Latvia has been a member of the European Union since 2004
A little boy in our care enjoying a special moment with his SOS mother (photo: M. Mägi)
The Republic of Latvia is a Baltic country which borders Estonia in the north, Lithuania in the south, Russia in the east and Belarus in the south-east. The Baltic Sea forms the western border. The population is 2.2 million, Latvians account for 61 per cent of the population and about a third of the population is Russian. The capital city, Riga, has one third of all of Latvia's inhabitants.
In early 1991, a referendum resulted in a large majority favouring secession from the former USSR, and on 21 August, Latvia declared full independence. In June 1993, Latvia held the first parliamentary elections. On 31 August 1994, the remaining Soviet troops left the country. The country has been a member of the European Union since 2004, and joined the Eurozone in 2014.
Latvia faces many challenges
Latvia is one of the poorest countries within the European Union. The transition to a market economy was not easy for Latvia, and just as it was beginning to make progress, the global financial crisis of 2008-2010 set back the progress. Some reports suggest that the gross domestic product fell by more than a quarter in 2009. During the crisis, the unemployment rate rose sharply to over 20 per cent, but has since decreased to around nine per cent. The number of people living in poverty is rising; according to official statistics, 44 per cent of children and young people are poor.
Latvia faces important health challenges. The health care system remains one of the worst in Europe. Latvia has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in Europe, and there has been an increase in child mortality in recent years. The suicide rate is one of the world's highest. HIV/AIDS is also a problem - there are approximately 9,000 cases of the disease in Latvia.
There are some serious human rights concerns in Latvia. These human rights problems include endemic corruption and organised crime, poor conditions in prisons and in police detention facilities, high levels of violence, child abuse and trafficking in persons.
Children without parental care are in need of special protection
Children grow up with their brothers and sisters (photo: M. Mägi)
Children under the age of 14 account for 14 per cent of the population of Latvia.The situation of children has become worse due to the recent social and economic upheavals.
More children need support due to their parents’ limited resources and the rise of alcoholism and violence within some families. There has been a cut in investment in state services which improve the lives of children. Regarding education, some local schools have been forced to close and support services, such as psychological advice, are no longer funded.
Most of the children who are taken into care have parents who, for various reasons, are unable to look after them. The recent economic hardships have forced some parents to move abroad in search of work. The children are left in the care of neighbours, relatives or older siblings who are not able to look after them.
Children who are at risk of losing parental care are also at risk of being victims of other offences against children such as cruelty and abuse, theft, sexual exploitation and rape. There is little emphasis on, and funding for, preventative work within the social care provisions. Families may not receive the support they need, the children are taken from their family of origin and placed in state-run institutions. The children who come out of these institutions are not prepared for independent living.
SOS Children's Villages in Latvia
Strengthening families: The SOS Family Strengthening Programmes provide much needed support to families who are at risk of breaking down. We work directly with families and communities so that they can protect and look after their children.
Care in families: Children whose parents cannot take care of them will find a loving home in SOS Children's Villages. The children grow up with their brothers and sisters in SOS families.
Support for young people: The high unemployment rate makes it difficult for young people to become independent. The SOS Youth Programmes help young people gain further training and supports them while they look for work.
Advocacy: We work closely with other care organisation and public authorities to raise awareness of children's rights.
Website of SOS Children's Villages Latvia
(available in English and Latvian)