Her name is Lorena, 15 years of age and her daughter both live in an abandoned building with other families in a village near Botosani found in north-eastern Romania.
“God gave me a wonderful girl,” says Lorena. “But life is difficult, because I myself am a child.” Romania has the largest number of mothers aged from 12 to 15 years old in Europe.
“I did not want (the pregnancy), I wanted it to happen later,” said the girl, cradling her baby. She lives with her boyfriend and the other seven families in an abandoned building.
A few kilometers away, Diana, also 15 years old, says she cried when she learned she was pregnant.
“My life has changed dramatically,” said the girl with the long black hair, who regrets “not being able to play with the girls” as before. Abandoned by the father of her child, she lives with her mother and six siblings in a two-room house.
Romania and Bulgaria, the two poorest countries of the European Union, are also those with the highest proportion of first children born to teenage mothers, 15.6% of the first-born in Romania and 14.7 % in Bulgaria, according to the latest Eurostat figures, which refer to the year 2013.
Approximately 18,600 Romanian teenage girls gave birth in 2014 – a figure slightly down compared to 2013 – according to the Romanian Institute of Statistics, 2,212 of which were aged 12 to 15 years old. More than two thirds of the total were living in rural areas.
Although there are no official figures, NGOs estimate that the Romanian’s minority, numbering about two MILLION people and in which early marriages are very common, is very concerned by this question.
“This is a complex phenomenon caused by poverty, by emigration – which many children are left to the care of grandparents – and especially by the lack of health education reproduction,” the president of the Romanian branch of the organization Save the Children, Gabriela Alexandrescu told the AFP.
She says “In the villages we visited, most young people hadn’t taken any courses on this topic.”
A teen pregnancy poses serious health and social problems. Many young mothers are forced to abandon school or suffer from severe depression and their babies are often premature.
Late in 2015, citing a “critical” situation sixty NGOs called the Ministry of Education to introduce sex education in schools. The signatories believe that it would limit the number of unwanted pregnancies, but also protect young people against sexually transmitted diseases.
“The Ministry of Health supports the introduction of health education classes, which include notions of hygiene, information on sexual and reproductive diseases”, said an AFP spokeswoman Oana Grigore, adding that several working meetings with experts from the Ministry of Education have already occurred.
Expressing “concern at the large number of unwanted teenage pregnancies,” the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for its part urged Romania to adopt a national strategy on sexual and reproductive health.
Do not ‘burn the steps’
But twenty associations, some of which are related to the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, lambasted such a project in an open letter, assuring that “nothing proves the usefulness of these courses” to lower the birth rate among teenagers .
“I think we are burning the steps. If this worries us, we must begin by talking to parents, asking them to pay more attention to their children,” said Cristina Benga, Vice President of the Association of Parents for religion classes (APOR ).
Mrs Alexandrescu emphasizes that minor mothers are often “from marginalized families, vulnerable” and calls for a greater role for social and health services. “Unfortunately, these girls rarely consult a doctor before giving birth” and even less to learn about contraceptives, she said.
At Botosani, Diana ensures know that there are ways to guard against further pregnancies. But her decision is, she says, “I will never marry, never have babies.”