Opinion: Children are society's greatest asset ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Population minister Riina Solman (Isamaa).
Population minister Riina Solman (Isamaa). Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

While it is not a matter for the state or government to direct families how to live their lives, nonetheless, if families continue to have an average of less than two children apiece, the Estonian populace runs the risk of dying out in the long run, Minister for Population Affairs Riina Solman (Isamaa) argues in a recent opinion piece.

The piece follows as it appeared in the opinion section on ERR's online news in Estonian.

On Friday, I met with representatives of the Estonian Association of Large Families (ELPL) in Viljandi and I wholeheartedly acknowledge those great families raising almost half of our society's future scientists, top specialists, chefs, doctors and scholars, skilled workers and many others.

I would also like to emphasize, however, that in order to survive, the Estonian people must have more children within families, something which should be supported by family policy.

As a society, we need to make efforts to have more children in our families. It is not for the state and the government to teach families how to live, but it is clear that if we have fewer than two children per family, the nation may die out.

Children are an asset to both the family and society

The parental benefits and child benefit system here has been designed to support more, larger families. I intend to focus in the future on those family policy measures which will help to bring more children to those families. This is a source of wealth for both the family and society.

Speaking of financial matters, looking to the future, when we are all older, more children will mean more money to us in the most direct sense. For the foreseeable future, our children and grandchildren, who have grown up as smart and hard-working adults, will still be paying our pensions. It's that simple, but this tends to be forgotten.

Regarding retirement, which lasts for almost half the length of an active life, it is simply not possible to save enough, especially at a time when we are also paying our parents for their pensions. In any case, we will continue to support our children in the future. That is why, in addition to reasonably organized savings, we also need our population to grow.

Our great desire and purpose must be for our children, and for ourselves as a people to live better in the future than today. A hope for a better life and faith in that transpiring are powerful motivations that keep us together in Estonia, and bring back those who have sought out a better life elsewhere. People and a nation who have lost faith cannot do anything.

Naturally the good life cannot come without effort, but a better life does not necessarily relate just to money. It sounds banal, but happiness may not be concealed in figures. Clean nature, fresh air, good health and a good education, with a good atmosphere, are not things that can only be measured with in monetary terms.

A shoulder-shoulder feeling with the neighbors, a strong civil society and a can-do spirit are not just the figures in an excel file. And most important, having secure and loving homes, where all family members are in a good position, is not quantifiable at all.

It is hard to be joyful when in poverty and deprivation. And that is why the country has to reach out to the weaker and the calamity-stricken with safety nets. But this must not dampen the desire to strive for their own better future.

Balance between individual and societal interests

One of the key issues of population policy is how, in our relatively individualistic society, we can make the having and raising of children as easy and comfortable as possible, while retaining a stronger link between the future material well-being of every person and the contribution to the growth of new members of society.

I agree that society can be contributed to in different ways, but the same is true for those who say that if each generation is smaller than its predecessor, our people and culture will eventually die out or be supplanted by immigrants and their cultures.

For some people, this is not a problem, but for me this is an unacceptable perspective, the Estonian state actually exisist in order to circumvent such things.

We thus have to think about how to find a balance between the interests of the individual, and those of society, and how to find ways to nudge members of society towards considering the future and behaving in a way that will increase the prosperity of all of us in the future.

However, if you look at our population policy in figures, then the numbers are not small. The total cost of the variety of family policy measures will soon be close to one billion euros.

Parental benefit, child benefits for ordinary and larger families, a maintenance fund and many other family policy measures take up just under a tenth of the state budget. These are accompanied by childcare, education and child health costs, as well as for family safety and parenting, plus tax exemptions for children.

In terms of money, this is altogether a lot. I see it feasible, however, and necessary, to make wise choices and I see my role as Minister for Population* as working on these choices so that our people can continue to grow and flourish in the future.

The original piece (in Estonian) is here.

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* Following a reshuffle of posts when the current coalition came into office, the position of Minister for Population Affairs was created, which falls under the Ministry of the Interior's remit. The role replaces that of the former Minister of Social Protection, and some aspects of the former Minister of Health and Labour's position, both of which fell under the Ministry of Social Affairs' responsibility, and have been disbanded. A sole Minister for Social Affairs post remains.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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