Long-running child psychiatry battle ends with bill passing Riigikogu

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SDE members Helmen Kütt (standing), Riina Sikkut and Jevgeni Ossinovski during the Riigikogu deputy speaker elections. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

A bill has passed the Riigikogu which will enable minors to obtain psychiatric help independently and without parental consent.

The bill, sponsored by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) had first been table in 2019, but had seen pushback, particularly by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), now in opposition as well, but in office until January this year.

The bill will, proponents say, make psychiatric help available to children suffering from domestic violence or sexual abuse, as well as to teenagers experiencing depression, addiction or eating disorders, all issues, SDE says, which have been more prevalent with the arrival of the pandemic.

SDE MP and Riigikogu social affairs committee chair said: "The crisis period has further exaggerated children's mental health problems; meanwhile, however, we have an acute shortage of psychiatrists. This painful bottleneck also needs to be resolved".

The bill passed with 73 votes in favor at the 101-seat chamber, and five abstentions. Seventeen of EKRE's 19 MPs voted against.

Helmen Kütt struck a biblical tone in summarizing the bill's passing.

"This journey to Golgotha is finally over, and the essential amendment has been adopted. Young people will now have an additional option – they'll be able to see a psychiatrist, if needed," she said.

"The psychiatrist will assess the young person's need for psychiatric help and also ascertain why they did not want to come with a parent," Kütt went on, noting that the bill, first tabled in December 2019, had faced opposition from EKRE.

While the latter party's number of seats has not changed since then, the party is due to relinquish the post of Riigikogu speaker, held by Henn Põlluaas since April 2019, and a position which controls much of the in and the out of Riigikogu business.

Former prime minister Jüri Ratas (Center) is due to be Põlluaas replacement, but will need to pass a vote too, due tomorrow, Thursday – Põlluaas already voted on the bill from the MPs' bench. Põlluaas' predecessor was an SDE MP – Eiki Nestor.

"This ugly chapter in Estonian politics is now fortunately over," Kütt said.

Henn Põlluaas was one of the abstainers, along with three Isamaa MPs (party leader and outgoing deputy speaker Helir-Valdor Seeder, former foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu, and Mihhail Lotman), along with Reform MP Annely Akkermann.

Kütt said that parents were often too close to affairs to be able to ascertain clearly what is in a child's best interests in such matters, along with issues of children often being too embarrassed to approach their parents, or the parents themselves suffering issues of their own.

Opponents point to the bill as an example of the state undermining the family as an institution.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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