Lithuanian politicians want to backtrack on child protection

Lithuania's ruling and opposition parties are split on how much corporal punishment for children is acceptable.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Lithuanian politicians want to backtrack on child protection - NewsMavens
Child eyes, PixaBay

Why this story matters:

When children are harmed or killed and negligence from social services is deemed responsible, popular uproar demands stricter punishments for violent parents. Lithuania's recent reform to strengthen sanctions against potentially violent households is informally known as the Little Matas' reform (Matuko reforma), named after a recent victim.

Yet when a family temporarily lost custody rights after the mother spanked her child in public, various conservative activists demanded the reforms repealed, because they see them as a threat to families who "merely" spank their children once in a while.

And while the Ministry for Social Security and Labour is working on changes to the reform, individuals who organized in a Facebook group have staged a protest and a group of 58 MPs from six major parliamentary factions have registered their own amendments that would redefine this type of violence.

President Dalia Grybauskaitė made a statement that the reform was premature -- there was a lack of funding for adequate training of social workers and administration. Two coalitions of children's rights NGOs have seconded this evaluation -- the reform is essentially adequate, it only lacks adequate resources for the civil servants who are tasked with implementing it.

The new amendments would allow the removal of children from their families only in extreme cases.

That means threat to a child's life, health and development, when other means have been exhausted. The definition of physical violence would be amended to include only actions that cause considerable pain.

The current law was adopted in September 2017. In June that year, the government agreed on centralizing child protection services. Among other things, the changes removed the option of allowing children to stay with relatives while dangerous situations in their household are being resolved. With child care undergoing deinstitutionalization, many children ended up waiting in hospitals.

Details from the story:

  • Child protection reform was one of the promises of the current government. The reform was completed, in legal terms, in 2017, and the legal amendments have been enacted since July this year.
  • The leader of the ruling party, Ramūnas Karbauskis, was one of the drafters of this reform. His party's minister Linas Kukuraitis is in charge of implementing it.
  • However, some ruling party members now believe that the reform is flawed. The group calling for its amendment is lead by ruling party member Mindaugas Puidokas.
  • Some opposition conservatives also endorse the amendments, against the opinion of the leader of their party.
  • According to the current law, authorities establish threat levels when they investigate a family. Under the amendments, the threat levels would be removed.
  • Karbauskis has commented that the law needs to be amended, although perhaps not the way the group is suggesting. Karbauskis suggests that poverty should never be used as an excuse to remove a child from their family.
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