In an ominous sign of the human cost of successive waves of austerity measures, the birthrate in Greece has fallen almost 15 percent in the past four years. Figures from the state-run Institute of Child Health show that, in 2012, the number of births dropped from 118,302 in 2008 to 100,980.
At the same time, the number of still births has risen. A report from the National School of Public Health from earlier this year found that still births had increased 21.5 percent, from 3.31 per 1,000 in 2008 to 4.01 per 1,000 in 2011.
Christina Papanikolaou, general secretary of Greece’s health ministry, directly attributes the falling birth rate to “harsh austerity and record levels of unemployment, especially among the young.” Greece’s unemployment rate is now 28 percent; it is 65 percent for young people. More than a fifth of workers and retirees are living below the poverty line.
Families with children are certainly struggling: a 2012 Unicef report found that, among the poorest Greek households with children, more than 26 percent have an “economically weak diet.” Greece does not have a program to offer subsidized lunches for students, who must either bring their own or purchase it from a cafeteria.
The country does have national health insurance, but as more people have lost their jobs, more and more no longer have access to free healthcare, setting up a treacherous cycle that Papanikolaou describes as “the biggest problem.” The dramatic decline in the country’s birthrate in just four years can be attributed to the government having to “make cuts in a very short period of time.” Pregnant women have been unable to receive prenatal care.
The situation is even worse for migrants. Via its land border with Turkey, Greece is the gateway for undocumented immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and many other countries. Social workers at hospitals in Athens say that many uninsured migrant mothers are not registering their infants as they are unable to pay fees of €600 (€1,200 for caesarians) to hospitals. Some women are even “fleeing hospitals with babes in arms in the middle of the night.”
Birthrates across Europe have declined overall since 2008 due to the European financial crisis. Eurostat, which oversees statistics for the European Commission, issued a report ”Towards a ‘Baby Recession’ in Europe?” earlier this year that noted that, in the period between 2008 and 2011, the total number of live births fell by 3.5 percent, from 5.6 to 5.4 million.
The steep decline in the birthrate in Greece stands out. Papanikolaou says that it is the “mirror image of the 25 percent in our GDP since the start of the crisis.”
Alleged Murder of Leftist Artist By Member of Neo-Nazi Party
Another sign of the impact of the crisis has been the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. The right-wing party is now the third most popular in Greece, with members holding 18 seats in Greece’s 300-seat parliament. It has become the fastest-growing political force in Greece and is currently polling at 15 percent; its members have openly blamed immigrants for Greece’s financial woes and been linked to a number of violent attacks on them.
Late this past Tuesday, the target of an alleged assault and murder by a self-proclaimed member of the Golden Dawn was Greek. 34-year-old Pavlos Fyssas, a prominent anti-fascist and hip-hop artist was reportedly “ambushed” by black-clad Golden Dawn members while he and friends were at a cafe in a working-class district of Keratsini in Piraeus near Athens. He died after being stabbed in the chest.
Some 2,000 mourners attended Fyssas’ funeral on Thursday — family members requested that, instead of placing funeral wreaths on his grave, donations be made to the Smile of the Child charity organization – and supporters have been staging protests, some of which have turned violent. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has called for calm and “unity” and said that the government will not let the “successors of the Nazis” destabilize Greece; it has hinted that it may ban Golden Dawn.
But members of Samaras’ New Democracy party, which holds the most seats in the country’s parliament, are objecting to the creation of an anti-racism law. Evangelos Venizelos, the head of the second-largest party, Pasok, says that such a bill is necessary to address the growing program of anti-immigrant and racist violence and “because Greece has a political grouping that is unabashedly Nazi and organizes acts that essentially breach the rule of law.” New Democracy contends that existing laws are sufficient.
European financiers and Greek politicians are saying that the “light is at the end if the tunnel” for Greece after six years of recession. Even if the economy starts to turnaround, the toll on Greek society in which family plays a central role can only be long-lasting.
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