January 2 2013

Taxing Charity

02/01/2013 - “I cannot afford to look after her,” read a note left with a four-year-old girl, abandoned at a Kindergarten in Athens in March 2011. The girl is now thriving in the care of SOS Children’s Villages. However, life has not been kind to her mother. For various reasons contact between them has practically ceased. Far from supporting the girl, Greek authorities today levy taxes on every element of her support and that of Alicia, who received treatement for abuse in a place where care also is taxed.

It is universally accepted that harsh economic circumstances alone, do not justify placing children in long-term care. Child abandonment in Greece has not materialised as previously feared. This can be attributed in part to the recent eightfold expansion of the SOS Family Strengthening Programme across the country.

Today, approximately 650 families are in receipt of food and clothing. Psychological and other practical support measures are also provided to help families remain intact and regain the belief in their ability to care for the children they love. The authorities in Greece do not fund such services that are unquestionably for the public good. On the contrary, because of its 2010 tax reform, donations that help prevent the abandonment of children on the streets of Greece are now taxed, at the same rate as luxury goods. In 2011, SOS Children’s Villages paid €160,000 in taxes on the total income. This equates to six per cent of funds received.

Juvenile Prosecutor’s Office ordered Alicia be removed from her family, and placed in the care of experts at SOS Babies Hostel
Authorities in Greece do not fund the care of abused children, they tax it © SOS Archives
Orphaned and abused children – consumed by tax

In a provincial Greek town, teachers at a kindergarten noticed a pattern of worrying behaviour in Alicia,* a three-and-a-half-year-old girl. On occasion, they noticed that her mother appeared psychotic. She had also spoken of her estranged partner’s violent behaviour towards her. The kindergarten team informed the authorities when they suspected that Alicia was in danger.

A subsequent investigation by the authorities concluded that her father had subjected the child to severe sexual abuse. He suffered from a personality disorder and addiction to alcohol. The economic emigrant was also prone to abusing his partner, both physically and verbally. It was during such outbursts that Alicia suffered most. Investigators described her living conditions as poor, dangerous and harmful to a child.

The Juvenile Prosecutor’s Office ordered Alicia be removed from her family, and placed in the care of experts at the SOS Babies and Infants Hostel. Her father is now serving a prison sentence for his crimes. Due to her psychiatric condition, Alicia’s mother was deemed unfit to care for the child. Alicia spent eighteen months in the hostel and has since been placed in the care of a loving foster family.

Citing lack of transparency as a reason for not supporting the work of any Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), the authorities in Greece do not contribute anything to the on-going bi-weekly psychotherapy or related care received by Alicia. She is unlikely to inherit much in her lifetime. Anything bequeathed to her or to those who care for such children is taxed. “How can it be that even legacies to a charitable cause now incur tax?,” asks George Protopapas, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Greece. “In the three years since Alicia first lay in a safe bed at the SOS Babies and Infants Hostel in Athens, the facilities’ source of income has fallen drastically.

Cash strapped Greeks have remained loyal, but the economic circumstances have resulted in individuals reducing their monthly donation from €50 to €20. Thankfully, our exiles and the few Greek multinational companies that remain active in the country have not been deterred by the fact that we are penalised for protecting children who have been let down by the state,” said Protopapas.

“The play area and bedroom where Alicia found sanctuary from her abuser is also a source of tax revenue. One per cent of the real-estate value of the hostel must be paid annually to the tax authorities. In spite of this, a private individual benefactor is footing the construction costs of a second SOS Babies and Infants Hostel. When it opens in April, the facility will accommodate an additional 10 of the most vulnerable children in Greece. The spirit is alive among Greek people who really want to help and donate to us,” he said.

This January, the maximum daytime temperature on the streets of Athens is unlikely to rise much above 12° Celsius. Heating oil is therefore a necessity in the SOS Babies and Infants Hostel, SOS Children’s Villages and SOS Social Centres across the country.

The government’s Consumption Tax introduced last October increased the cost of heating oil by 40 per cent. This increase alone has left a €45,000 deficit in the organisation’s budget. Those who will pay for this, the income tax on donations and the property tax on the infant hostel, are children of parents who cannot cope.

When last seen, the woman who in desperation left her child at a kindergarten last year was unemployed, distraught, and unfit to care for her little girl. Many like her have resorted to life on the streets where prostitution appears inevitable.

The eternal optimist, George Protopapas, believes in people. He believes that even in difficult times together with likeminded individuals and the corporate community, opportunities can be found. He says, “solidarity still exists, in spite of the fact that Greek orphans are the only ones in the world who must pay taxes to be protected.”

The child’s name has been altered to protect her identity