Latvian NGOs are concerned about information censorship in schools after the recent approval by the country’s Parliament of amendments to the national Education Law. Civil society activists say the decision violates children rights and poses a security threat.
The so-called “morality education” amendments include an obligation to protect children from any information and educational methods that do not conform to virtuousness and moral standards as set out by the law, specifically such values as marriage and family, and call for censorship by allowing schools to ban any conflicting educational materials.
Civil society activists guarding quality of education, reproductive health and democratic values such as “Latvian Parents Forum” and “MARTA Resource Centre for Women” believe that the amendments allow for restrictions to knowledge and information necessary for children to develop critical thinking, self protection and life organization skills, and therefore violate children’s rights to education, health and freedom of speech, as stated in the UN Convention of the Rights of a Child.
Iveta Ķelle from Papardes Zieds (Association for Family Planning and Sexual Health), IPPF’s Latvian member, said: “We are convinced that this could restrict sexuality education in schools. If children and young people are not taught about sexuality at school, they will look for information elsewhere, most likely on Google, other web platforms and porn films”.
NGOs are also worried about the threats that the amendments might pose to the country’s long-term security, as they were proposed by MP Julija Stepanenko from opposition party “Harmony” (Saskaņa) with formal and informal links to the ruling party in Russia. Iveta Ķelle explains that “morality education” has roots in the former Soviet Union and is currently used by the Russian Federation as an element of political propaganda. Similar amendments to the Federal Law of the Russian Federation “On Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development” were adopted in 2010 and have resulted in restrictions to information about human rights, gender equality, tolerance and diversity in society. This has also resulted in harmful exclusion of health and sexuality education.
Supported by the majority of the Latvian MPs on 18 June during the 3rd and final reading, the amendments had initially been rejected during the 2nd reading at the Parliament in April. The current wording of the norms was neither discussed nor approved by the Education, Culture and Science Parliamentary Committee before the 3rd reading took place.
On 4 June, the Latvian Parliament elected its Defence Minister Raimonds Vejonis from the “Greens and Farmers Union” (Zaļo Zemnieku Savienība) political party as the country’s new president. A majority of “Greens and Farmers Union” MPs voted against the amendments to the Education Law during the 2nd reading in April, however, they had changed their minds and supported the amendments in June. Some civil society representatives in Latvia believe that “morality education” was part of the presidential election bargaining process to secure support for Mr Vejonis.
Organizations have turned to the current president of Latvia Andris Bērziņš as the final institutional body given power by the Constitution to stop the amendments from entering into force, however, when speaking to media the president has promised to promulgate the law.
For further details please contact Jana Simanovska from “Say NO! To Censorship” (Cenzurai NE!) group on +371 29296999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes for editors:
NGOs and civil society activists opposing the amendments in Latvia have joined together in a non-formal group “Say No! To Censorship”. Among others the group members include:
MARTA Resource Centre for Women is a women’s rights organization that provides direct services to victims of human trafficking and domestic violence and carries out advocacy and research work.
European Women’s Lobby is a European level NGO that works to achieve equality between women and men and to promote women’s rights in all spheres of public and private life.
Papardes Zieds - Latvia’s Association for Family Planning and Sexual Health works to fulfil sexual and reproductive rights of each individual and to ensure everybody has access to quality services and that everybody can make informed choices.
Latvian Parents Forum works to improve the quality of education in schools and preschools.
Group’s blog in Latvian: https://necenzurai.wordpress.com/