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Hungary to provide free IVF treatment to boost declining population

Budapest, Hungary – The Hungarian government announced it will offer free in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment to couples in its latest bid to curb its population decline and boost its falling birth rate.

Hungary offers free IVF treatment as of next month

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said last week that the free IVF treatments will be offered to couples as of February 1 in state-run clinics, although details about eligibility criteria and who exactly will be able to benefit from the new scheme remain unclear.

Last month, state secretary for youth and family Katalin Novak declared that there were some 150,000 couples in Hungary that wanted to have children but were unable to due to health reasons.

Arguing that fertility and boosting the country’s birth rate was of “strategic importance” for the future of Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban doubled down on his long-time approach of “procreation over immigration” to stop Hungary’s demographic drop.

IVF in Hungary: “Procreation over immigration”

“If we want Hungarian children instead of immigrants, and if the Hungarian economy can generate the necessary funding, then the only solution is to spend as much of the funds as possible on supporting families and raising children”, he said.

Echoing the government’s radical family policy, Hungary’s Parliament speaker László Kövér, member of the ruling Fidesz party, sparked outrage in September last year when he claimed, during an international conference on demography, that people who didn’t have any children were “not normal” and that the issue of procreation and fertility was a “public matter”, rather than a private one.

Hungary doubles down on controversial family policy

The move comes only a few weeks after the Hungarian government nationalized six private fertility clinics to bring them under state control in December. The Hungarian Prime Minister also announced the government was considering extending the life-long income tax exemption, currently applicable for women with four or more children, to those with three children.

Last year, Hungary introduced a whole battery of measures to incite women and couples to have more children, including offering up to 30,000€ to those who have three children or more in a given time span. Many critics have slammed the government’s approach as sexist and retrograde, arguing it restricts women to their “child-bearing role”, stigmatizes child-less couples and undermines women’s rights and personal freedoms.

Hungarian population to continue shrinking over next decades

With an estimated birth rate of around 1.48 per woman, Hungary’s population has been steadily declining over the past decades, and should continue to experience a precipitous drop, according to the latest estimates.

In most Central and Eastern European countries, populations have been dropping at a fast pace, a trend fueled by low birth rates, strict immigration policies and a strong emigration drive of younger generations going abroad. In Hungary alone, up to one million people are estimated to have left the country from 2008 to 2018, according to the OSCE.

According to the EU’s statistical office, Hungary’s population could shrink from 9.8 million today to less than 8 million by the end of the century.

Main photo credit: Szilárd Koszticsák / MTI