Staunton, 4 June – There are many ways to measure Russia’s demographic decline, but perhaps the most striking is a figure Ada Gorbacheva, a Nezavisimaya Gazeta commentator, offered yesterday: Over the last 10 to 15 years, the share of children in the Russian population has fallen from 25 percent to 16 percent.
The number of youths aged 15 to 17 has declined the most precipitously, Gorbacheva says, there are only a few more than three million of the group that will soon form the prime draft pool and the new entrants to the prime child-bearing age cohort.
While there is some good news concerning this age group – infant mortality in Russia has fallen to levels comparable with the more advanced Western countries – most of the trends among children aged one to 18 are negative and cannot be changed by medical intervention alone, Gorbacheva says.
Over the last decade, she reports, chronic diseases among young Russians have increased by 30 percent and their spread in the course of studying has gone up “by more than 50 percent.” They are also less physically fit generally than the same cohort in the past: eight to nine percent have low body weight and about the same percentage are obese.
According to Gorbacheva, “from 30 to 40 percent” of pupils in the upper grades must limit their choice of profession because of health. And last year, 59 percent of draftees were found suffering from one or another illness, with about a third of the total deemed “unfit for military service.”
Still more worrisome for the future, she says, is the fact that “now practically a third of girls and boys suffer from defects in the reproductive sphere.” That will exacerbate the country’s growth rate still further.
Moreover, mortality rates among Russian young people are high. Currently, some 7,000 to 8,000 young people die each year, a rate “three times greater than in European countries.” Seventy percent of these are the result of traumas of various kinds. Russia is among the world “leaders” in terms of the number of suicides among the young.
Russian government and academic experts point out, Gorbacheva says, that such accidents and suicides among Russian teenagers are often the result of parental neglect or inattention rather than the lack of medical service. Where medicine can play the biggest role – among newborns and those under one – the country’s doctors have done a good job, they add.
But among older children, parents are typically to blame because they must now take responsibility for their children. A change in the mentality of parents, the Nezavimaya Gazeta writer says, is needed if thing are to get better. Given cutbacks in government financing, “there are practically no after-school activities” or sports sections “as a rule.”
That means young people have “a great deal of free time. How they spend it,” Gorbacheva says, “depends on the family.”