April 02, 2024

Children with Child


Children with Child
The shadow of a pregnant teen standing in front of a window. MarijoAH12, Wikimedia Commons

Teenagers in Russian orphanages are especially vulnerable when faced with unwanted pregnancies. From pressuring adolescents to abort to denying requested abortions, orphanage administrations have often mishandled their cases of teen pregnancies. Recently, Cherta published stories of teenagers who went through having a child while in a children's home.

According to Rosstat, there were 25,000 teenage pregnancies in Russia in 2021, but there is no official number on how many of them are in orphanages. Sex continues to be a taboo topic in Russian education, particularly in children's homes. According to the director of the Nashi Deti (Our Children) Foundation, Svetlana Stroganova, sexual education activists have faced threats of arrest. Without access to education on safe sex, the cycle of unwanted pregnancies is bound to repeat itself.

Katya, whose real name was withheld, entered an orphanage at 14. Her mother had a drinking problem and beat her. At 17, she met a boy from outside the institution through a common group of friends. A few months into the relationship, she started feeling nauseous. The first pregnancy test was negative. But a second test confirmed her worst nightmare.

Since Katya was underage at the time of her pregnancy, she could not get an abortion without consent from an adult. She told Cherta, "The director of the orphanage did not want to assume that responsibility and [give consent to an abortion] (...) I realized everything was bad. I won't be allowed to have an abortion." 

Stroganova told Cherta that pregnancy is a big problem for orphanages. Unlike drug addictions or escapes from institutions, a growing belly is hard to hide.

Katya recalled seeing another pregnant orphan in 2018 and how the orphanage deprived teachers of their bonuses as punishment. Katya received help from the institution and volunteer teachers, but she also remembers how an instructor called her "irresponsible" behind her back. The director wanted to force Katya to sign papers formalizing her relationship with the child's father. He threatened to "arrest" the 18-year-old boy if she refused.

As her pregnancy progressed, going to college became torture. Morning sickness, backaches from sitting in class all day, and not knowing who to tell about her symptoms isolated her even more. Luckily, her boyfriend was supportive, so she moved in with him and his mother after giving birth to a girl. The couple eventually moved to an apartment with help from the state. Katya and her boyfriend still live together. and their daughter is now four. However, not everyone shared Katya's positive outcome.

Stroganova told Cherta that, if a pregnancy is detected at an early stage, orphanages will pressure teens to have an abortion. An orphan named "Nikolai" said the directives of his institution forced his 16-year-old sister to have an abortion. He told Cherta, "I didn't know the details, I only knew the fact itself. And that really traumatized my sister (...) The adults didn't want more problems, that is why they persuaded her."

Stroganova explained that, if a teen gives birth, the baby is likely to be taken to an orphanage.

In 2015, Yulia Zhemchuzhnikova, a 49-year-old Muscovite, read an article about Oleg and Polina, a teenage couple expecting a child in an orphanage in Smolensk. In response, she filed documents to become their guardian.

Oleg's mother was arrested for killing his father while intoxicated. Polina was sent to an orphanage after her mother was deprived of parental rights due to mental illness. Polina and Oleg fell in love at the orphanage. Polina became pregnant at 15. Zhemchuzhnikova explained, "Polinka was pressured to have an abortion for a long time, but she refused." Since Polina and Oleg had no guardians, their child was at risk of being sent to an orphanage. Zhemchuzhnikova had to act quickly. Baby Sofia was born days after the guardianship was finalized.

Maria Fyoderova, a specialist in supporting adoptive families with the organization Naydi Semyu (Find a Family), explained that it is not easy for a child to adapt to a new family and sometimes it doesn't end well.

Living together wasn't easy. Polina and Oleg became addicted to drugs, ran away, and were sent back to the orphanage. Sofia was sent to live with her biological aunt. The teenagers eventually regained custody of Sofia at 18. They moved to an apartment and had another daughter. Zhemchuzhnikova is in contact with the couple, but admits she has not communicated with them often.

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