|Zsuzsa Kormosné Debreceni, the head of Family Policy Department in the Ministry of National Resources (Hungary)|
Reported at The Moscow Demographic Summit, Round Table “Institutional crisis of the Natural Family/Marriage. Role of Government, Religion, Universities and NGOs to strengthen the Family”
Hamlet’s question is more pertinent than ever: the long lines of empty cradles throughout Europe and Hungary make us think of the possible answers to this eternal question and seek suitable responses.
To be or not to be … untroubled? Can we ignore the fact that Hungary is one of the European countries most effected by the demographic winter? The decrease of birth rates started in the 1960’s and had turned to the negative since 1981. The actual Hungarian fertility rate is about 1.3. According to preliminary data, in the first four months of 2011 the pace of decline in the number of newborn children accelerated. After the 7.8 percent decrease in January-February, in March and April the number of live births was 14.3 percent lower than a year before.
Demographic experts say that about 80 per cent of Hungarian young people declare marriage, family and children as their main source of happiness and that they express a wish to have a number of children which would allow for some growth in the population.
In reality, however, young people do not marry—or only do so very late in their thirties—have children later and later, and as a consequence have only one child or a maximum of two – a figure that is too low to maintain the size of population and thus the society. 20 young people would like to have 24 children but only 13 are actually born. More than half of marriages break up and 40 percent of young couples between 24 and 29 choose cohabitation instead of marriage. 40 percent of children are born out of wedlock.
The causes of this gap between desires and reality have to be investigated more deeply. Several pieces of research by the Demographic Research Institute of the Hungarian Central Statistical Office and of the Institute of Behavioural Sciences of the Semmelweis University have studied possible causes, which have ranged from family values, traditions and models, to mental and spiritual obstacles, and from social and family policies and career and employment issues, to questions relating to the educational level of couples. A main causal factor identified is the tension between work/career and private (family) life.
It’s a regrettable fact also that as a negative effect of the past 8 years an anomia and a loss of faith and trust has become dominant in the Hungarian society and the declaration of common values and aims forming the base of the present and future of the society is necessary for changing this sad situation.
Thus one of the main objectifs and a great challenge of the Hungarian Government is to identify the causes and reasons of the gap between the declared values and wishes of Hungarian young people, couples and families and their real deads and attitude toward marrying and having children and give appropriate and effective reaction to these challenges. It is also clear that all actors in society must cooperate to not only help slow this process but to turn the corner and move towards a trajectory of growth.
A declared fundamental value of the new Hungarian Government set up in 2010 has been the family and one of its most important priorities is the strengthening of families. This value and the high importance of families is expressed also in the new Fundamental Law of Hungary and actually we are preparing the new Cardinal act for the protection of families in accordance with the Fundamental Law. One of the paragraphs of the draft of the Cardinal Act declares that protecting and strengthening families is a common responsibility of the government, the NGOS, the churches, the economic actors and the media.
As an exopression of this common responsibility a Demographic Round-table had been formed before the elections of 2010, in November 2009, with the participation of scientists, academics, experts, NGOs, churches and the representatives of the business sphere for exploring the causes of the demographic decline, finding solutions and giving propositions to the new government. 8 workings groups has been set up:
The aims of the Demographic Round Table are:
The Government builds upon the opinion, expertise and propositions of the Demographic Round-table and at some decisions related to different family issues the propositions of the Round-table had been considered.
Another terrain of the ongoing consultation with family NGOs and churches is a Council for Family and Demographic Issues besides the Family Policy Department in the Ministry of National Resources—which itself is also a new and important actor of the realization of governmental goals. The last 8 years we had no such Department.
The opinion of family NGOs and churches based on the experiences and needs of the families is to be considered and used to build relevant policy responses.
We intend to strengthen marriages, the stability of families with children and the cooperation of men and women by preparing and educating young people to responsible relationships and to marriage. For couples in crisis we develop a network of supporting services. In these tasks we also count on NGO-s and churches.
Several tenders are under way for supporting the activities of NGOs and churches in these fields. During the next months family NGOs and church communities will have the possibility to apply for support for the common holidays of the communities of families, for differerent educational activites (preparing for marriage, parenting support etc.), for services to be offered for families locally and building on the volunteer activity and solidarity strengthening by it also the local nest and the cooperation of families and for projects aimed to change the common talk related to marriages, families and having children. We also support studies analyzing the attitudes of young people toward marrying and having children.
Hungary began a huge reconstruction work not only in the economy but also in the field of families too. An important element of this work had been the „Europe for families, families for Europe” Population Awareness Week during the Hungarian Presidency of the EU from 28 March to 1 April. Experts and ministers responsible for family and demographic issues could exchange their views how to tackle the problems related to families and answer the challenge of demographic decline.
We are ready to cooperate with countries sharing the same values and considering families as of central importance. Europe would be able to overcome the economic crisis, the demographic decline and the situation threatening the maintainability of our social systems only by strengthenting families, upbringing children and by an economy based on work.
Allow me to mention that the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union will propose that 2014 were to be designated the European Year of Families, since it will be the twentieth anniversary that the United Nations General Assembly announced for the first time the International Year of the Family. Perhaps a dedicated European Year draws attention and enhances commitment to family policies.
I began my speech with the famous but depressing words of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. At the end let me cite form the last passage of a famous Hungarian dramatic poem, the Tragedy of Man by Imre Madách. The main characters are Adam, Eve, Lucifer, and the Lord. After Lucifer shows Adam in a dream over the history of mankind Adam seems to lose all hope, fights with the Lord, and wants to die.
But suddenly Eve whispers something to him:
How happy you will be, so hear,
I’ll whisper low, oh come, come near
I carry your baby, Adam dear.”
And this is the point at which Adam’s thinking changes. From this point on he won’t struggle with the Lord or listen to Lucifer who tries to destroy him. He finds his peace, the future of mankind is in this little new life.
The last words of the poem are spoken by the Lord:
Man, I have spoken: strive on, trust, have faith!
That is the answer also to our question…
Thank you for your attention.