/Orphaned by the EU

Orphaned by the EU

On the 30th of November the Annual Eurochild’s Conference will take place in Cardiff, Wales (UK). During 8thconference this organisation will provide inputs to EU policy debates on fighting child poverty, promoting children’s rights and well-being, and on supporting and strengthening families. However, a phenomenon of Euro – orphans is still left in the dark. 

Euro - orphans are still left in the dark. Photo by Lyosha Nazarenko.


Their parents are not dead, but absent. These children are being left behind with relatives, neighbours, older siblings or in more extreme cases out in the streets or foster care, while their parents supposedly are trying to improve the financial situation for their family in the other side of Europe.

“He has never painted his mother, he has never talked about her; he did not call her “mother” when they met. The most important relation was lost. “Mother” was just a word that meant nothing to this child”, – says Zita Domarkienė, headmistress of primary – school „Pasaka“ in Lithuania. This boy was left with his grandparents who were not even speaking Lithuanian, while his mother was working abroad, to support her family.

Accession to the EU has brought a lot of opportunities for poor Eastern European countries such as open borders, free movement of people, work opportunities etc. This economic miracle prompted millions of Eastern Europeans to leave their countries and to pursuit their happiness abroad. But every stick has two ends. What is left unrevealed and seldom spoken of is that thousands of Eastern European children, the “Euro-orphans”, ultimately pay the highest price.

The severe consequences

Child psychologists from both sides of Europe accentuate that the separation of children from their parents may result in great emotional damage, both for the children and their parents. Many of these children go through the same feelings as children who have lost a parent as a result of death. Many of them feel abandoned and find it hard to adapt.

This could lead to difficulties later on in life, Euro-orphans are more likely to drop out of school and to develop problems with drugs or alcohol and they also risk to expose themselves to criminality.

“They become more reluctant, ignorant, and irresponsible. When we are talking about families, they are upset, restless and silent”, says Z. Domarkienė.


Bypassed by politicians

In 2009, Swedish government have adopted a development to have a 50% subsidiary for services like cleaning, washing, taking care of children. Suddenly, more and more families afforded to hire a cleaning lady to help in the household.

But there is a cruel irony that many families in the West, for example in Sweden, have more time with their children, as a result of cheap help at home by mothers who had to give up their own children’s upbringing.

“Euro orphans – is something that is not on the political agenda. There is still very little knowledge about this phenomenon”, – says Sven Bergman, one of the creators of Swedish documentary “Euro – orphans: the abandoned children”.

“We saw that more and more guest workers, not only in the construction business but also cleaning ladies, were working here, in Sweden – and asked ourselves: where are their children? – says S. Bergman.

Thousands of Eastern European children are left behind, while their parents are working abroad. Photo by Lyosha Nazarenko.

While looking for answer to this question – they have raised even more of them. The programme was broadcasted in Swedish current affairs broadcast “Uppdrag granskning” just before the election and it became a political issue, “kidnapped” by both pro- and anti- tax deduction politicians. The political opposition and many in the debate thought it was wrong that tax money should go into this system.

“We never had the intention to say that this tax – deduction was the reason for the problem, but unfortunately many made that assumption. Therefore the debate was for or against this and not about the children and their situation. So that was a pity”, – says Andreas Rydbacken, the editor of “Euro – orphans: the abandoned children”.

“It created a strong reaction in Sweden, because many of us do not want to see and know about the lives of the ones we hire to make our own lives more comfortable. It is easier to put the blind eye to everything – and with our program it was suddenly difficult for many people to do that” – says S. Bergman.


Children – full citizens of the EU

The Treaty of Lisbon in 2009 made the protection of children an objective for all EU policies. In order to pursue this goal, the Parliament constituted the “Alliance of Children” in March 2011. According to EP Vice – President Roberta Angelilli the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights acknowledge children as full citizens of the EU, and therefore gave the possibility to transpose that principle into law.

The first priority of the “Alliance of Children” which is backed by the presidents of seven EP committees, has support of UNICEF and other non-governmental organisations is to create a “child friendly justice”, a package that includes measures on the abduction of minors, non-accompanied children, protection within the family and the help for children who are victims of violence. However, Euro – orphans are not specified in this package.

Children‘s Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Lithuania, Edita Žiobienė, states in her report that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other legal national and international acts provide a right for every child to know his parents and to grow up in the family environment.

“Child’s right to be in the care of parents’ means that parents shall actively participate in the life of the child. The material support does not fulfil implementation of the rights of the child”, – says she.


Uncertain number of Euro – orphans

Sometimes children are left without anybody to take care of them. Photo by Lyosha Nazarenko.

It should be noted that the rights and interests of these children are not represented de jure, because the legal representatives of children, i.e. parents, cannot and at that moment did not exercise parental authority. Parents leaving children for the other persons did not create the legal terms, regulated by legal acts. There is a loophole of the legal acts, which might let seek financial support for abusive reasons. According to E. Žiobienė, despite that, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania disapproves delegation of legal representative of a child. Its decision is referred to the principle that parent’s rights and duties are untransferable.

Although schools are usually informed about parents’ departure  now, no one knows how many Euro – orphans there are. There are no calculations how many people have migrated from their home countries and how many of them left their behind. The unknown number of illegal workers should be kept in mind in all estimations.

“One of our students, 9 years – old was left with his teenage brother and was forced to lie about it, but once he accidentally told our school therapist. His elder brother at the same time said that they are living with their grandmother. We started to look for answers and then we found out the truth – their grandmother has died years ago and their mother was living in Germany. We informed Service of Children’s Right Protection and the same week their mother took them to Germany”, – remembered Z. Domarkienė.

However, on the acceptance of problem – solutions may deprive. Criticism and debates after Swedish documentary had an influence. “Following with a series of articles in news paper Expressen, it did eventually lead to better working conditions for guest workers and this can contribute to greater possibilities to reunite separated families”, – hopes A. Rydbacken.