Georgian ombudsman allowed to visit Church-run child houses

Photography credits: Giorgio Comai/Flickr

For the first time in the country’s history the Georgian authorities enter the child houses led by the Georgian Orthodox Church. ChildPact attended a presentation made by the Public Defender of Georgia (Ombudsman), Ucha Nanuashvili, within a special event organised by the International Partnership for Human Rights and the Open Society European Policy Institute, in Brussels, on the 10th of June. 

The subject of the presentation was the 2014 Report of the Public Defender of Georgia “On the Situation of protection of Human Rights and Freedoms in Georgia” which was submitted to the Georgian Parliament in the end of March 2015.

The Ombudsman’s presentation gave an update on the human rights’ situation in Georgia on the basis of the current Report which tackles civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights through 33 chapters covered in over 900 pages. Some of the positive human rights trends in 2014 emphasised by the Georgian Public Defender were as follows: (1) the adoption of the Law “On the elimination of all forms of discrimination”; (2) the adoption of the National Strategy on Human Rights for 2014-2020 and an Action Plan; (3) reforms in the criminal justice system; (4) the improvement of the media environment; (4) the signing of the Council of Europe Convention (2011) “On preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence” (the Istanbul Convention); (5) the right to respect for private and family life followed by a larger legislative package.

In the field of child rights, the Ombudsman emphasised some of the issues challenging a decent life for every child in Georgia: the high child poverty rate; the lacking of a child-friendly justice system; the law quality of education and the insufficient professional preparation of teachers; the limited access to health care services; the lack of specialised services for children with disabilities; and the lack of an inclusive educational system for every child.

The Public Defender also recognised that particularly children in the mountainous areas are exposed to further vulnerabilities such as the lack of access to education and health, higher child mortality rates. “The child rights situation in Georgia needs to be improved. The government is attempting to develop the child care system and we are engaged in bringing to light all the issues related to child protection.” stated Ucha Nanuashvili.

ChildPact expressed its worry regarding the low score obtained by Georgia compared to other five countries in the region, according to the Child Protection Index.

Firstly, ChildPact raised the issue of the lack of coordination mechanisms which need to exist between the actors and the sectors related to child protection. Secondly, welcoming the deinstitutionalisation process promoted by the Georgian authorities, ChildPact emphasised that the Georgian Orthodox Church offers residential services to children which fall beyond the control of the Georgian state authorities. Consequently, no monitoring and no accountability services exist in these church led placements, which makes it difficult to stop potential abuse and neglect cases.

Reacting to ChildPact’s concerns, the Ombudsman explained: “The deinstitutionalisation process will be continued. Currently there are only two large child houses left, and they concern children with disabilities. Regarding the houses under the patronage of the religious churches, for the first time in our history, we managed through negotiations with the Georgian clergy, to have our representatives allowed to visit these child houses. The findings are currently being finalised and the office will publish a report on this issue and open a wider discussion.”

Nonetheless, significant advancement in the monitoring of the human rights situation is expected as the overall funds available to the Public Defender Office have increased by 68% compared to the year 2013, enabling the creation of several new units and departments working on specialised issues. Child rights issues will receive special attention as a special child protection centre with four lawyers will be put in place.