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Italy's PM criticises government led fertility campaign

Beatrice Lorenzin Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said the campaign has been misunderstood

Italy's prime minister has distanced himself from a campaign promoted by his health minister which encouraged couples to have more children.

The Fertility Day campaign was criticised on social media for appearing not to understand the reasons behind Italy's low birth rate.

In one advert a woman holds an hourglass next to the words: "Beauty has no age limit. Fertility does."

It is feared Italy's ageing population will damage growth and services.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in an radio interview that none of his friends had decided to have children after seeing an advert, and that stable jobs and day care were the key to boosting the nation's population.

"If you want to create a society that invests in its future and has children, you have to make sure the underlying conditions are there," he added.

Critics of the campaign say there are many reasons why Italian women are having fewer children, including high unemployment, low wages, poor maternity rights and inadequate child care.

Health minister Beatrice Lorenzin who described the decline in the country's birth rate as "apocalyptic" in May, has now ordered changes to the online campaign.

"We did not intend to offend or provoke anyone. If the message has not gone across as we would have liked we will change it."

"Common good"

A storm of protest erupted on social media following its launch on Wednesday with many accusing it of being patronising and sexist.

One woman on Twitter asked "Which century is it again?" while another said "Appalled. Sure. Italian women are all waiting for the storks, aren't they?"

Some Italians likened it to Mussolini's proclamation in the 1930s that it was the social duty of women to have children.

As part of the campaign, the ministry is to hold a "Fertility Day" on September 22nd and will have meetings in four cities where experts will talk about factors that effect fertility.

On its website it shows water dripping and the words "fertility is a common good" and a man holding a half-burned cigarette with the words "Don't let your sperm go up in smoke."

Working women

Italy has an ageing population with just 488,000 babies born in Italy in 2015, fewer than in any year since the modern state was founded in 1861.

Its fertility rate last year was 1.35 children per woman compared with an EU average of 1.6.

Employment among women in Italy remains stubbornly low compared to other EU countries though, with many complaining of discrimination.

Former prime minister Mario Monti tried to stamp out the practise of some employers forcing new staff to sign an undated resignation letter which could be used later to end their employment.

Economists say women who became pregnant often fell victim to such a ploy.

Earlier in the year Health minister Beatrice Lorenzin proposed doubling child benefits to encourage more couples to start families.

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