This Europe: Chirac becomes the villain for relaxing rules on hero mothers

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The Independent Online

Official heroines of the French state can, in future, be unmarried, President Jacques Chirac said yesterday. They can also be divorced. Or even foreign.

The President handed out "medals of the French family" yesterday to the latest batch of 40 women who had been declared state heroines for their proficiency in giving birth to and raising children

However, to the fury of some traditionalist family organisations, M. Chirac announced that he planned to relax the rules that restrict the medal to mothers who are French, married and of good moral character.

M. Chirac also revealed that he planned to abolish the differences in medals, which are currently gold (for mothers of eight or more children), silver (for mothers of six or seven) and bronze (for mothers of four or five) and instead just have one medal. The medal can now go to women who are single, divorced or foreign, as long as they live in France and fulfil the fundamental condition of having produced and raised a lot of well-behaved children.

Traditionalists responded with indignation and Marie-José Thollot, president of the federation of family medal holders, said: "If they are going to hand it out to concubines, they might as well give it to anybody, even to homosexuals. Why not? In truth, the family is marriage."

The medal was created in 1920 as part of government measures to promote the French birth rate after the slaughter of the First World War.

But France's birth rate - which had lagged behind other European countries - is now booming with 1.9 babies for every woman.

The French government offers a range of incentives - other than medals - to encourage the production of large families. Apart from generous tax allowances and family allowances, the parents of "familles nombreuses" travel for half-price on the Paris metro and for reduced prices on the railways and on internal air flights.

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