Vladimir Putin has just made his state of the nation address in Russia.

He has identified one of Russia’s key ills as the declining population. As explained in this Pravda report:

Putin called the demographic slide that has shrunk Russia’s population by millions since the 1991 Soviet collapse “the most acute problem of contemporary Russia,” and encouraged legislators to budget for more generous birth bonuses, childcare support subsidies and educational benefits for mothers to encourage women to have children.“I am convinced that with such an approach, you will earn words of gratitude from millions of mothers, young families, all the citizens of our country,” Putin said.

OK, so I’ll buy that a declining population is a problem. I’m too tired to question that premise. But even accepting the premise that Russia’s population is in need of growth rather than reduction, why is the solution to urge women to have more and more babies?

Hey, Vlad, here are some other ideas for you to chew over (statistics where given are courtesy of UNICEF, the CIA world factbook, the US Census Bureau and the Population Reference Bureau).

1. Do something about the infant mortality rate (children dying under the age of 12 months). In 2004 the rate was 17 per 1,000, compared with an average for Eastern Europe of 14 and 5 for Western Europe.

2. Do something about the child mortality rate (children dying under the age of 5 years). In 2001, the rate was 21 per 1,000, compared with an average of 16 for Eastern Europe and 6 for Western Europe.

3. Do something about the ever-reducing life expectancy. In 1970 it was 70, in 1990 in was 69, in 2002 it was 68, in 2004 it was 65… What next? That 2002 figure, by the way, compares with life expectancies for Eastern Europe of 73 and for Western Europe of 79.

4. Pay heed to what others say are the real problems. Take for example, this report from the BBC, produced after Putin’s first state of the nation speech in 2000, in which he also highlighted population decline as a key problem facing the Russian Federation.

Drug use, alcoholism and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are leading reasons for the decline, said Murray Feshbach, a senior scholar at the Smithsonian Institution’s Woodrow Wilson Center…

About 15% of Russian couples are infertile, he said… And as many as 75% of women experience serious medical problems during pregnancy. The official fertility rate – understood as the average number of children a woman has between the ages of 15 and 49 – was 1.17 in 1999. The minimum rate for a population to replace itself is 2.5, Mr Feshbach said.

Disease takes its toll. STDs are a major cause of concern, he said. “There’s syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, HIV/Aids, prostitution,” he said. He estimates that there are between 450,000 and 500,000 cases of syphilis in Russia, out of a population of 145 million.

Journalist Glebov said that there were psychological as well as medical reasons for the country’s low birth rate. “It’s the state of the nation“, he said. “Most people are very pessimistic. They don’t believe children will have a future“.

Or, of course, you could ignore the high mortality rates and low life expectancy and all the healthcare problems that they imply; you could ignore the soaring rates of STDs and the shocking numbers of women having medically difficult pregnancies.

The real problem is, of course, that women are just not having enough babies, they are not fertile enough, not fecund enough, not devoted enough to their supreme purpose in life, that of reproduction and motherhood.

Never mind the healthcare system, let’s get those women back where they belong – making babies.

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