SOS Children's Villages has been working in the Czech Republic since 1969, when the founder of SOS Children's Villages, Hermann Gmeiner was invited to visit then Czechoslovakia. SOS Children's Villages currently supports families and their children in three locations in the Czech Republic. At present there are three SOS Children's Villages in the Czech Republic and two SOS Youth Facilities.
A predominantly urban society
The Czech Republic is located in Central Europe, and borders Poland in the north-east, Slovakia in the south-east, Austria in the south, and Germany in the north-east. There are 10.2 million inhabitants, and children under the age of 14 account for 15 per cent of the population. About three quarters of the population lives in urban areas and the capital city of Prague is the biggest with 1.3 million inhabitants.
The present-day Czech Republic came into existence in January 1993 after the “velvet divorce” which left the previous Czechoslovakia split into its two constituent parts.
Unemployment increases due to the economic crisis
The Czech economy has been growing steadily since 1993. After the country had joined the European Union in 2004, its exports to the European Union, especially to Germany, increased. The recent economic crisis, however, affected the Czech economy and caused an increase in unemployment. At present, around nine per cent of the population are unemployed (2011 est.). Rates of unemployment are higher in areas outside Prague, in coal and steel producing areas, among older workers and those with fewer skills.
The majority of people are employed in the service industry, but manufacturing is still a major economic activity. The car industry accounts for a fifth of all manufacturing. Only two per cent work in agriculture. In recent years, more people have started working in the service industry and the number of those working in manufacturing and agriculture has decreased.
The majority of children without parental care are still cared for in old-fashioned institutions
Measures taken to protect the rights of children remain insufficient; there is no national plan to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the responsibility to protect children is divided between different departments that do not always work together.
The Czech Republic has a very high number of children living in old-fashioned institutions. This is mainly because families in need do not receive help to stay together. For example, if a family is homeless or struggling economically, often social workers do not provide housing or financial support but rather remove children from the family and place them in state care homes.
There have been some improvements in the care system, but the large majority of institutions fail to meet the needs of children - the facilities are large, not adapted to children's individual needs, children are deprived of choices and there is little contact with the outside world. The institutions do not protect the rights of children to have a relationship with their families of origin - the children are often placed in institutions far from home and without their siblings. When the children leave these institutions, they are not ready to live independently, and according to national figures, 41 per cent end up committing a crime.
Children from Roma backgrounds, those with disabilities, those with migrant backgrounds and those from socio-economically deprived backgrounds are particularly at risk of losing parental care. Roma children account for 60 per cent of all residents in care facilities. They, along with disabled children, are not properly integrated into care institutions.
School attendance is high, but the quality of the education children receive depends on ethnicity and wealth. When being assessed for school admission, cultural and linguistic differences are often not taken into account. This results in the segregation of children. Amnesty International has accused the Czech authorities of not doing enough against the “systematic discrimination” of Roma children in education. Roma children are often not educated with children from other backgrounds and the quality of the education in the schools they attend is often inferior.
SOS Children's Villages in the Czech Republic
SOS Children's Villages work in the Czech Republic was forced to a halt in 1974, but after the political changes in December 1989, the organisation was able to increase its activities in order to meet the needs of the weakest members of the Czech population. Children who can no longer live with their families are cared for by SOS families. Young adults are able to move into special houses, where they can learn to live semi-independently and are given support while they finish their studies or vocational training.