Education in Latvia

Improvements in education in Latvia are of the utmost importance, because children are the most impoverished group of Latvians. As of 2012, 23.4 percent of children under the age 17 were living below the poverty line, whereas only 18.8 percent of adults up to 64 years of age and 17.7 percent of Latvians 65 and older were below the poverty threshold.

With so many children living in poverty, receiving an education is the first step towards improving their situation. From 2008 to 2012, there was a decline from 26.3 percent to 23.4 percent of children living in poverty, perhaps due to primary and secondary education being free and mandatory for all native Latvians.

However, there would be a much greater decrease if discrimination was not as prominent within education in Latvia. Children of minorities are denied access to health and education facilities.

Romani and Russian speakers experience language barriers, as Latvian schools do not teach in these languages. Children of these ethnicities are falling into poverty, or remaining in poverty, which greatly affects the country’s overall economy. Russian speakers alone represent a third of Latvia‘s population, greatly influencing the country’s poverty rate.

Fortunately, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance has addressed the issue and promises that the Latvian educational system will provide equal access to education and jobs. They demanded that schools alter their curriculum to provide instruction in minority languages and cultures.

Even further, there is a presence of a separate but equal society in which Roma children must attend different classes than their peers, which reinforces the belief that they are not capable of sharing language and education with Latvian students. The Council of Europe’s Anti-Racism Commission is also fighting to end this separation and merge all ethnicities into the same class.

Seeing how Latvia’s population has experienced an increase in its poverty rate, from 19 percent in 2010 to 22.5 percent in 2014, it is vital that the country makes improvements. Providing equal access to both basic and higher education is an important step forward, one that European officials acknowledge. Once Latvia ends racism, education will allow all children to climb out of poverty.

Brianna White

Photo: Flickr

Latvia Poverty RateThe Latvian population has faced many struggles, ranging from political violence to the deepest recession in the world when the financial crisis hit in 2008. In 2013, 32.7 percent of the population in Latvia was at risk of poverty, and that number is only increasing as time goes on. The Latvia poverty rate is extremely high, and it is the third-poorest country in the European Union.

In 2013, the Latvian government developed a policy of turning “welfare into workfare.” This is the practice of welfare being given only for jobs, like road-sweeping. Unfortunately for the government, this resulted primarily in depopulation. While Latvia has had massive amounts of emigration for many years, since this action it saw negative 14,262 net migration. This means that it had far more emigration than immigration.

The highest demographic exiting the country was people of working age, between 15 and 61. This has become a major concern for the Latvian government. Its workforce has decreased massively but unemployment rates are still quite high, resulting in a very high poverty rate.

That being said, there are ways to reduce the Latvia poverty rate, but they will take quite a lot of work from the Latvian government. There are some policies that were enacted before 2010 to address poverty but they were not very effective. There is a minimum wage in Latvia which was updated in 2009 and serves as a very indirect measure for reducing social inequality. Additionally, families are able to apply for social support, so long as they can prove that the income of each family member does not exceed 50 percent of the minimum wage for three months.

The government has not put more measures or economic programs in place for protecting the working class or the unemployed, and this will have to change immediately in order to both encourage repopulation and reduce poverty. There is also a great need for more information collection in the population. Little is known about how current poverty measures are benefiting the Latvian population — if at all.

While current measures are somewhat helpful, Latvia really needs more legislation that will limit the number of people in poverty and put in place measures for improving their economic status. There are currently no policies relating to lifting citizens up out of poverty which is particularly important because the poverty prevention methods really aren’t working. Latvia has quite a way to go before it can consider itself poverty free, but the dedication of the Latvian government and the commitment of other members of the European Union to aid them is a good place to start.

Liyanga De Silva

Photo: Pixabay

Human Rights in LatviaLatvia – a former member of the USSR – is nestled in northeast Europe. It boasts a free market economy and has joined both the EU and NATO. However, with a long history of oppression of human rights, Latvia has struggled to acknowledge and enforce equal rights for all people. Stemming from violence suffered while under the Soviet Union, there are a few key concerns regarding the status of human rights in Latvia.

