June 26, 2016

Alcohol, abuse and unemployment: 20.000 Lithuanian children live at social risk

While the Ministry of Social Security and Labour claims to be investing in social work and employment, the statistics rise a question: why so late? There is an alarming number of families appearing on the social risk list of the country. Around 20.000 children are being raised in these families. ‘The actual number would be even higher, but many children have been taken from their families into large institutional care facilities. However, that is not a good solution as well’, explains Dovilė Šakalienė, Human Rights Expert.

Meike de Roest

Every year there are children dying because of homicide. Yet, Lithuania’s rural areas are in a worse shape due to deeper social problems, such as alcohol abuse, unemployment, poverty and an extremely low level of mental health services accessibility. At the same time, the level of suicides (especially amongst men) increases strongly when entering the countryside.

‘We have a very alarming picture of children in villages. Children often are raised by a single mother, or by a mother with constantly changing short-term partners. There are problems regarding alcohol, depression and poverty. Often the mother has experienced an abusive past herself (physical, emotional, sexual and neglect from her own early years). Sometimes the children are taken away, but this does not mean that the mother will not give birth to more children,’ tell Šakalienė.

Young villagers imagine their future

'When I grow up, I want to be...'

‘When I grow up, I want to be…’

In Antaliepte, where the street lights are manually switched off between eight and nine in the evening and a school bus picks up the children every day to go to school, more than a third of the 550 inhabitants survive on welfare.

In the county of Utena the youth unemployment is 28,9%, the second highest rate of Lithuania. ‘There are no jobs here, so I have decided to join the army’, tells 25 years old Karolis. ‘I am not sure if I will stay, or if I will try to find a job here. In the end I am sure that I will return to Antaliepte. I love and I hate my village at the same time. However, girls love guys in uniform’, says the uniformed soldier with a little wink.

While their parents are mindstuck in an outdated political system, Lithuania’s youngest generation is about to turn the page. ‘When I grow up… I want to be a cop’, says ten years old Orinta. ‘I want to be the model’, says Akvile (14), the oldest girl in the group, while Dominykas (11) imagines a future career as basketball player. Hearing these dreams about the future, you might easily forget that these children from Antaliepte are facing more difficulties than you would notice at first sight.

Living in a shed

After the Soviet regime went down in 1990, Lithuania had to establish a society in a very short periode of time. ‘With the collective farms, you did not have to try to ‘get’ a job. There were jobs for everyone. In fact, you did not have to ‘prove’ that you deserved the job, like people have to do nowadays. Ever since the Independence this has caused problems. Therefore, a big mentality change is still needed’, says Arvidas Saulius, chairman of Antaliepte.

Zita with her family

Zita with her family

‘Ten years ago our house burned down, so this shed started out to be a temporarily place, but I do not think we will ever have the money to rebuild our house,’ tells Zita. Together with her husband and his two children, they are the only four inhabitants of the village Sruogišku, one of the villages close to Antaliepte. She was taken away from her mother in her early years.

With no job, and without the perspective of finding one, the family of Zita receives approximatively 300 euro’s a month. Social worker Sandra Kiliuvienė tries to keep an eye on the family, by helping them where she can. ‘We have several families living at social risk in and around Antaliepte. Unfortunately I get paid to work only four hours a day, so I do not have enough time to visit all the families as often as they would need’, tells Sandra. With families living in a range of fifteen kilometers around Antaliepte, visiting them takes a lot of time. ‘I do not have a car, so especially in wintertime this causes problems’, explains Kiliuvienė.

Three times more suicides

While Lithuania is the third in the world’s most drinking countries (WHO research*), every ninth person is addicted to alcohol. Unicef’s Innocenti Report Card 11, published in 2013, shows that 27% of children between the age of 11 and 15 has been druk at least twice. This is the highest measured rate of Europe.

This family received a table to put in their house

This family received a table to put in their house

‘It is a vicious circle. People do not have a job, so they start drinking, and because they are drinking, they will not find a job… children become the victim of their parents’ alcohol problems’, explains Jurgita Ribinskaitė-Glatzer, secretary general at Mentor Lithuania, a non-governmental organisation that aims at the education of youth and their parents on the use of drugs.

Research shows that children whose parents have an alcohol problem are six times more likely to suffer domestic violence. Besides that, suicidal thoughts amongst young people seem to increase by three times.

In the sixty municipalities of Lithuania 19.527 children are considered to be living in social risk families. 276 of them live in the Zarasai municipality. Being a social risk family means that parents have problems concerning alcohol abuse, poverty or domestic violence.

Yet, this number is inaccurate, explains Jurgita Ribinskaitė-Glatzer: ‘Most of the families are considered a social risk family only when both parents are having an alcohol problem, while the family is actually already at risk when one parent is having a problem.’

A new chapter for Lithuania

One of the solutions to keep an eye on children growing up in social risk families, is a Children Day Care Center (CDCC). According to a research published in June 2015, commissioned by the Social Security and Labour Ministry of Lithuania, a fifth of all municipalities in Lithuania have zero to one CDCC’s. The Zarasai municipality belongs to these as well.DSC04746

Only 0,4 of Zarasai’s children growing up in social risk families have access to a CDCC. Five other municipalities have a lower rate, with a lowest of 0,2 in Panavezys. The highest rate has been measured in Vilnius municipality, with an average of 2,6.

According to social worker Sandra Kiliuvienė, a CDCC can play an important role in the monitoring of children from social risk families. Still for many regions the foundation of a CDCC seems to be impossible, due to the lack of financial support. The Ministry responded to this with the message that they will invest 0.5 million more than the last year.

DSC04737Despite the many challenges many Lithuanian villagers may face, many of them still consider themselves quite lucky. ‘There are no problems that we could not face, so we are happy to be here’, are the answers of several citizens of the small village. With the support of two Spanish EVS-volunteers the children of Antaliepte can play in a safe atmosphere and practice their English, while they are playing games or watching movies together. This future generation of cops, basketball players and models might be the start of a new chapter of Lithuania.


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