Date: Mon, 6 Mar 95 15:54 EET
Russia: Growth of single mothers poses new set of problems
By Olga Eremeeva, InterPress Service, Harare, 6 March 1995
Attn Editors: Please note the following item is part of a package of three stories intended to conincide with International Women's Day taking place on Wednesday, Mar. 8
MOSCOW, Mar 6 (IPS) - Well-known former photo model Tanya lives in a large four-roomed flat in one of Moscow's prestigious southern districts where she also has a Honda saloon with a driver and a nurse who looks after her three-month old daughter.
All that is missing for Tanya - who prefers not to give her full name - is a husband. However, she is looked after by a rich, married man.
''I have always objected to a child growing up without a father but at least I have got all the things I wanted. My child Lena is my pride and joy,'' she says.
Single well-off mothers like Tanya are rare in Russia though more and more rich men are able to afford to keep more than one family.
According to official statistics, there were about 1.5 million single mothers in Russia in 1994. In addition, a similar number of children are given a special allowance by the government.
The allowance equals one minimum monthly salary presently fixed at 20,500 roubles plus another 10,000 roubles (less than eight dollars in total).
With inflation running into double digit figures every month, it is impossible to bring up a child on this paltry amount and most single mothers rely on help from their parents or earn money by working at home.
For example, some mothers have opened nurseries in their homes while others look for jobs they can do on a part-time basis.
In contrast to Tanya, Irina, a 38-year-old barmaid and single mother of three children lives in one room in a typical Soviet- style communal apartment which 10 people now share.
Irina does not get any money from the fathers of her children and is not free to choose her workplace because her youngest daughter is only six months old. Irina's eldest son, who is 16, has found work in a shop and she says he is the only real income- earner in the family.
''To tell you frankly, I could have got married but I did not want it at all. Russian men are heavy drinkers and who will marry a woman with three children?''
For a growing number of Russian women, it is easier to remain single than find a good man. Divorce rates have been shooting up in the past few years and russian officials have repeatedly voiced concern over the dwindling population which is the result of falling birth rates.
The worst candidate for marriage is a heavy drinking man, and in a country known for excessive alcohol abuse that rules out a substantial portion of the male population. Women are known to say they would prefer a poor man, even one who is disabled to a drinker.
In the changing times in Russia, a large number of young men are being lured into shady businesses which border on the criminal though the money is good. However, their activities are prone to violence.
Demographic specialists also point out that Russia has among the world's highest percentages of educated women. This factor makes the task of finding a spouse even more demanding in a society where women outnumber men.
Before the start of russian reforms in the 'perestroika' years, single mothers had some distinct advantages over married women.
They had the right to get a flat without being on the waiting list and she could receive full pay whilst on sick leave. She also was able to retain her job during pregnancy.
It for this reason that many Russian mothers found it better to declare themselves single. But now the situation has changed drastically and it is much harder for single mothers to look after themselves.
Natasha, a 29-year old dentist with a disabled child, says she has been waiting to get a flat for the past five years but is now deciding whether to take an offer of a flat for 25,000 dollars.
''Fortunately, I have a good job in a private clinic where my salary is paid in dollars. I have to feed my entire family, including my mother, brother and daughter.
''But besides this, I have to find money to hire a masseur, teacher and nurse for my child who suffers from cerebral paralysis and I can hardly make both ends meet,'' she adds.
A number of single mothers are therefore turning to each other to struggle against their common difficulties. In 1990, three single mothers in Moscow formed an association which now has 50 members and is growing.
Marina Klenia, head of the group, said: ''all of us are in great distress. The officials are not interested in our lives. It's the church that helps us, specially a catholic organisation called 'The House of Maria'.''
Members of the association exchange clothes between their children, help out with baby-sitting and organise group excursions to the theatre or circus with the occasional donation.
They also work in a soup kitchen run by 'The House of Maria' in return for its support. Most of them are on the look-out for good husbands and three have already been successful since the association started.
Alexander Sinelnikov, a leading specialist at the Family Research Institute of the Ministry For Social Welfare in Moscow, said:
''The main cause of the growth of extra-marital births in the post-war period was the numerical imbalance between men and women.''
Sinelnikov says during and after the war, women were forced to bring up their children alone due to lack of men in the country -- the Soviet Union lost 30 million of its people during world war two. But today's single mother are forced to do the same because they cannot find eligible men.
The expert says the number of single mothers will increase over the next few years. Part of the reason is a global crisis of the family as a social institution but there are also specific russian factors.
''In our country we have an economic crisis, linked to a sexual revolution and a lack of proper contraception practices. all this means, our children will suffer heavily,'' Sinelnikov concludes.