Latvia has a large number of stateless individuals – over 250,000 of the population. These people, many of whom are children, are not recognized as citizens of Latvia and do not enjoy many of the benefits that come with being a citizen. A lot of these stateless people are ethnic Russians who have difficulty becoming citizens of Latvia due to discrimination.

Discrimination against Russians carries over to many aspects of daily life. People who are not citizens of Latvia endure heavy restrictions in the professional world and are also limited regarding land ownership. Several people have been fired from positions due to possessing an unsatisfactory mastery of the Latvian language. Recently, the mayor of the capital of Latvia was fined for using Russian in a media post. This discriminatory behavior creates a barrier to achieving equal human rights in Latvia.

The U.N. has also raised concern about human rights in Latvia for the disabled. These concerns are specifically regarding the mentally disabled, and representatives for human rights have insisted the Latvian government prioritize the education of disabled children.

Latvia has the EU and the U.N. to hold them accountable for the preservation of human rights, and these organizations have certainly being doing so. While many issues create barriers to attaining the equal treatment of all people, Latvia continues to create reform to try to combat these issues – though there are definitely some areas still needing work. As long as the country is held accountable for its treatment of people, surely progress will be made.

Julia Mccartney

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Latvia
Formerly a part of the USSR, Latvia is a member of the EU for the past 13 years. The country is home to over two million people, and it is slightly larger than West Virginia. The recession of 2008 deeply affected the Latvian economy, and as a result, the country has a massive income gap. Additionally, as of 2013, Latvia gave less aid to the poor than any other members of the EU. These conditions leave ample room for the number of those living in poverty to increase, which makes hunger in Latvia an important issue.

Historically, Latvia lacks an adequate food supply. Children suffer most from hunger in Latvia, and malnutrition steadily weakened the population since the end of World War I.

As of 2014, almost 20 percent of Latvians were living under the poverty line. It is the third-poorest country in the EU. Of those in poverty, the average family lives on an average of 215 euros or less, not enough to feed the whole family. In 2012, 100,000 citizens had a monthly income of less than 65 euros.

While hunger in Latvia is still an issue, the country greatly improved in the past decade. Since 2000, Latvia decreased their Global Health Index rating by 59 percent. The Global Health Index gives countries a score from zero to 100 based on undernourishment, child mortality and other factors. The lower the score, the healthier the country is.

Many organizations contributed to the decrease in poverty and hunger in Latvia. The American Relief Administration worked to feed the hungry, especially children. Carelinks Ministry, a religious outreach organization, worked in Riga, Latvia, serving food to the poor, especially in the colder months. With people partnering to reduce hunger in Latvia, the country will continue to decrease their GHI rating.

Julia Mccartney

Photo: Flickr

As of right now, there are more than 65 million people in the world who have been forced to leave their homes. Humanity is facing its largest refugee crisis yet. There are many countries that are involved with this critical situation, and each responds to it in different ways. Some provide assistance to refugees and some neglect them. Here are 10 facts about refugees in Latvia to further one’s comprehension on this matter and how Latvia handles it.

