HAVANA TIMES — Cuban authorities have launched a new set of measures to benefit Cuban mothers so as to increase the country’s birth rate and to stop society from aging at the rapid rate it is today. These are steps in the right direction, but are they enough?
Reducing the cost of day care and all day schools with lunches could mean a saving of 3 or 4 USD per month for a mother who has two children or more. In addition to the other benefits she will now receive, this could be a 10 or 15 USD saving per month.
The most significant measure might be the tax break that mothers who have their own businesses now enjoy, although it’s true that the so-called “self-employed” continue to make up only a small fraction of Cuba’s total working force.
The government might not have resources for more measures; the total expense of all these new ones is considerable. However, poor countries always need to look for an alternative, which allows them to do more with the little they have.
During a TV show which dealt with this subject, there was a strong emphasis on the fact that the economic crisis wasn’t the only thing to affect the national birth rate. This might be true, but they avoided the issue or only dealt with it in a surprisingly light fashion.
It’s true that there are other factors that play out here such as Cuban women having mass access to education which has taken them out of the household and their “household chores”. Today, many Cuban women are conditioning the age they have children and the number of children they have so that it interferes as little as possible in their professional career.
However, there are other causes which stem from their financial situation which directly influence the country’s low birth rate. Mass emigration of young people is one, especially women of a child-bearing age, which has diminished the country’s prospects of growing and multiplying as much as it could.
It has been announced on TV that mothers will have priority and be able to repair their homes but the truth is that before doing up a home, many Cuban women first need to have one. “I’ll have a child after I’m 30. I want to at least have my own place to live. I live with my parents right now and I wouldn’t want my child to end up there too,” a young 24-year-old woman explains to me.
Lack of housing is one of the more serious problems that young couples face when deciding whether they want to have a child or not, but it isn’t the only one. Buying your kids shoes really becomes a difficult task when you have to invest a whole month’s salary just to be able to get a pair.
The cost of having a baby is huge when compared to the income of the majority of young Cubans. Toys, for example, are only sold in hard currency and at exorbitant prices which are out of the reach of any Cuban earning an average salary.
The days when clothes, shoes and even Children’s Day presents could be bought using the rations book at subsidized prices, are long gone; when the baskets of diapers and other items given for every baby came full and a Cuban salary actually had real value.
However, maybe more could be done without spending a single cent. Coming to mind, state-run stores could stop applying the 240% VAT they put on disposable diapers, children clothes, shoes, toys, children books and other necessities.
Price cuts and benefits don’t make a difference when they are being applied to already subsidized products and services which have modest prices and are paid for in regular pesos. The ones that really hit the pocket of ordinary Cubans hard are the ones that are sold in hard currency at market prices.
Surely, the women who make up the 2.2 billion people living in poverty in the world (1), wouldn’t think twice about giving birth if they were given maternity leave, medical attention for the child before he/she was born, subsidized milk until they were 7 years old and a free education even at university level.
However, statistics show that this isn’t enough for Cuban women. They also need day care so that they can continue to develop professionally in their careers, have a home where they can live independently and an income which allows them to be able to meet their child’s basic material needs.