Latvian–Baltic MailerVolume XI Nr. 10 — Special EditionApril 9, 2017


Sveiki, all!

Today is Palm Sunday, but as palm fronds were unknown in the Baltic north, the pussy willow stepped in as their surrogate, Palm Sunday in Latvia becoming Pūpolsvētdiena, "Pussy-willow Sunday."

And on this day it is still tradition in the morning to gently swish Latvian children awake with a switch of pussy-willow branches while reciting the ditty:

Apaļš kā pūpols,
apaļš kā pūpols,
slimībā ārā,
veselība iekšā!
Round like a pussy-willow,
Round like a pussy-willow,
Sickness, out!
Wellness, in!

As with many literal translations, the feeling of joy, of the wish for good health and happiness, the swish and gentle thumping of pussy-willow branches—these do not quite come across as in the original. And, contemplating that morning joy, we were left wondering about the place of Latvia and the other Baltic states in the world regarding the happiness of its children, the media currently featuring articles on Dutch children being the happiest after the recent publication of the book The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids (and Themselves) by Doing Less.

The book cites the 2013 UNICEF report ranking childrens' welfare and happiness. Our own reading of that report was sobering, to the point that in lieu of the usual news, which over the past two weeks since our last issue has not changed in content or tenor, we have devoted this issue to a review the UNICEF report and its implications for the Baltics' future.

In this issue:

Ar visu labu,

Silvija  Peters

Baltic Link(s)

We found a link to an extensive news article carried in the Telegraph back in January, written by the aforementioned book's authors. Of the top 29 comparatively well-off ("rich") countries in the survey, the least happiest children can be found in:

  1. the United States,
  2. Lithuania
  3. Latvia, and
  4. Romania.

They raise the world's happiest children - so is it time you went Dutch?

The 2013 UNICEF report is available online. Young or old, parent or not, we urge you to read it and think about promoting a happier childhood for all children. Lithuania and Latvia both do poorly across the board, while Estonia often ranks more toward the middle. In child-youth mortality, ages 1 to 19, however, the bottom four, last being worst, are: Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania. The child and youth mortality rate in the Baltic states is twice that of the countries in the middle third of rankings. Latvia's is nearly triple that of Iceland, the country with the lowest death rate.

UNICEF Office of Research Innocenti Report Card 11: Child well-being in rich countries, A comparative overview


UNICEF Innocenti Report Card 11, a Baltic view

We wish we were highlighting the Baltics as beacons of progress. Instead, they are near the bottom of the list in every meaningful category of well-being of their children. Only Romania ranked lower, overall, than the Baltic states. The UNICEF report is not just sobering but alarming, and should sound a warning bell for all three Baltic states. While several years old at this point, the report is back in the news with the publication of The Happiest Kids in the World, and its messages worth revisiting.

All rankings are out of 29 countries. Some countries which would have otherwise been included were omitted owing to a lack of data in a number of areas.

Overall well-being

  • Estonia — 23rd
  • Lithuania — 27th
  • Latvia — 28th

Material well-being

  • Estonia — 19th
  • Lithuania — 27th
  • Latvia — 28th

Health and safety

  • Estonia — 22nd
  • Lithuania — 24th
  • Latvia — 29/li>

Educational well-being

  • Estonia — 13th
  • Lithuania — 19th
  • Latvia — 20th

Behaviors and risks

  • Estonia — 26th
  • Latvia — 28th
  • Lithuania — 29th

Included in this category are:

Eating and exercise:

  • % overweight
  • % eating breakfast daily
  • % eating fruit daily
  • % exercising

Risk behaviors

  • Teenage fertility rate
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Cannabis

Exposure to violence

  • Fighting
  • Being bullied

Among the most alarming rankings:

  • Smoking: Lithuania — 27th, Latvia — 29th
  • Alcohol: Latvia — 27th, Lithuania — 29th
  • Fought, % of children aged 11, 13 and 15 who report “being involved in a physical fight at least once in the past 12 months”, Latvia — over 40%
  • Bullied, % of children aged 11, 13 and 15 who report “being bullied at school at least once in the past couple of months”, Estonia — 40%, Latvia — 45%, Lithuania — over 50%, Latvia and Lithuania being the two countries with the most bullying.

Housing and environment

This category covers housing issues, crime, violence, pollution.

  • Estonia — 24th
  • Lithuania — 27th
  • Latvia — 28th

Looking at some of the detail:


Only Hungary is more crowded (persons per room) than Latvia. Eight out of the nine countries with fewer rooms than people are in Central and Eastern Europe.

Multiple housing problems

This is the % of households with children reporting more than one housing problem: leaking roof, dampness or rot, dark, no bath or shower, no indoor flushing toilet for sole use of the household:

  • Estonia — 26th, >15%
  • Lithuania — 27th, >15%
  • Latvia — 28th, >20%

Homicide rates

The murder rates in the bottom four counties are well over double that of the 25th place country, Finland.

  • Latvia — 26th
  • United States — 27th
  • Estonia — 28th
  • Lithuania — 29th

Clean air

Estonia has the cleanest of all countries, Lithuania among the cleanest, while Latvia has among the dirtiest, in 27th place.

Childrens' own rating of life satisfaction

  • Estonia — 8th, top third
  • Latvia — 19th, middle third
  • Lithuania — 27th, bottom third

The United States, Canada, and Germany were also in the bottom third with Lithuania.

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