10 Facts About Refugees in Latvia

  1. Latvia is currently building a fence along the Russian border to prevent people from entering the country illegally, ensuring that refugees only come in accordance with the law. The fence’s purpose is to protect the European Union borders. It should be complete by 2019.
  2. As a part of the European Commission’s refugee relocation plan, Latvia agreed to accept 531 refugees within two years. This plan is supposed to focus on accepting refugees who are mostly from Italy and Greece. However, 50 accepted refugees must be from third world countries. Thus far, Latvia has accepted 318 people.
  3. There have been multiple cases where refugees who arrive in Latvia tend to leave shortly after. According to the Red Cross, refugees leave due to the difficulty of finding a job there. Although there are supposedly many job offerings, refugees might have a hard time because of a language barrier and the challenge of becoming accustomed to a new culture. In September 2016, 21 out of 23 refugees that came to Latvia ended up leaving for Germany. A month later, it was confirmed that none of the 23 refugees remained in Latvia.
  4. As a result of many people being unhappy with the way Latvia regards its refugees, the “Our people” campaign was created. The purpose of the campaign is to serve as a reminder that, despite cultural differences, people of the world should support one another and come together. The “Our people” campaign promotes the acceptance of refugees who come to live in Latvia.
  5. There is one asylum-seeker center in Mucenieki. People stay there while waiting to find out if they have received refugee or alternative status. While they live there, they are given the opportunity to receive some education and the chance to learn Latvian.
  6. Migrants who arrive in Latvia typically wait three months to find out whether they have been given either refugee or alternative status.
  7. When one is given the status of a refugee, they are provided with a permanent residence permit. When one is given alternative status, they are provided with a residence permit that is valid for a year.
  8. The main difference between the status of a refugee and an alternative is that asylum seekers are mainly accepted as refugees because they fear persecution for their beliefs and race. Asylum seekers that receive alternative status are accepted because they were threatened with punishment and violence and are thus in dire need of protection.
  9. In 2016, there was a large controversy over a campaign introduced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). With the tagline “We would do the same,” the campaign’s purpose was to bring attention to the fact that refugees need help and that in a situation like theirs, many would flee their homes. However, Latvia’s Defense Ministry found it to be offensive to the Latvian National Armed Forces because it suggested that Latvians wouldn’t fight for their country.
  10. Sixty-nine percent of Latvians stated in a 2015 public opinion survey that they did not like the idea of welcoming refugees from Northern Africa and Middle Eastern countries.

While these 10 facts about refugees in Latvia provide a better understanding of Latvia’s role in the refugee crisis, they do not represent the different roles that different countries are taking in this situation. The way Latvia treats its refugees does not depict the treatment of refugees throughout the entire world. With a multitude of organizations and people that want to help, refugees do have a global support system.

Raven Rentas

Photo: Flickr

The country of Latvia in Eastern Europe borders the Baltic Sea and Russia. The population of Latvia is just fewer than two million people, which is very small relative to most countries around the world. The life expectancy in Latvia is 74 years, which is above the global average of 71 years. The annual mortality rate is 754 per 100,000. Though it is small, the top diseases in Latvia mirror global trends.

When traveling to Latvia, it is recommended by the CDC to have all routine vaccinations up to date, as well as hepatitis A. There is the possibility of contaminated food and water in Latvia.

The top two diseases in Latvia are both cardiac-related, much like most of the world. The heart diseases are the only two on the list of the top diseases in Latvia that have stayed in their spot for the last 20 years. The numbers have been decreasing for both ischemic heart disease and stroke. In third place, cardiomyopathy is also heart-related and has been rising since last counted when it was in the ninth position.

An interesting development in Latvia over the last 20 years has been the rise of HIV/AIDS. It was not near the top in 1990 in position 83, but it has jumped to the sixth since then. This has encouraged a discussion of prevention and education efforts. Educating the public on the dangers and how to be safe can prevent cases and resulting fatalities.

The risk factors of many of the top diseases in Latvia include dietary choices, high blood pressure, smoking and alcohol use and physical inactivity.

Brendin Axtman

Photo: Flickr

Every year, the Social Progress Imperative comes out with an index that measures how individual countries perform in basic human needs, foundations of well-being, and opportunity. One subset of the foundations of well-being category is health and wellness. This subset takes into account life expectancy, non-communicable disease deaths between the ages of 30 and 70, obesity, outdoor air pollution attributed deaths and suicide rates. Below is a list of the world’s ten most unhealthy countries in the world, based on this subset.

10. Bulgaria, 60.63

Bulgaria is in the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. The country has a high mortality rate from cardiovascular disease. Additionally, Bulgaria has the worst air quality in Europe, with some of the highest concentrations of particulate matter, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.

9. Mozambique, 60.40

Mozambique’s main health problems are to due with high mortality rates due to drought, poverty and HIV/AIDS, as well as a lack of experienced health workers in the country. The HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to decimate portions of the population in the country. In addition, capacity building and risk reduction expertise are both low.

