the idea of having a baby at all,” recalls Olga Barkovskaya.

The situation changed when another mother, Tatiana Banykina, decided to defend all women's rights at Russia's Constitutional court and won the case.

“Under the court decision, the size of the benefits was changed. For the next three budget years, 2008-2010, it will be 23,400 or more than $US 900,” expanded Irina Kolobikhina from the population department of Moscow State University.

Skeptics complain the new benefits are still too small. But as women themselves say, mothers now feel a little more secure.

Statistics show an average of 1.3 children is born to every woman in Russia. To stem the current population decline in the country, that figure needs to be almost double that. With the new law coming into effect by the end of this year, demographers predict there may not be a baby-boom but certainly a confidence boost in the birth rate.