Adolescent mothers and bleak lives are the toll of one Bulgarian Romani community’s taboo against sex education.
SHUMEN, Bulgaria | In this small Bulgarian city, the Roma mostly keep to their own quarter, known locally as the mahala. Among women in the neighborhood, many married in their mid-teens and bore their first child within a year. Then came several more children in quick succession.
Daniela Metodieva, though, says she bucked expectations. She held off on marriage until 17, then gave birth to a girl the next year. She stopped there, at one child.
She’s exceptional in other ways as well: while raising her daughter, now 17, Metodieva waitresses in a bar. Other women in the mahala are either unemployed or sweep the streets of downtown Shumen.
Metodieva wants better things for her daughter, but worries the teen will follow in her footsteps. “I’m only 35 – I don’t want to be a grandmother yet,” says Metodieva, who’s standing, arms folded, in the middle of the road. Her neighbors gather around, listening in curiously.
“Some guy may lie to my daughter,” Metodieva continues. “She may get married and have her own family soon. But what will she understand about life? … For sure, if I could turn back the clock, I wouldn’t marry so young. It’s only when you’re older that you see what life is really like.”
Metodieva and other Bulgarian Roma say the community needs a dose of sex education, to fully grasp the consequences of teen pregnancy. They partly blame the state, which doesn’t mandate the subject in the school curriculum. Romani parents then amplify the silence: sex is as taboo a topic as there is.
As a result, the community doesn’t connect the dots of how teen pregnancy perpetuates the cycle of poverty. (more…)