VILNIUS - Children in Lithuania are the least safe in Europe and the risks they face are the highest, a recent survey has found.
The survey, carried out in 29 countries by the United Nations Children's Foundation, found that Lithuania lags behind many European countries in keeping its children safe and healthy.
The director of the Lithuanian State Child Protection and Adoption Service, Odeta Tarvydiene, took part in a conference in Florence, Italy, where results of the survey were presented. She said that Lithuania came in last in the category of children's safety and risks. The highest position Lithuania scored was 21st in the field of "children's health." By comparison, Estonia was 11th.
"The results reflect society's view on the family, especially children and their well-being. The results in other surveyed countries also show weakened family relations. [In Lithuania] Children don't feel safe, they don't share their feelings and troubles with the parents as the connection between the two are not strong enough," Tarvydiene told The Baltic Times.
"Children are lonely and upset. The state must pay more attention to the family, not only financially, but morally as well," she said.
Psychologist Jurate Smilte Jasiulione agrees, saying that parents do not have enough skills to raise children.
"There are no parent-training courses, which is one of the reasons. Also, when talking about children, we can't forget the broader society. The 'children's quality of life' survey mirrors the results of surveys adults take part in. For example, if a teacher doesn't feel safe at school, a child won't feel that way either," Jasiulione said.
UNICEF's Lithuanian office refused to comment on the issue, as the results of the survey are not official yet and will only be presented to the broader society in April.
Tarvydiene said the survey included several fields, such as children's health (how many of them eat breakfast and fruit everyday, brush their teeth, etc.), children's material well-being and their well-being based on their own opinions. It also looked at relationships, including the ones in the family and outside the family, education and activity, the home environment, and children's safety and the risks they encounter.
"The 'safety and risks' category includes the amount of children who smoked or drank alcohol at least once a week, also the number of children who were bullied, and the mortality of children older than infants," Tarvydiene said.
She also said that research in material well-being included such factors as the number of books in children's homes, income, and the amount of children living in unemployed families. Lithuania was 25th in this category, one step ahead of the United Kingdom, which came 26th.
Children stated that they are not happy about relationships in family and school, with the country placing 24th in the category. Vaiku linija (Children's line), a phone line providing free psychological help for children, who call anonymously, highlights the problem. Vaiku Linija answered 80,000 calls in 2008. Children preferred to share their problems with strangers rather than family members.
"We received about 3 million calls last year, but the line is only capable of answering one out of 40 calls. We work 10 hours a day," said Jasiulione, who works for Vaiku linija.
She said that children do not feel they can solve problems at home, so they call the children's line, as they are guaranteed confidentiality and support, without their problems being ridiculed as insignificant.
"We divide children's problems into two major categories: problems with peers and problems with parents," Jasiulione said.
"We also receive calls from suicidal teenagers. Our policy on this is strict 's we try to convince them that this is not a way out. Actually children reflect the general society in the way they feel and deal with problems," she said.
The average age of children calling is 12-15 years old.
Lithuania is 28th in the overall UNICEF survey results, Malta, which provided incomplete data, came in last.