Ask Lithuanian authorities to stop arbitrary separation of children from their parents
On July 1, 2018 a new version of the Law on the Fundamentals of the Protection of the Rights of the Child together with its substatutory legal acts entered into force. Unfortunately, the new child rights protection model in Lithuania is harmful and unjust not only for the parents but for the children themselves – it confers huge power on state authorities to intervene in the private life of families and to arbitrarily take children away from their families. Even a potential “risk” or a minor offence can be enough to separate a child from his/her family if the living environment is formally recognized as “unsafe”.
The new Law on the Fundamentals of the Protection of the Rights of the Child was adopted in light of a tragedy that occurred in 2017. A five-year-old boy was beaten to death by his mother and her cohabitee. This story sparked outrage and provoked very restrictive legislative initiatives. Dovilė Šakalienė – a member of the Parliament and initiator of the new regulation – seemed determined to make the child rights protection as rigorous as possible. As a result, the Lithuanian system of child rights protection is becoming similar to the infamous Norwegian Child Rights protection agency Barnevernet, in which model the child is viewed as an individual whose family bonds are of little importance and may be cut off whenever the state considers that his/her family is facing any difficulties.
Unfortunately, after Lithuania adopted the new law, the number of children temporarily or permanently separated from their parents skyrocketed. In the first 9 days about 90 children were separated from their parents or legal guardians! Nevertheless, many terrified families kept silent about the authorities’ abuse of power. Later, it was revealed why: some families were forced to sign so-called confidentiality agreements to prevent them from making their stories public. Not until mid-October did one family destroy the “bubble of silence”, making their story public. Their children had been taken because the mother was seen in the park slapping the buttocks of her son who had been running towards a busy road. The officials publicly denounced that the mother was drunk even though an alcohol test showed that she was totally sober. She was arrested for 48 hours, and both of her children were separated for one month not only from her but also from their father, who, according to the authorities, had refused to cooperate by protecting his scared son from a very aggressive child rights protection officer with a criminal background. After the intervention of the mass media and some members of Parliament – and especially due to societal pressure – both children were returned to their parents, but the harm done to this family will be long-lasting.
One of the main problems is that the new provisions that entered into force with the law (and were signed by Linas Kukuraitis, minister of social work and labor) are too rigorous. They present a long list of requirements that are checked in a child’s home if it is suspected that the child is being mistreated by his/her parents. The “checklist” aims to estimate the level of “threat” posed to the child. The main danger, however, is that no real threat is even required, and the authorities can base their decision to take a child on an indirect possible threat that is sometimes even unreal and depends on subjective evaluation. Moreover, the criteria are so strict as to subject many families to being deemed “dangerous” for their children; thus, many parents are afraid to be denounced falsely by their neighbors, medical doctors, kindergarten, or school teachers. They live in fear and anxiety of making any mistake and are discouraged from paternity.
It is true that not all families are perfect. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however, indicates that the family is a natural and fundamental group of society, and it has the right to be protected by society and the state. Thus, the first and most important task of the state must be supporting the family, not restricting it and meting out punishment for parents. Even a short separation of a child from the family is a psychological trauma that can have long-term consequences for his/her psyche. The arbitrary and unmeasured taking of children from the family does not serve the interests of children. It is a form of institutional violence against the child and the family.
By signing this petition, you can show your support for the efforts to reverse the reform of child rights protection in Lithuania and to respect the institution of the family. Your signature will be sent to the representatives of the most important Lithuanian authorities that could take actions to reverse the reform.
Your signature is extremely important as it shows the Lithuanian authorities that every child has a right to live with his/her biological family and every family is worth protecting, cherishing, and helping.
Sign this petition now!
Petition to: Lithuanian authorities