Lithuania is among the worst countries in Europe for children’s well-being, according to research by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). With third-highest children suicide rate, Lithuania’s UNICEF representative called it a “national crisis”.
Lithuania ranked 33rd in the UNICEF research, which compared 38 countries from the European Union as well as the Organistion for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The worst three countries Chile, Bulgaria, and the US. The top three included the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway.
Lithuania performed worst in the category of psychological well-being. According to Roma Jusienė, a professor of psychology at Vilnius University, the research results were not surprising.
“We cannot expect to have happy and content children, while we have parents that cannot take care of themselves,” Jusienė said.
According to Erika Vėberytė, head of the Lithuanian UNICEF committee, the suicide rate was the most worrying aspect of children’s well-being. She called it “a national crisis” and somewhat of a mystery because “the number of children satisfied with the quality of life in Lithuania was not low”.
Rasa Dičpetrienė, head of Lithuanian branch of Save the Children NGO, said suicide in Lithuania was a complex problem caused by bullying, family troubles, such as alcoholism or poverty, and lack of help.
Jusienė added that Lithuania’s troubles were caused by a high tolerance for violence and other traumatising behaviour.
“We consume alcohol in front of children and say that it is alright. Many other countries cannot understand that,” she said.
Behind Estonia’s literacy
Data collected in 2018 showed that 38,8 percent of Lithuanian children aged 15 did not have basic reading and math skills. The country was ranked 33rd, while its neighbour Estonia was leading in this category.
According to Dičpetrienė, lack of basic skills at the age of 15 programs children for poverty in the future. She added that Lithuania should learn more from Estonia because such a huge gap between the two neighbouring countries was difficult to justify.
The research also showed that almost 30 percent of Lithuanian children had trouble finding friends. This could also be a result of poverty because younger people often judge each other based on their status and image, the experts said.
Ways to improve
Ilma Skuodienė, head of the State Child Protection and Adoption Service, told LRT.lt that child well-being in Lithuania has improved since 2018 when amendments to the children rights protection law were adopted.
“In recent years, the attitude towards violence against children has changed. While the rate of violence is still high, we notice it more often and more people report it,” Skuodienė said.
But she added that for the situation to improve significantly, the state must provide troubled families with more help. She mentioned the need to assist families in raising children with early development disorders, as well as to improve educational opportunities.
“It is necessary to ensure that children in villages, as well as those growing without parents in children’s homes, could get quality education,” Skuodienė explained.
Another problem, according to the child protection specialist, was the inaccessibility of psychological support services in the regions.
“Access to [mental health] services for families living in the provinces is still very limited, as there is a lack of specialists,” she said.
According to Skuodienė, significant improvements in children’s well-being would also require a drastic reduction in the rates of violence against them and in their families.