Children of Latvia
Realizing Children’s Rights in Latvia
Despite a score of 8.55/10, the situation of Latvian children is not the most enviable. The problems they face are considerable, particularly in terms of violence, sexual exploitation, and the discrimination of minorities. In order to succeed in improving the situation of childrens’ rights, Latvia must continue to intensify its efforts.
Realization of Children’s Rights Index :
Population: 2,2 million
Life expectancy: 72,3 years
Main problems faced by children in Latvia:
For some Latvian children access to healthcare is still difficult for financial and/or geographical reasons despite the introduction of measures to expand access to basic healthcare services.
In addition, diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis are on the rise, with iron deficiency and malnutrition persisting. As a result, but also because of violence, car accidents, etc., the infant mortality rate is high (8%).
With regards to adolescents, there is a high number of pregnancies in young women from 15 to 17 years of age. It is also common for them to resort to abortion because they have not used a method of contraception. As for the mentally ill youth, they are often placed in specialized institutions because their parents do not have the financial capacity to care for them. Unfortunately, such youths are deprived of much of their freedom.
In Latvia, primary and secondary education is free and mandatory. In addition to traditional schools there are schools reserved for ethnic minorities where the language of instruction is not Latvian. However, any student who acquires an education in another language has to learn Latvian and pass exams in that language.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has noted a high truancy rate in schools in Latvia. This is a result of poverty, poorly functioning transport, the closure of schools in less populated areas, the lack of interest shown by parents in the education of their children and school bullying.
In Latvia, the idea of nondiscrimination has not been fully applied. Children of minorities, like the Roma, Russian speakers, children with disabilities, or those living in rural areas lack access to health and education facilities.
Latvia is heavily criticized for discrimination against Russian speakers who represent a third of the country’s population. For example, in order to obtain Latvian citizenship, they must first have resided in Latvia for at least 16 years and pass a Latvian language test.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has advised the Latvian authorities to ensure the improvement of the education system in Latvia for children of ethnic minorities in order to provide equal access to higher education and jobs. It also recommends finding a place in the curriculum for the teaching of minority languages and cultures.
Along with Russian speakers, the Roma are one of the most discriminated groups in Latvia. No action has been taken to facilitate the process of naturalization for children born in Latvia to non-citizens that came to the country after 1991.
Special classes for Roma children have been created which reinforce the stigma of this minority group. The Council of Europe’s Anti-Racism Commission wants to close these classes and integrate the Roma children into mainstream classes.
Corporal punishment is officially prohibited by Latvian law. Yet, violence against children is widespread in the country. Corporal punishment continues to be practiced in schools and adequate sanctions have not been imposed. It is difficult to stop this humiliating practice and matters are not helped by the widely held view that acts of violence committed within the family realm are considered to be private matters.
Many Latvian children are also confronted by sexual violence such as rape or abuse. 10% of children by the age of 15 have already suffered from sexual abuse. Due to a lack of staff in youth accommodation and boarding schools, children often live in an isolated environment, unattended and at risk of being sexually exploited by their peers. It is common for children that have been victims of sexual abuse to do the same to others, with some parents abusing their children for the same reason.
According to the Dardedze Center (Latvian NGO fighting against violence towards children), the number of reported cases of child abuse and sexual violence has increased in recent years. However, this could be because the population has recognized the problem and thus denounces more and more cases.
The main victims of such violence are the Roma, including children. Due to a fear of the police, Roma victims tend not to report such assaults.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance wants Latvian authorities to strengthen their efforts in managing this phenomenon. The skinheads and other right-wing groups have repeatedly been the perpetrators of racist violence against the Roma. The Commission advises Latvia to monitor their activities and implement initiatives in schools to educate children.
In Latvia, the sexual exploitation against children is a problem proving difficult to eradicate. It is often denied or ignored in silence and many other factors contribute to its ongoing presence.
Children are also known to be sold from poor families who do not have the means to provide adequately for their children and have little time for them. Such families and children tend to fall easily into the clutches of traffickers who use them for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
The trafficking of children is officially considered to have been eradicated from the country, yet it seems that Latvia was counted among the countries of origin for child trafficking. Street children are the most plagued by this kind of trafficking due to their vulnerability.
There is very little information and statistics, official or not, on child trafficking. According to a study published in 2009 by the European Union Agency on Fundamental Rights, in the course of the past 4 years the highest number of children sold per month was around 100. However, it is unclear whether this figure is truly reflective of the situation.
By law, immigrant minors that arrive in Latvia and are under 14 years old cannot be detained. However, a US government report from 2010 condemned the conditions in which young boys were detained and revealed many must share their daily lives with adult prisoners and often for long periods.
Moreover, the detention conditions are inadequate and do not satisfy the fixed criteria of international law. The detained children do not have any link with the outside world, lack space, hot water, heating, and adequate sanitary facilities. They are isolated, without access to care or education, and are often deported without access to legal counsel. Children born into detention do not receive a birth certificate and remain unrecognized.
Finally, the law does not favor family reunification. This is unfortunate for unaccompanied children and those who have been separated from their families, because it goes against their development and often deprives them of the right to family.