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    Russian lawmakers pass maternity bill in first reading

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    MOSCOW, November 17 (RIA Novosti) - A maternity incentive bill on payouts for women who give birth to more than one child was passed by lawmakers in Russia's State Duma in its first reading Friday.

    The president-sponsored bill, aimed at reversing the current decline in the nation's birth rate, will provide for one-off payouts to women who give birth to or adopt a second child after January 1, 2007, and for subsequent births.

    But the payouts, which are currently set at 250,000 rubles (a little under $9,400), but will be revised annually to adjust for inflation, come with conditions attached. They could be invested in education, housing, or a pension saving program, but not until the child turns three, or three years after his/her adoption.

    The second-birth incentive bill is expected to help Russia overcome a severe demographic crisis. The country's population has been in steady decline since the launch of market reforms in the early 1990s, and, according to the United Nations, it may further fall by one-third by the middle of the century, from today's 142 million.

    Ahead of the bill's submission to parliament last month, Deputy Duma Chairman Oleg Morozov said, citing expert estimates, that if enacted, the new legislation could triple the birth rate within three years.

    In his annual address to the nation in May, President Vladimir Putin said the population was falling by about 700,000 each year, and pledged financial incentives to women with larger families.

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