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Single mums vs. deadbeat dads, mores

Janka Snopková is a 24 year-old single mother. Raising her two year-old son alone in the northern Slovak city of Považská Bystrica (population 43,500), she is an increasingly common phenomenon in Slovakia.
According to statistics provided by the Family Affairs Ministry, 9,500 children were born out of wedlock in 1999, some 17% of all Slovak new-borns for the year. In 1997, 15% were born to single mothers, compared to 10.6% in 1993.
But in a country consisting mainly of smaller cities and villages, where conservative values cause many to disparage single mothers, life for women like Snopková is not easy. Her unexpected pregnancy, she says, and the fact that she had no partner with whom to raise the child, led her family to panic.


Ingrid Pichlerová, 37, from Bratislava and her five and half year-old daughter Karoline. "If my family hadn't stood by me, I'd have gone for an abortion. I'm happy that I didn't."
photo: Ján Svrček

Janka Snopková is a 24 year-old single mother. Raising her two year-old son alone in the northern Slovak city of Považská Bystrica (population 43,500), she is an increasingly common phenomenon in Slovakia.

According to statistics provided by the Family Affairs Ministry, 9,500 children were born out of wedlock in 1999, some 17% of all Slovak new-borns for the year. In 1997, 15% were born to single mothers, compared to 10.6% in 1993.

But in a country consisting mainly of smaller cities and villages, where conservative values cause many to disparage single mothers, life for women like Snopková is not easy. Her unexpected pregnancy, she says, and the fact that she had no partner with whom to raise the child, led her family to panic.

"The father of my son told me he was too young and that he hadn't planned on becoming a father yet," she said June 4. "He said he wasn't responsible enough. I felt that there was no point in forcing him to stay with me, but my family thought otherwise."

Snopková added that her grandmother had called her pregnancy "a complete tragedy. She told me, 'You can't do this, it will cast shame upon the family'. She even went to meet the biological father's parents, to try to make them force him into marrying me."

The life of a single mother is made harder in Slovakia by the country's minute social benefits: unemployed single mothers receive 3,400 Slovak crowns ($68) per month, the minimum amount given to any jobless citizen. And while the fathers are expected to pay child support, says the Family Affairs Ministry, many simply don't contribute.


Single mothers say the help of familiy and friends is indispensible.
photo: Ján Svrček

"My life is a constant battle," said Ingrid Pichlerová, a 37 year-old native of Bratislava and the mother of five and half year-old Karoline. "I work occasional jobs, live from savings and the support I get from my family. The father of my daughter is interested neither in seeing Karoline nor in paying child support."

Tough road

Psychologist Mária Hargašová, from the Psychological Advice Centre in eastern Slovakia's Michalovce, agreed that single mothers in Slovakia faced a tough road.

"These women, who have the courage to live without a man, are looked down upon and their morality is questioned," she said. "They have to organise their lives without a partner, forget about career plans. They often remain unemployed, because employers view them as unreliable. On top of that, a single mother is still considered shameful, a black sheep."

In bigger Slovak cities, she continued, single mothers were allowed greater anonymity. But in the Slovak countryside "nothing short of the norm - the two-parent family model - is accepted from so-called normal, moral people."

Both Pichlerová and Snopková live with their parents, as neither can afford a flat of their own.

"My parents pay for the flat and the food, I take care of the baby's needs," Snopková explained. "I couldn't do this without my parents, considering what the state gives me."

The single mothers said their financial situations had been complicated by the fact that the biological fathers of their children would not pay child support. According to Slovak law, child support payments are determined by civil court judges who set the amount after inspecting the financial situations of both parents.

"There are no set guidelines which say how much either side has to pay in child support," said Peter Guráň, head of the Family Ministry's Family Issues department. The child support total, he continued, could therefore range anywhere from one crown per month to whatever the father was willing or able to pay. Normally, child support was set at "a few hundred crowns, because many of the fathers have no money themselves."

Those who don't pay child support may face two years in prison, a punishment which failed to stop 1,570 people (mostly men) from failing to meet child support dues last year. "Stricter penalties for non payers must be enforced," said the Family Ministry's Jana Kostanjevcová.

In the meantime, Pichlerová said that she would have to continue working occasional jobs and relying on the help of her close family. Snopková, who is also unemployed, said she wanted to find a job and maybe marry in the future.

"I'd love to give my child a complete family," she said. "But I don't want to do it at all costs. When the father of my son told me I should go for an abortion I knew he wasn't the right one to marry. I know I did the right thing."

Added Pichlerová: "I'm a good mother. Being without a man is not the end of the world."

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