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Family enhancement bill stirs debates in Lithuania

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULinas Jegelevičius for BNN

Although family’s role in state’s life is clear-cut in the constitution and family laws, yet 55 members of the Lithuanian Parliament have drawn up a bill to ramp up the institution of family. «In a short, its purpose is endeavouring positive long-term demographic changes and having more loving families. The bill envisions conditions which would help protect and enhance families,» Jolanta Ramonienė, head of «Šeimos institutas», a family affairs-oriented NGO and one of the spearheads of the bill, told BNN.

Cart before horse

Disagreeing, Giedrė Purvaneckienė, a Social Democratic MP, claims the bill supporters are trying to put «the cart before the horse.»

«What we have to do first is to make up our mind what we deem family and take it from there,» she told BNN.

In her words, if adopted, the bill will be «excessive” and will play into the Conservatives’ hands.

«They have all kinds of family-catering institutions that would benefit financially from such legislation,» she believes.

The prehistory of the draft goes back to the 2008-2012 parliamentary term’s ruling Conservatives (officially, Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) who initiated and drew up the State Family Politics Conception, which later was denied by Lithuania’s Constitutional Court amid the other MPs’ disagreements over the definition of family.

«Then there was a National Accord on necessity to create a family-favourable environment in the country, but the initiative also died during this parliamentary term,» Ramonienė says on the organization’s website.

Family issues more acute now

But with the demographic plight exacerbating, the problems have just become more acute and they now require larger resources, she says.

«When you look at the core of many issues, there stands family on the bottom – often weakened, or being weakened over the years. You can tell it from abundant calls to help lines, reviewing the numbers of families cutting off the knots, as well as the numbers of lonely elderly people and those addictive to alcohol and drugs. Increasingly higher numbers of domestic violence are also very alarming,»Ramonienė pointed out. She added: «The message aiming to strengthen institute of family is very timely.»

The spearheads of the bill want that a Family politics commission is set at Government and be tasked with coordination of all family-related issues.

«It should encompass representatives of all ministries- not just some of them- and it would be responsible for handing Government an annual report on family policies and their implementation,» Ramonienė says.

Bill foresees new institutions

Another institution that has to be created to help all the families is a National Family Council consisting of NGOs, she believes.

«It would function similarly to the National Health Council at Lithuanian Parliament…It’s disappointing that our Constitution enshrines family as the foundation of state and society, but, in reality, we do not know how it (family) lives,» she emphasised. «Altogether, the bill envisions putting together all family institutions, including NGOs, and coordinating their activities as well as the collaboration.»

Of 55 parliamentarians who endorsed the bill, the majority came from TS-LKD and the Electoral Action of Poles, a political party based on Polish ethnicity.

Giedre Purvaneckiene, a MP from the Lithuanian Social Democratic fraction, insisted to BNN that the initiators of law have put «the cart before the horse.»

«It is wrong to say I am against initiatives aiming to bolster family, but I disapprove the sequence of actions taken towards the goal. We should hammer out first a single understanding what we deem family and lay out practical means to support it,» the lawmaker underscored.

Conservatives out of touch with reality

In the MP’s words, families suffering from domestic violence and underprivileged children should be helped first.

«In the draft, I see a lot of nice words, but that’s all,» the MP noted.

Many of the Conservatives, she says, employ declarative rhetoric on family issues and are out of touch with the reality.

«They have conjured up an image of a perfect family in the Conservative style – with the family knots tightened for ages. And if something does not work out in the relationship, then the family is categorized as wicked, risking losing all state support,» the MP said.

Purvaneckienė says she has randomly surveyed Lithuanian families, asking them what ill-affects a family worst.

Alcoholism and domestic violence at cusp

«Most stated that alcoholism and domestic violence break down a family most often…This is what needs to be addressed first to strengthen the institution of family,» she said, reiterating that some of the Parliament’s biggest prudes, like Conservative Rimantas Dargis, who is known for his orthodox perception of family, would benefit from the law most with the money being funneled to the Conservatives-led NGOs.

«If passed, bill would take away state support from many families in need, as a matter of fact,»  the legislator is convinced.

Disagreeing, Ramonienė, of «Šeimos institutas», asserts that family matters are not an ambit of a particular political party in Lithuania.

«As long as we go by the Constitution, it ought to be everyone’s concern,» she noted.

Thirty family definitions

The NGO head also played down apprehensions that only families fitting the Conservatives’ mold would benefit from the Family Enhancement Law.

«On the contrary, it foresees all possible situations and, to address the opponents’ fears, the rights of those living in cohabitation, too,» Ramonienė pointed out.

As of now, she says, there are around 30 different definitions of family and, each time, the use of the definition depends on the user and his or her understanding of what family is.

In her words, the bill would also provide aid to divorcees and lonely elderly people left behind.

The fulcrums for the bill have been laid, she says, but notes that many Lithuanian MPs are «mired» in different concepts of family and family politics, although the Constitution and the existing family policy laws should be the pennants in further family legislation.

Ministry warns of bias

Amid the debates, the Lithuanian Ministry of Social Security and Labour has recommended the Parliament not to take on the draft until a state conception on family politics formation is drawn up.

Some of the bill’s provisions, it warned, can be discriminating against those who live out of wedlock and against single parents, too.


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