The Estonian Union for Child Welfare (Lastekaitse liit) has criticized the government's plans to cut hobby education saying the mental health of children young people has been severely affected by the pandemic.
"It was a real shock to the Union for Child Welfare that the funding of local government hobbies will be cut by half," said Helika Saar, coordinator of the union's children's rights program.
She said both the prime minister and other ministers have recently emphasized the importance of children's mental health, which is also specifically mentioned in the coalition agreement and White Paper for exiting the coronavirus crisis.
"If we talk about hobbies, then in the sense of children, it is definitely a preventive measure in reducing inequality, in reducing risk behavior, but also definitely in supporting mental health," Saar said.
The mental health of children young people has been severely affected by the pandemic and the number of depressed children and suicide attempts has risen sharply during the last 18 months.
The union said children's rights are often the subject of fierce disputes between political parties. During the last government, the issue of access to psychiatric care led to heated debates and now the Riigikogu is looking to raise the age of consent. The union first lobbied for the age of consent to rise more than a decade ago.
Saar reminded politicians of the UN's convention on children's rights which Estonia signed in 1991 which says the best interests of children should be the primary consideration in decision making.
"This is what we emphasize in our opinions and what, in fact, the state should be guided in every opinion," she said.
Last month the government announced it wanted to make €60 million worth of cuts to reduce the deficit as Estonia tries to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) wrote in Postimees on Tuesday that even though the country's GDP rose by more than 5 percent in the last quarter, the government will not abandon its plans.
Editor: Helen Wright