8. Swaziland, 60.29

Located in southern Africa, Swaziland has an extremely high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, reaching over 26 percent. Swaziland needs the most improvement in life expectancy and non-communicable disease deaths between 30 and 70.

7. Latvia, 59.97

Latvia, too, has problems with air quality that cause long-term health problems. Latvia also needs to address substance abuse problems such as alcohol and tobacco, which both contribute to ill health in the country at a disproportional rate.

6. Armenia, 59.36

Armenia’s health issues revolve around a broken, extremely expensive health care system that cannot meet the burden of care. With economic downturn, basic medicines and doctor visits can become too expensive.

5. Moldova, 58.00

Moldova is currently experiencing negative population growth. The two main causes of death are heart disease and cancer. Moldova has high rates of substance abuse-related deaths, like alcohol and tobacco. Tuberculosis, especially multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, is rapidly becoming a major health concern in the country.

4. Belarus, 56.56

The main areas that need improvement in Belarus are non-communicable diseases and suicide rates. The country, located in Eastern Europe, is also relatively polluted, which can cause long-term ill-health.

3. Russia, 51.99

Russia needs improvement in almost all categories, including life expectancy, non-communicable diseases, air pollution and suicide rates. Additionally, Russia experiences high rates of mortality due to smoking for both men and women. HIV/AIDS is also becoming more of a concern.

2. Ukraine, 51.82

Ukraine, located in Eastern Europe, has similar problems as its neighbors, mainly bad air quality, high levels of tobacco and alcohol abuse and high suicide rates. Additionally, Ukrainians spend about 13 percent of their lives in ill-health, which is much higher than most of their neighbors. Ukraine also has the highest rate of infectious diseases in Europe.

1. Kazakhstan, 49.93

Kazakhstan, located in Central Asia, is ranked as the unhealthiest country in the world, according to the Social Progress Imperative. Kazakhstan needs dramatic improvement in life expectancy, deaths related to non-communicable diseases, air quality and suicide rates. HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis have become growing concerns; TB, especially, is of great concern because of drug-resistance.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: Social Progress Imperative, World Health Organization 1, World Health Organization 2, World Health Organization 3, World Health Organization 4, World Health Organization 5, New York Times, UNICEF, National Center for Biotechnology Information, Common Dreams, World Bank, University of Pittsburgh
Photo: Flickr

Ethical Vacation Destinations
Recently becoming the world’s largest industry, travel is one of the hottest commodities on the market. With a trillion-dollar annual footprint, the travel business has major economic and political power. However, not all destinations are created equal. Where you, as a traveler, choose to journey can either encourage best practice behavior from mindful countries, or support the harmful tourist industries of their irresponsible counterparts.

Ethical Traveler is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that seeks to use tourism to protect human rights and the environment. Every year, Ethical Traveler compiles a list of 10 developing countries with vibrant tourism industries that will put your traveling expenses to good use.

The countries that made the list are those that scored best in the categories of support of human rights, preservation of the environment, social welfare and animal welfare. According to Ethical Traveler, “Each country selected as a Best Ethical Destination also offers the opportunity to experience unspoiled natural beauty, and to interact with local people and cultures in a meaningful, mutually enriching way.”

This year’s winners may surprise you; the majority of these unusual destinations are off the beaten path, but promise an outstanding vacation with values you can feel good about. Here are the 10 most ethical vacation destinations.

The Bahamas

These islands prioritize conservation and sustainability, as shown by the efforts to establish new Marine Protected Areas and the expansion of a number of protected acres in a major National Park. The Bahamas made great strides to combat human trafficking this year, with the first prosecution under human trafficking law.


Cited by Ethical Traveler as a “best practice model for the Caribbean,” Barbados promotes sustainable tourism while protecting its coastline. The child mortality rate in Barbados is particularly low, and this nation received the highest possible score in the categories of Political Rights and Civil Liberties –higher even than some developed countries.

