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Declining birthrates a worry for Europe

EUROPEANS could have even fewer children as unemployment goes up and governments cut social spending due to the financial crisis, a senior rights official warned yesterday.

Low numbers of newborns across the continent have been a major concern for politicians struggling to figure out how to pay for an aging society while staying competitive globally with fewer and fewer young workers.

"We should make sure that the financial restrictions, which are inevitable, should not disproportionately affect women and families," said Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, deputy secretary general of the Council of Europe.

"Unemployment is increasing and that is going to affect the whole issue of demographic trends," she added.

"I fear that the impact of this financial crisis will again make the statistics and the figures go down."

De Boer-Buquicchio spoke on the sidelines of a conference of family affairs ministers exploring why many Europeans have fewer children than they want. The two-day event was organized by the Council of Europe and Austria's Economics Ministry.

Iceland leads Europe with a fertility rate of 2.09 children per woman in 2007, the most recent year for which Europe-wide figures are available from Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency.

Ireland, with a rate of 2.01 and France, with a rate of 1.98, are ranked second and third.

According to Eurostat, a fertility rate of 2.1 is needed to replace a population in developed countries.

De Boer-Buquicchio also noted that many hotels and restaurants across the Council of Europe's 47 member states do not welcome children, a trend she called "very worrying."

"Children are not mini-persons with mini-human rights - they are entitled to enjoy their human rights fully," she said.

As guardian of the European Human Rights Convention, the Council of Europe is the continent's primary human rights watchdog. Based in the French city of Strasbourg, it defends human rights, parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and standardizes legal practices in Europe.



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