Mothers tempted to abandon babies in Moscow

An increasing number of babies born to Central Asian migrant workers are abandoned in Moscow maternity hospitals. Diloram Ibrahimova, of the BBC's Central Asia and Caucasus Service, meets some of those struggling to tackle this trend.

Image caption Zebi's mother does not want her to bring baby Jahongir home

Jahongir is just two months old. Born in a Moscow hospital to a young migrant mother from Tajikistan, one of the poorest countries in Central Asia, his chances of being abandoned at birth were high. Many young immigrants in Russia decide they cannot care for their babies.

Jahongir's mother, Zebi, travelled a similar journey to millions of other Central Asian migrants. She left her remote village in Tajikistan heading for Moscow, in search of work.

Young and naive, she got pregnant immediately, leaving her with a dilemma: care for her baby in a crowded flat, sharing a room with other migrant workers, or abandon her newborn child after birth.

In the end a local charity came to her aid. Dargil Nanik, which means "Find me mama", is run by film director Memonsho Memonshoev and Madina Yuldasheva.

Ms Yuldasheva says that the pregnant Zebi wanted her child adopted because she faced an impossible situation. She did not speak Russian, did not have a job and could not get hold of the most basic necessities.

Ms Yuldasheva took Zebi, who is 19, into her own flat, which she shares with her two children. The organisation helped the young mother-to-be with the documents necessary to get maternity care and a temporary residence permit.

"When the time came, we took her to the maternity unit," Ms Yuldasheva says. "Zebi could not even understand simple phrases like 'Change out of your clothes' or 'Lie down'."

Six-month deadline

Since Dargil Nanik was founded in 2009, Ms Yuldasheva's flat has become a temporary shelter for a succession of migrant women who live there before they can find safe accommodation.

Ms Yuldasheva is trying to persuade Tajik and Uzbek women not to abandon their babies. Russian law says that if a child is left in an orphanage for more than six months, mothers automatically lose their parental rights and the children can be adopted.

Many mothers do not realise this and leave their children in the hope of finding a job and picking up their children later when they have a stable income.

Dargil Nanik specifically works with Central Asian migrants, trying to inform them about local rules and regulations, as well as giving practical help.

Memonsho Memonshoev was himself brought up in an orphanage in Tajikistan, an experience that has deeply influenced him.

Image caption Memonsho Memonshoev says he is against the concept of orphanages

"I am against the very notion of orphanages," he says. "Children that grew up there are poorly adapted to life, they don't know simple things: how to cook, how to behave in some social situations. They are too institutionalised."

He and Ms Yuldasheva are trying to persuade Zebi to keep Jahongir, but the young woman is under pressure from her family. Her mother back in Tajikistan wants Jahongir put up for adoption so Zebi can return home alone.

Social stigma plays a big part, as a migrant woman returning home with a child will be looked down upon. Zebi's family think Jahongir is "haram" - a dirty child - and they do not want him.

The Russian authorities confirm that a growing number of babies born to Central Asian migrants are left in the care of Moscow orphanages.

In the past five months alone, 150 newborn children were left by their migrant mothers. Numbers could be far higher, as only officially registered children are counted, according to Russia's Department of Family and Youth policy.

'Psychological trauma'

Dargil Nanik is also looking after a young Uzbek woman called Mahliyo, who was picked up from a basement brothel in a small commuter suburb of Moscow. They found Mahliyo just two days after she gave birth, hidden away in a damp and windowless place.

Other sex workers wanted the young woman to give up the baby and continue to work.

Image caption Mahliyo was urged by other sex workers to give up her baby

Ms Yuldasheva says they persuaded Mahliyo to keep the child, and eventually moved her into temporary accommodation. A fund-raising event was held to collect money for her air ticket home.

There are many more stories like these. And Central Asian migrants are particularly vulnerable, far from home, in different social surroundings and often staying illegally.

Rustam Tadjiev, a Moscow gynaecologist, says that because women have come illegally, they do not have health insurance. Others do not know that they can be entitled to free emergency health care.

Another obstacle is that many are illiterate, do not know their rights and - coming from a traditional society where sexual relationships are considered taboo for unmarried girls - they are unaware of elementary contraceptive methods.

"When a migrant woman who is here on her own gives birth she experiences a psychological trauma," he says.

"She is not married, she doesn't have a soul to ask help from. She doesn't know what to expect tomorrow, she has no other choice than to leave her baby behind."

But there are no easy answers. Many girls who take up work in Russia are forced into sexual relationships by their employers. Some become victims of rape.

Dr Tadjiev says the Russian authorities should introduce an amnesty for all pregnant illegal immigrants, so they can be under medical supervision.

But as long as life for Central Asian migrant workers in Russia remains as hard as it is, the future for babies like Jahongir remains uncertain.