The scourge of child abuse in Latvia

  • 2000-12-21
  • Memo Merlino
The origins of child abuse are distant in our past as humans, and the causes are multiple, but in the life of a child who has sustained it, the devastation is everlasting and the cycle, more often than not, repeats itself when the child becomes an adult.

Children are the most defenseless and most vulnerable members of society. By nature they trust adults, to whom they look up to as role models. They accept discipline and adult authority, but when they are subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse, children know almost instinctively that they are being trapped into a nightmare of pain, degradation and ultimately despair.

Children live a life of virtual reality, as they fantasize about themselves, and a world full of innocence, especially at an early age. They tend to pretend that abuse is not happening to them, perhaps as a defense mechanism. But the trauma, while buried in the unconscious memory, never, ever leaves them.

Child abuse is a family secret, an institution's quashed evidence, be it one of an educational organization, government agency, or, worst of all the aftermath of an occupying army in a conflict, when children are brutalized, raped and murdered. We have seen that recently in Sierra Leone, in Chechnya and in Kosovo.

While in Latvia most people are unaware that child abuse goes on, it does. The danger is in the fact that it is not recognized as such, because it is easier to dismiss as a child's fantasy. Males, who are usually the perpetrators of such appalling crimes against children, do not regard it as a crime, because the punishment, if caught, is incommensurate with the offense.

In Latvia, child abuse is perpetrated by the government itself, through its inept legal system. Minors are arbitrarily kept in juvenile jails and sometimes in adult prisons without due process of the law. Most of these youngsters have committed petty crimes, and not violent crimes. In most cases they have served more time than the actual sentence would bring. It is time to have a general amnesty for these children.

In Riga and Jurmala children still beg on sidewalks and at McDonald's restaurants or other restaurants. It is time to take care of these children.

In countless homes adult males and to a lesser degree females abuse alcohol, which begets child abuse in many forms that span from a meager diet for the children to actual violence and sexual abuse. It is time to have a national campaign to protect children from the abuse of their parents.

Child prostitution and child pornography also exists in Latvia. It is time to enforce the law.

To be truthful, the majority of children in Latvia are well cared for. But we do not know the extent of child abuse in Latvia, as it is not known in many other countries as well. We probably are seeing the tip of the iceberg, because most of it is not reported. We need for school administrators and teachers to be aware of child abuse. If child abuse goes on in an educational institution, children need to be listened to and not dismissed by teachers out of fear or other reasons.

Let's make Latvia a model country and a beacon for the world in this fight against crimes perpetrated on children. This is worth more than joining NATO or the EU. In fact Latvia would be welcomed by both if the country demonstrated that fighting child abuse, as the ultimate human rights imperative, is the number one priority.