Impoverished Greek Families 'Wrong' for Giving up Children, Priest Says

The financial crisis in Greece has been hitting the country’s poor the hardest and some families feel forced to abandon their children to charities and churches so that they will be well cared for. However, one clergyman says the trend is detrimental and that families who participate "will be judged."

This trend has been stirring some sensitive debate in the country, which has traditionally been a very family-oriented society where taking care of one’s children is seen as a crucial responsibility.

Some maintain that impoverished parents who truly lack the means to provide for their young, are doing the right thing by surrendering the children to local charities. Others, however, like Father Antonios, who runs a youth center for the city's poor in Athens disagree and insist that the family unit is the most important thing that children need.

"These families will be judged for abandoning their children," he said in a World Report by BBC News. "We can provide a child with food and shelter, but the truth is that the biggest need any child has is to feel the love of its parents."

The Orthodox priest shared that in the last two months, four children have been abandoned at his doorstep, including 2-year-old Natasha, who was left at the center by her mother. The woman simply said that she was unemployed and homeless, and left her daughter there, Antonios said.

Stories like this are becoming increasingly common in Greece as it battles with crippling economic difficulties that have caused widespread poverty that its welfare system cannot deal with on its own.

In another case, a kindergarten teacher reportedly received a note about one of her 4-year-old pupils in which the mother wrote: "I will not be coming to pick up Anna today because I cannot afford to look after her. Please take good care of her. Sorry. Her mother."

SOS Children's Villages, an international foster care charity with a division in Greece, has also taken in a child handed over by a mother struggling financially.

Stergios Sifnyos, the director of social work at SOS Children’s Villages, told BBC News that the charity usually dealt with cases of child abuse and neglect, and had not been accustomed to taking in children because their families could not support them. The economic times, however, have made cases like this more common.

In a statement on its official website, SOS Children in Greece revealed that it has received 700-800 requests from families since the beginning of 2011 asking for help.

"Before then, families and local authorities would refer children to SOS Children mostly as a result of child abuse. Since then, nearly 100% of new referrals are as a result of a financial crisis in the family," the message continued.

Another Athens charity, The Smile of A Child, assessed that parents abandoning their children, for whatever reason, is very damaging to a child’s development.

Stefanos Alevizos, the organization’s chief psychologist, explained to the BBC News: "They experience the separation as an act of violence because they cannot understand the reasons for it."

Sofia Kouhi, who also works for the charity, defended parents who leave their children, saying that such parents might actually be the ones who love their children the most.

"It is very sad to see the pain in their heart that they will leave their children, but they know it is for the best, at least for this period," she said.