President Erdoğan's obsession with childbirth expands past Turkey's borders

image by Alex Hockett. Free to use under Unsplash License.

During his most recent visit to Azerbaijan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, encouraged his Azerbaijani counterpart, President Ilham Aliyev, to boost the nation's childbirth rate, recommending a minimum of five children per family. This, according to President Erdoğan, would make Azerbaijan “stronger.” He said, “In Turkey, I say a family must have a minimum of three children. For Azerbaijan, I am saying a minimum of five children per family. If Azerbaijan manages to do this, it can be stronger. Population changes the paradigm about the future of the country.” President Aliyev laughingly responded, “We'll try,” though not all Azerbaijanis were as excited about the proposal.

Living costs vs. child care

“We get 350 manats (USD 205] monthly salary. Do you think you can provide for five children [on that amount]? So no, it is impossible,” said one Baku resident in an interview with Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Liberty. “People struggle managing it with two children — how can they support five?!” said another resident interviewed by the radio.

The state, however, thinks differently. One member of the parliament, Fazil Mustafa, speaking to Azadliq Radio said, “We must have a state program in place. We are a country with a risk of war. There is a need for intellectual capacity. What [President] Erdoğan said only stimulated this discussion. [Families] should not be afraid about things like how they would support these children. It is our duty — we should be able to support, and the state must help.”

Currently, the state only supports mothers with five children or more. As of January 1, 2023, the state allocates AZN 105 (USD 61) per child. But it is less than the bare minimum. According to economist Nazim Baydamirli, in 2023, the minimum living wage to raise a child is AZN 220 (USD 129) for one child per month. Under these circumstances, both parents must have a minimum income of AZN 1600 (USD 941USD) in order to be able to support a household of five children, and that amount still does not include utility, education, and healthcare costs, explained the economist in an interview with Azadliq Radio.

According to the most recent state statistical data, the country's population is over ten million. Of those, 1.7 million are formally employed. The economist says half of the officially employed population receives a median wage of AZN 450 (USD 264) per month. And according to official data, the average salary in Azerbaijan is AZN 900 (USD 529) per month. According to Baydamirli, it is impossible to support five children with this salary.

President Erdoğan's remarks were also widely discussed on social media platforms. Some resorted to humor, like one teacher from Ordubad who dedicated a poem to Erdoğan's remarks. In a video posted on TikTok, the teacher entertainingly recites the poem, in which he asks: “Erdoğan, sir, how do you suggest we make five children? Do you think a child just eats sand and soil, brother? It will be grand if we get money for each child, man. We'll make not five but fifteen then, man. People struggle to sustain one child, man!”

Azerbaijani writer Gunel Movlud wrote on Facebook, “Even my seconds are full, let alone minutes, over the course of the last two weeks. I get up at 6 in the morning and throw two to three bananas in my bag, just so I don't lose time eating during the day. Then there is the planning of summer holidays with kids, my own work, my translations, and classes in the evening. I am not sure how much longer this will continue. And here is Erdoğan saying, ‘have five children.'”

“Will Erdoğan cover the costs of these children?” asked another Facebook user.

“It is ironic that two men are having a discussion about this,” said feminist activist Narmin Shahmarzade in an interview with HamamTimes. “This is what patriarchy wants, as it views a woman's body as a birth machine,” the activist told the popular online media platform.

Previously, President Erdoğan told Turks living abroad to have a minimum of five children in order to counter “Europe's injustices.”

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