Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
Lithuania’s parliament has overwhelmingly voted for amendments to the Law on Children’s Rights Protection, which now bans all types of violence against children, including corporal punishments.
The amendments encompass all types of violence against children, including physical, psychological, and sexual and negligence. The law stipulates that parents and other legal guardians of child or children, as well as the state must ensure their protection.
Law amendments followed a horrible crime
The legislation was swiftly spearheaded by MPs Mykolas Majauskas and Dovile Šakalienė after a four-year boy was brutally beaten to death by his stepfather in rural Lithuania in late January.
The changes on the parliamentary floor were voted unanimously, with 116 Lithuanian lawmakers voting in support. The vote triggered a wave of applause in the Seimas hall and drew praises both from Lithuanian parliamentarians, NGOs and human rights watchdogs from all over.
«Unfortunately, we passed the law amendments only in the wake of the horrible tragedy in Kėdainiai ( the slain boy’s stepfather was reportedly high on drugs during the crime- L.J.). You know, a normal society and healthy society does not abandon its motherland in the numbers we do and that Lithuania is notorious for. A healthy society does not murder, abuse alcohol and torment its children. We do, unfortunately. We have to acknowledge, however, that we represent quite a traumatized, unhealthy society,» Aurelijus Veryga, the Lithuanian minister of Health and psychiatrist by profession, accentuated in his speech to fellow parliamentarians before the historic voting.
Different take on children’s rights
Although the killing of the boy in Kėdainiai has hushed the critics of children corporal punishment and those who insist that the parents themselves have to be allowed to decide what punishment suits their child best, Lithuanian Social Security and Labour Minister Linas Kukuraitis believes that all views on children’s rights and emphasizing importance of the role of family have been considered.
«The atmosphere that lingered in my office after hammering out some crucial joint provisions on the new redaction of the Law on Children’s Rights Protection was euphoric,» the minister recalled. He calls the adopted bill «Matas’ reform.» Matas is the name of the murdered Kėdainiai boy.
«Now, that the law amendments have been passed, I talk to the boy and keep telling him: “Saint Matas, continue your work in the heavens, so that all feel and live better in Lithuania.»
Kukuraitis told Lithuanian media that he has promised the boy, who, for many, epitomizes violence against children in Lithuania, to do all he can as the minister to prop up children’s right protection in Lithuania.
According to the minister, the stiff competition between the different takes on the issues – both in the parliament and in the general public – is partly to blame for the current inexcusable inaction in children’s rights protection.
«The first approach is that children must grow in an environment that is the most favourable to them and the second, family-cantered approach is that the family is the most favourable environment not only for children, but also for all of its members…. A discussion at Social Security and Labour Ministry has shown that these two approaches can be reconciled,» he told lawmakers.
Praises pouring in
With the overwhelming vote for the amendments, praises were pouring in from all over.
«I welcome today’s vote by the Seimas in Lithuania to ban all forms of violence against children, including corporal punishments,» the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks said in his Twitter post.
According to Human Rights Watch, by becoming the 52nd country worldwide to impose this kind of ban Lithuania has sent an important message that no violence against children would be tolerated.
«This is a very positive development for Lithuanian children. It sends a clear and important message that any form of violence against children cannot be tolerated,» Bede Sheppard, deputy director in the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying. «By banning all forms of corporal punishment, Lithuania joins a growing community of countries that recognize that this practice violates children’s rights and their physical integrity,» he added.
The legal amendments were adopted during an extraordinary session held in response to the tragedy in Kėdainiai.
Courts tend to exonerate violent parents
Matas’ homicide has shaken all Lithuania, but the country’s chief prosecutor pays attention to the fact, however, that Lithuanian courts tend to often vindicate parents for violence against underage children.
«I have to admit that certain court rulings where physical violence against underage children is interpreted as parents’ right to discipline their children raises questions for prosecutors,» Evaldas Pašilis, Lithuania’s Prosecutor General, told MPs before the voting.
In his presentation to the Seimas of the situation of violence against underage individuals and steps proposed by prosecutors, he emphasized that the practice was formulated by the Supreme Court of Lithuania. In the prosecutor general’s words, the court on February 24 last year upheld the vindication of a father who had beat up his child.
«Another example is the father who was cleared of charges by a panel of judges of a Kaunas court and whose multiple violent actions were treated as efforts to discipline and educate his teenage son. Let’s hope that adoption of the changes to the Framework Law on Children’s Rights Protection will eliminate questions about the right to discipline children by way of corporal punishment,» the chief prosecutor noted.
In his words, about 2,800 underage individuals suffer from various deeds in Lithuania every year, including about 1,000 minors who suffer from their parents, stepparents, adoptive parents or close relatives. According to data available to Pašilis, six small children and 15 infants were killed in their close environment over the past five years.
Heartened by the adoption of the amendments, he believes now that the brushed up law will prevent child abuse in Lithuania.
The law and secondary legislation aim at centralizing Lithuania’s rights protection system and setting out general guidelines for how authorities should act when they get worrying signals about a family.
It will take time to harness violence
Speaking to BNN, Jurgita Vanagė, the mother of two sons and advisor to mayor of the resort of Palanga in western Lithuania, expressed conviction that the amendments were necessary, but doubted whether the law changes will wipe out violence against children in Lithuania.
«Frankly, I doubt it as violence is embedded deep in our society, unfortunately. The understanding that it is bad and cannot be tolerated does not come with a stroke of the pen. You may find hard it to believe but we have never in our family slapped the buttocks of our children as the punishment. Many parents out there, however, believe that corporal punishment serves good. Again, it will take time to get the perception changed,» Vanagė underscored.