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Families have little to celebrate

(swissinfo C Helmle)

The cost of raising children in Switzerland is continuing to drive many families into poverty, according to a government study.

The report, marking the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family, also laments the fact that there is still no statutory paid maternity leave.

Presenting their findings on Monday, the Swiss Commission for Family Issues and the family lobby group, Pro Familia, said 120,000 children were being raised in households living below the poverty line.

“People risk becoming poor if they have children, and one in ten children growing up in Swiss cities depends on welfare,” said Jürg Krummenacher, head of the federal commission.

Krummenacher said many of the recommendations made by the commission ten years ago when the International Year of the Family was launched had not been met.

He said family allowances were insufficient and that mothers could not count on statutory paid maternity leave.

The Swiss are voting later this month on whether to grant working mothers 14 weeks' paid leave on 80 per cent of their salary.

Some progress

The commission did, however, note that some progress had been made. Krummenacher praised, for example, the introduction of subsidies for day-care centres.

The report comes two weeks after the interior minister, Pascal Couchepin, issued new proposals for improving the lives of families.

He expressed his support for statutory paid maternity leave, urged the lowering of the age that children begin school and called for the coordination of school and kindergarten hours.

Swiss children start school at the age of six or seven, later than in most other European countries.

Couchepin added that he would review new models for financing crèches and tax breaks for families.

There has also been concern over the declining Swiss birth rate, which reached a 25-year low in 2003 of 1.4 children per woman.

The interior minister said any changes to family policy would need to promote a rise in the birth rate and an increase in the number of working women.

The Swiss Commission for Family Issues said people had become more sensitised to the need of managing both a career and a family, however, the right conditions to allow this were not yet in place.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

2004 is the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family.
120,000 children in Switzerland live in households below the poverty line.
Statutory paid maternity leave will be voted on in a referendum on September 26.
A child living in Switzerland costs on average SFr1,400 ($1,113) a month.

end of infobox

In brief

To mark the anniversary, the United Nations has defined major trends affecting families worldwide:

Birth rates are falling as the divorce rate increases, and there has been a shift from extended to nuclear families.

Lower fertility rates and higher life expectancy have led to a bigger elderly population.

There has been a significant rise in migration.

end of infobox


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