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Making babies in Italy: Government in trouble over 'Fertility Day'

A campaign in Italy aimed at boosting the country's birth rate has had teething troubles with the government pulling ads promoting having children after they were deemed "offensive."

The ads were part of the government's forthcoming "Fertility Day" event on September 22 aimed at encouraging more Italian women to have babies – Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in the world, a ticking demographic time bomb for the economy.

The ads were put out by Italy's Ministry of Health under the banner of "Protect your fertility: For you, for us, for everyone" and feature a variety of pictures aimed at spreading information about fertility and especially the risks of delaying motherhood.

They include one portraying a woman next to an hourglass with the description "Beauty knows no age. Fertility does." There were others in a similar vein, warning women of the "risks of delaying the happy event" and warning men of the effect that smoking can have on their fertility. Many of the ads are still on the "Fertility Day" twitter account:

The ads are the Italian government's way of responding to Italy's worryingly low birth rate. Data from ISTAT, Italy's statistical body, showed that in 2015, the number of live births totaled 488,000 (8 per thousand inhabitants), 15,000 fewer than the previous year and the new lowest level since the Unification of Italy which was completed in 1871.


Diane Macdonald | Stockbyte | Getty Images

ISTAT added that 2015 "was the fifth consecutive year of reduction for fertility, which fell to 1.35 children per woman. The mean age at childbearing has grown in the meantime to 31.6 years," it said.

Italian women have not positively responded to the government-funded ads, however, deeming the ads "insulting" and "embarrassing" and criticizing the government for not providing the infrastructure necessary to support young families or working mothers. The campaign has also spawned some sardonic responses to the government, including tweets of pictures of storks delivering babies.

The slowing birth rate is not just a worry for Italy with the problem felt reflected across the wider European Union. However, northern European countries, including the U.K., France, Ireland, Sweden and Belgium are tending to buck the trend.

In countries like the U.K., childcare costs also tend to be high but the government has tried to mitigate those by introducing flexible working hours for parents, a certain amount of free childcare for working parents on low incomes and tax-saving childcare vouchers to help with the costs of childcare.

In Italy, however, women say they are often reliant on their own parents for help in looking after the children and, if not living close by to relatives, have no support network at all. This, coupled with high childcare costs and a desire to keep one's job - especially at a time of economic insecurity- has put many women off.

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