An increasing number of migrant workers from the former Soviet states of Central Asia are moving to Russia to seek work and these women face two growing problems.
Women from countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan come from very traditional societies, where sex is considered taboo for unmarried girls and they often have little awareness of contraceptive methods. This lack of knowledge, as well as their general vulnerability, with many lacking fluent Russian, means that increasing numbers of migrant girls are becoming pregnant and abandoning their babies.
One report from the BBC’s Central Asia and Caucasus service has been looking into this trend. Many young immigrants simply believe they are too poor to care for their babies. Knowing the Russian state will take care of their infants, many abandon their children as newborns.
Some local charities are addressing this issue, providing temporary homes for the girls and helping them obtain legal documents to gain permission for permanent residence. These organisations are also trying to advise migrant women about Russia’s laws. Some mothers hope to return and claim their children once they have found work, but if they leave a child more than six months, they forfeit any parental rights.
The authorities in Russia acknowledge the growing number of babies born to Central Asian migrants ending up in the care of orphanages. In the recent five months alone, 150 children were officially registered as abandoned in Moscow.
Some children may not even be registered, as their mothers are forced to give them up after becoming embroiled in sexual relationships with unscrupulous employers. These girls are encouraged to abandon any children conceived or face deportation as illegal immigrants. Since many from Central Asia are illiterate, they have no way of knowing their rights.
The other growing problem facing poor and illiterate women of Central Asia is the increasing rise of AIDS. In a report published at the recent international AIDS conference, UNICEF has found that the regions of Eastern Europe and Central Asia are not doing enough to prevent the spread of AIDS. HIV prevalence is up 700 per cent in some Central Asian countries, which are becoming the new ‘hot spots’ for the disease. With strict social attitudes towards sex, UNICEF has urged authorities to do more in providing information and health services. One new centre in Tajikistan is helping to promote HIV awareness, prevention and treatment, but much more needs to be done to slow the rapid increase of AIDS in the region.