Cape Verde

This country has the goal of making energy 100 percent renewable over the next two decades. Cape Verde is also an outstanding example of an African country with stellar attention to political and civil rights, with laws that prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and holding its first Gay Pride Week this year — the second to take place in all of Africa.


This island boasts unspoiled forests and native species. An emphasis on protecting wildlife includes the preservation of native frog and iguana populations, along with a valiant effort to save endemic mountain chickens, which only inhabit two islands in the world. Dominica has expanded solar power across the island, and has the goal of being energy-independent and carbon negative by 2020.


Of the winning destinations, Latvia scored the highest in environmental protection. This nation has been acknowledged as one of the top performers in the world in both environmental public health and ecosystem vitality. Not only does this country have a pristine environmental record, it is the highest ranked of the 10 countries in gender equality.


Like Latvia, Lithuania is a leader in environmental and animal protection. Lithuania made strides in social welfare this year by reaching it’s Millennium Development Goal for under 5 mortality rate, which has dropped by a whopping 52 percent since 2000.


This year Mauritius announced an impressive renewable energy goal, aiming for 35 percent renewable use over the next two decades. The U.N. praised Mauritius for having made ‘substantial progress’ in social welfare this year, due to their improvements in property rights and labor freedom.


In Palau, 28.2 percent of precious marine and terrestrial area is protected – the highest percentage out of all the countries on this list. Press freedom in Palau is impressive; this country prides itself on exemplary freedom of press for a developing country.


Uruguay is in the process of building 21 wind farms, and is working toward the goal of 90 percent renewable electricity by 2015. Uruguay dominates the category of human rights, with laws passed this year allowing marriage equality and the legalization of steps toward ending unsafe abortions. This country’s equality ranking was second only to Chile.

By visiting the destinations on this list, travelers can reward developing countries for their promotion of sustainable tourism and ethical laws. The additional economic support from tourism will allow these nations to continue improving their countries, and protect the valuable natural resources that make them such appealing places to explore.

Grace Flaherty 

Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, Ethical Traveler
Photo: BBC

Latvia is a country with one of the widest income gaps in the European Union. This gap was expanded by the global economic crisis, which caused income levels in the country to decline by 19%. The IMF confirms that the economic recession very severely damaged the economy of Latvia. According to the Fund, “the richest 20 percent of the population (in Latvia) earn seven times more than the bottom 20 percent.” The IMF warns that these adverse conditions put Latvians at a higher risk of poverty.

The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism notes that the country does not provide adequate government-funded support for its poor. In fact, the small Baltic nation spends less on social welfare programs than any other European Union member state. For example, when compared to her northern neighbor Estonia, which spends 40% more per capita on social protection programs annually for the poor than Latvia, the lack of poverty-reduction programs from the Latvian government is quite conspicuous.

One of the most “at risk” groups in post-recession Latvia are single mothers. The cost of living has increased over the last few years, due in a large part to changes in tax policies which caused the price of heat and water utilities to rise significantly. The Baltic Center’s report highlights the struggles of a single mother living in Saldus, a town in western Latvia, trying to make ends meet in a small apartment with her two young children.  The mother can’t afford to buy or run a refrigerator, so the family lives off of a meager subsistence of room temperature dry foods and water. The tiny apartment also does not have a shower, so the children are forced to wash in the gym locker rooms at the primary school, a school where they attend classes with no supplies because their mother doesn’t have the money to buy them.

The plight of single mothers in Latvia has prompted many of them to leave the country. The income provided from a minimum wage job in Latvia is simply not enough to support a woman with one or more children, even in the smallest of living spaces. The mother in the Baltic Center article earns only three euros a day and has been forced to ask her friends for donations to keep her family afloat. Three euros a day is hardly enough money for a single, childless woman to survive in a developed country, let alone a mother responsible for a family.

As the Latvian government comes out of the recession, politicians should propose welfare programs for single mothers living below the poverty line. Failure to confront this critical social issue will only result in increased emigration and a more extreme wealth gap.

Josh Forgét

Sources: Baltica, The Washington Post
Photo: Baltica