BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – Ten years ago Hungary realized it had a major problem. Abortions were up, the birthrate was low, and its population was dwindling. So the government in Budapest did something radical, it made children and families the nation's most important resource.
Minister for Families
Katalin Novak is a rising star in Hungary. She's a leader in the ruling political party Fidesz and serves as Minister for Families. It's a cabinet-level position focused on, get this, increasing the nation's birthrate.
When her party took over in 2010 leaders realized they had two options: open the door to more immigrants or entice Hungarian citizens to have more babies.
"The number of marriages were down. The number of divorces were up, the number of abortions were high," Minister Novak told CBN News in an exclusive interview.
In the last four decades, Hungary's population had dropped by a whopping 10%.
Pastor Nemeth Sandor remembers those times well when under Communist rule Hungarians weren't eager to bring kids into the world.
"So many people did not want children because they were afraid of being poor," Pastor Sandor recalls.
In fact, there were years when the number of abortions was greater than the number of births, so Novak and her team got to work making it more attractive for young people to get together and start a family.
"To support young adults to be able to have as many children as they wish to have at the moment when they wish to have these children so to give them the real freedom of choice, the opportunity to choose in favor of life as many times as they wish to," she said.
Among other things, working Hungarian women who have four children pay no income taxes for life and get three years off from work to care for their babies. Couples can get a $30,000 interest-free loan to help buy a house. Repayment goes down with each child and after three kids the debt is forgiven.
It's working. Over the past decade, the birthrate has risen tracking the government investment in family-friendly policies.
"We also give services, not only financial support but also childcare facility or free child catering, or summer camps for the children," Novak adds.
And Hungarians aren't just having babies. Over the last decade, marriages are up 83%, divorces are at a 60-year low, and abortions are down dramatically.
"For me personally this is one of the most important outcomes of our ten-year family-friendly or family-oriented policies. The abortions dropped by 41% and I think that we still have work to be done in this matter because we have to point out the value of life," Novak, a mother of three, says.
Hungary's pro-family policies are inscribed in its constitution adopted in 2010. This year it was amended to clarify a mother is a woman and a father is a man. Also, to say the education of children, including sexual education, belongs solely to their parents.
A move that drives European Union leaders in Brussels mad.
"That created such outrage in the European Union's politics that now they are trying to impose sanction on Hungary," Tristan Azbej, State Secretary, tells CBN News.
The executive branch of the European Union launched legal action against Hungary accusing the government of discriminating against LGBT people.
"We are heavily attacked and criticized for the belief, our Christian beliefs, and also Christian democratic political ideas," Azbej adds.
Zoltan Kovacs, a spokesman for the Prime Minister, says the European Union is overstepping by meddling in the education policies of a member nation.
"They don't like us because we won't let the violent and the overreaching LGBTQ propaganda come to our schools, come to the lives of our children," he tells CBN News during an exclusive interview in Budapest.
As Hungary looks ahead to its election next year, the opposition is banding together to take out Prime Minister Viktor Orban who's been returned to office overwhelmingly three times.
"For me, it is very difficult to understand what is controversial in saying the mother is a woman and the father is a man or that marriage is between one man and one woman based upon their mutual consent. I think it is the basis of our lives and we just have it reflected in our constitution. So, I think that we don't have to explain it because it is just the way it has always been and that's the way it still is in Hungary," Kovacs says.
Christian leaders like Pastor Sandor are pleased with Orban's family policies.
"Of course, it is a fulfillment of a prayer that the policy of the government is aligning with us, and may God make it permanent," he explains.
When asked what folks in the US should know about Hungary's pro-family agenda, Minister Kovak said, "We have never had the intention to have international attention focusing on us or teaching lessons to anybody, but we don't want to be taught any lessons either."
Making the health and growth of families a government priority is revolutionary in today's world, but officials here see it as a commodity that enriches Hungarian society and has no alternative.
The Bible says that children are a blessing from the Lord. Do you have questions about children, parenting, discipline, or family life? CBN has wonderful resources for you!