GeriGündem Turkish PM under fire for urging to have more children
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Turkish PM under fire for urging to have more children

Turkish PM under fire for urging to have more children
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Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan came under fire Thursday for urging families to have more children at a time when government's efforts to reduce poverty and unemployment are already faltering. Erdogan last week urged women to have at least three children.

The controversy errupted at the weekend when Erdogan, a father-of-four who has previously denounced birth control, told women attending a gathering on the occasion of March 8, Women's Day, to have at least three children.      

"Our population figure is already catastrophic today... This kind of rhetoric is absolutely wrong in a country which is seeking to join the European Union," said Turkan Saylan, the chairwoman of a civic group sponsoring the education of poor girls. Turkeys population of nearly 71 million people and relative poverty is already a major argument of its many opponents within the EU.                                 

The figure is expected to swell to about 95 million by 2030 before starting to gradually decline, according to official projections. "Those who have the economic means can have even 10 children if they wish," Saylan said. "But even now, many kids in rural areas study in classes of 60-70 students and about one million girls do not go to school."

Turkey's working age population -- aged 15 to 64 -- accounted for 66.5 percent in 2007, with 26.4 percent younger than 15, according to statistics. Erdogan, who heads a mildly-Islamist government, warned that failing to preserve a young population would constitute a "threat" to the nation. He stressed that "children are the blessing of God" and appeared to play down economic concerns by saying that all his four children had prospered.

His rhetoric evoked comparisons to an ancient saying that "Allah gives every child its daily bread" and gave Erdogans critics fresh ammunition to argue that he is seeking to raise the profile of Islam in secular Turkey. Even though he has disowned his Islamist past and embraced Turkey's EU bid, Erdogan re-ignited suspicions in recent weeks by pressing ahead with a constitutional amendment lifting a ban on the Islamic headscarf in universities and criticising Turks for adopting "many immoral values of the West."             

                                               

SUPPORT FROM MINISTER

Health Minister Recep Akdag, a doctor with five children, defended Erdogan, saying that the average number of children per family in Turkey currently stands at 2.1 and that the figure falling under 2.0 was considered the sign of a declining population under international norms. But social development activists remain unconvinced, pointing at Turkeys failure to combat infant mortality, illiteracy among women, child labor and unemployment.     

Yasar Yaser, the head of the Foundation for Family Planning, accused Erdogan of "flouting human rights." "Rather than calling on women to have at least three children, we have to take care of our mothers and children who die due to reasons that can be easily prevented," he said.

Infant mortality in Turkey fell from 0.52 to 0.37 percent over the past decade, but remains at 0.49 percent in the Kurdish-majority southeast, where crowded families are the norm, in contrast to the urban west where one or two children are becoming more and more common, according to UNICEF figures. And about a million of children aged between six and 17 are involved in some kind of labor across the country, government statistics show.

"We see many children in the streets, wiping car windows or working as coolies at the markets. If this is what the prime minister means by prosperity, then there is really no problem," Yaser lamented. Despite remarkable economic achievements, the government has failed to reduce unemployment, which officially stood at 9.9 percent in 2007, but is estimated to be much higher due to a large undeclared economy.

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