Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Shrinking town turns to cash-for-babies scheme

11 June 2015, 08:21

Alcoutim, Portugal-Rather than turn into a ghost town, one Portuguese village facing an exodus of young adults and dwindling birth rates came up with an answer: pay parents 5,000 euros for every new baby.

Sun-soaked Alcoutim in the southeast near the border with Spain has lost a third of its population over the last 20 years.

Its fertility rate, meanwhile, dropped to one of Portugal's lowest, at 0.9 children per woman, in a country whose national rate, at 1.21 children per woman, is already the lowest in the European Union -- and now cause for national concern.

Portugal was hard hit by the global financial crisis and, as elsewhere, unemployment took a toll among Alcoutim's young people, forcing many to leave in search of jobs.

Cash-strapped couples who stayed, meanwhile, put off plans to start a family.

So to kickstart a baby boom, local officials came up with a cash-for-babies scheme, offering 5,000 euros ($5,600) per newborn to help couples cover the costs of parenthood.

"These things are expensive," said Daniela Silva as she and her husband Nuno shop for their six-month-old son Santiago in the town's pharmacy.

With Daniela, 29, unemployed and Nuno, 37, on sick leave from his job at a retirement home, starting a family has been a struggle.

Eye ointment, a musical mobile and a playpen alone add up to 228 euros but the village allowance will cover the cost.

"We live with my in-laws, with 800 euros a month," said Nuno. "The town's help is very important for us."


Alcoutim's baby bonus is not the first of its kind in Portugal, but it is the most generous.

Set up in August, the scheme is modest in scale: six families are currently receiving payouts, which can be claimed up until the child's third birthday.

While still young, the project appears to be bearing fruit: nine births are expected so far this year, compared to six last year. Though far less than the 23 babies born in Alcoutim in 1995, it is nonetheless progress.

Mayor Osvaldo Goncalves' goal is to "attract young people" to the hilly, riverside town "because without young people, there are no children."

This age group particularly suffered in the financial crisis that forced Portugal to accept a 78 billion euro (89 billion dollar) international bailout in 2011.

While its deficit is now under control and tourists are coming in record numbers, unemployment still stands at 13.7 percent -- and amongst young people, that rate is a third.

Antonio, 34, and his partner Jessica, 22, were Alcoutim's first couple to benefit from the program, which has covered most of their daily expenses for nine-month-old Martim.

"Formula, nappies and even the cost of day care, I paid nearly nothing out of pocket," said Antonio, who works at a youth hostel in town while Jessica works at the day care center.

But even the 5,000 euros "would not be enough for someone who really has nothing," he said.

Precarious conditions

"Certain regions in the country, particularly in the central part, are not ideal for young people who want to work and start families," conceded Vanessa Cunha, researcher at the Portuguese Observatory for Families.

The economic crisis and austerity measures "left many couples in precarious conditions and postponing plans to start families," she said.

Portugal's slump in fertility rates is relatively recent, according to Eurostat, the EU's statistics office. Ten years ago it still stood in the middle of EU states, with 1.41 births per woman.

If the current decline continues, the country could lose 20 percent of its population by 2060, dropping from 10.5 to 8.6 million residents, according to the National Institute of Statistics in Portugal.

Lisbon's centre-right government has been watching the local "baby schemes" and recently put forth several bills in parliament designed to help young parents nationwide, with longer parental leaves, tax benefits and greater family allowances.

"The state heard the alarms set off by the smaller communities," said Mayor Goncalves.

But Cunha said these initiatives, while helpful, are not the ultimate fix for the dwindling population.

Birth rate incentives "won't be effective so long as the job market remains closed and uncertain," she said.

For the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page!



Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Submitted by
Jayne Zack
I am in ODM to stay, Busia Depu...

Busia Deputy Governor Kizito Wangalwa told Deputy President William on the face that he was in the Orange Democratic Movement to stay. Read more...

Boda Boda operators in Bahati rai...

Motorbike Boda Boda operators from Bahati Sub county on Tuesday took to the streets of Nakuru’s CBD lamenting over what they term is harassment by patrol police officers in the area. Read more...

Submitted by
Gabriel Ngallah
Human Rights activist lives in fe...

The Human rights fraternity in Mombasa is currently living in fear after the home of one of the vocal human rights champion was invaded on Monday night. Read more...

Submitted by
kel wesh
Poisonous milk powder siezed by K...

The Kenya Revenue Authority has seized two containers with illegal milk powder which had been declared as gypsum board at Mombasa port. Read more...

Submitted by
William Korir
Be ready for protests, Raila warn...

Expect protests if meddling with Auditor General continues, Raila Odinga has said. Read more...

Submitted by
Kenya says will return to interna...

Kenya will return to international markets to borrow when it feels the time is right, National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich said on Tuesday. Read more...