14ymedio, Madrid, 16 May 2023 — It’s been only three months since the Cuban press addressed the low fertility rate on the Island. It was in a report in the Sancti Spíritus newspaper, Escambray, that an explanation was sought for the plummeting fall in the figures and, although it was admitted that it was multifactorial, the conclusion, in bold, was that “women of childbearing age continue to prioritize, in most cases, personal projects over motherhood.”
This version is now overturned with an article published in Cuba Joven that Cubadebate reproduced this Tuesday, in which there is no room for doubt: the economy has been a determining factor in the figures given in recent years: the lowest birth rate in 55 years in 2021, with 8.9 per 1,000 inhabitants, and the lowest fertility rate for decades, with 1.52 children per woman in 2020.
In the world ranking, countries with a very low birth rate are among the most developed, from South Korea (0.9) through Spain (1.24) and, among the closest, Puerto Rico (1.48). But comparing the causes — although without ceasing to mention them — is finally over. “After the monetary reorganization and the galloping inflation, the economy becomes the main cause for which Cubans of childbearing age renounce or postpone motherhood,” the article admits.
The litany of dramas faced by a couple who are going to have a child on the Island begins before it arrives, admits the article, which clearly speaks of cesarean section kits, a batch of necessary supplies in case of having to go to a hospital, where it increasingly costs more for something as basic as surgical gloves. Pregnant women turn to social networks and the black market to get hold of these kits, which can cost between 3,000 and 5,000 pesos.
But when babies are born, the most complicated part arrives. Not only is it difficult to buy a crib, a basket or a car, it is increasingly impossible to find healthy food for proper growth. “If children eat badly (as do mine) it is hard to vary the food,” says one of the interviewees.
Although remuneration during postnatal leave is, on paper, among the most beneficial in the region (100% remuneration in the first three months and 60% in the following months), low wages turn the norm into worthless paper. The Cubans interviewed for this report consider it a utopia to involve men more in upbringing if coverage is not improved during the leave. “If it represented a little more, maybe my husband wouldn’t have to be working the way he’s doing and could get more involved.”
“There is no sterile fabric, nor a crib, nor a mattress. So, I have to look for all those products in a parallel market, a black market, where you often find what they stopped selling in the ’state basket’ itself,” says another of the interviewees. Complaints like this were frequent in the independent press in recent years, but the regime had not put them in black and white with such clarity until now.
The poor coverage for childcare centers, which now are being supported by the casitas — private homes, still very few of them on the Island — is another challenge, since after the year of leave, women must choose to pay for these non-state services, depend on relatives who can provide support or stop working, a situation that continues because schools do not end the situation.
The situation is so sad that most women, despite the perpetual crisis in Cuba, admit that their children have or will have much worse childhoods than they had. Not to mention leisure. “If you decide to buy medicine, you can’t take the child to a place for a walk or to the beach, for example, because now the seats are almost 1,000 pesos, and if my maternity leave is 2,500 pesos, I can’t pay,” says another.
For the article, psychologists were interviewed and talk about the difficulties of facing motherhood, which already in the best conditions means a change of course in women’s lives that requires adaptation and support. In the current circumstances in Cuba, problems are multiplied by a thousand.
“I am not willing in today’s conditions in this country to have another child because that would mean subtracting time from the one that is already there and from my quality of life, which is also very important,” explains one of the women interviewed, who adds that there must be “a change of mentality, a will from the State, from the Education system, to end that inequality gap that has always existed but in recent years has become greater.”
None of the women interviewed aspires to have more than one child, although the only one who has done so says she is more aware of the experience of what is most important and what can be discarded.
“We have to be more proactive; it is urgent to address the issue because the country is aging and with it the hopes of a part of the population die,” adds the text, which considers the demographic an “alarming” problem. And that does not even touch on the mass emigration, which is the third leg, along with aging, of the serious situation.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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