An appeal to Georgia’s parliament: our constitution must protect children’s rights

Photography credits: Onnik Krikorian

Source: The Georgian Coalition for Children and Youth

On 19 June, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) published an Opinion document on the draft revised Constitution of Georgia[1].  Paragraph 73 of the report under “Children’s Rights” highlights that based on the Venice Commission’s recommendation, it is important to have a separate article on protection of children’s rights in the Georgian constitution. Georgian Coalition for Children and Youth joins the Venice Commission’s appeal and applies to the Georgian Parliament with the request to provide for protection of children’s rights in the Constitution. 

The Parliament of Georgia is making historical changes in the Georgian Constitution which will have a significant impact on people living in the country, including children.  The Constitution should provide equal solid guarantees for the democratic development of the country and human protection.  Protection of the rights and legal interests of future generations (children) should be the main priority of the law. In our opinion, the current draft of the Constitution does not treat it as an important issue.

As early as 2015, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expressed its concern that member States of the Council of Europe have not yet exploited all constitutional, legal and administrative means at their disposal to protect children and promote their development and life chances to the greatest extent possible. Taking into account European diversity in this field and good practices identified in many countries, the Assembly called on member States to re-examine their constitutional and legislative coverage of children’s rights[2]. The Assembly believes that incorporation of children’s rights into national constitutions can be considered as an essential component of national children’s rights policies.

During the evaluation of the new draft revised constitution of Georgia, Sir Jeffrey Jowell, London University professor and member of the Venice Commission, stated that the draft did not take sufficient consideration of children’s rights, including the issues included in the constitution of other countries.[3]

The Coalition for Children and Youth, which includes more than 40 NGOs, analysed the proposed draft Constitution and believes that the amendments to the draft revised constitution must be improved for the purpose of protecting children’s rights in the country.  The current version does not provide for fundamental aspects of children’s rights recognized by international treaties, such as protection of children from violence, labour exploitation, the duty of the state to take care of children, to ensure children’s development, true interests and rights of participation, etc.

Relying on the Venice Commission’s report on creation of constitutional guarantees for protection of children’s rights[4], the Coalition for Children and Youth applies to the Georgian Parliament with the request to include the following fundamental issues of children’s protection and welfare in the draft constitution:

  • The draft constitution should emphasize that a child is an autonomous rights-holder rather than just an object of care. This approach is enshrined in the UN Children’s Rights Convention and underlines the children’s rights and accordingly, the obligation of the state to ensure the realization of these rights, including the right of children to play an active role in identifying their own needs and participate in decision-making process, protection of children’s true interests.  The same modern approach is reflected in the constitutions of Hungary, Montenegro, Slovenia and Holland which provide that children can enjoy rights and freedoms according to their age and level of maturity.  With regard to these rights, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe calls for member states: to provide constitutional guarantees for protection of children’s rights which will be based on the recognition of children as independent and autonomous holders of rights, and to ensure that the best interests of children are a primary consideration in all actions concerning children[5].
  • The constitutional provision for children’s rights should not be solely related to their family or mother, as it is the case in the current constitution[6]. First of all, it should be emphasized that children have the right to enjoy the care of both mother and father; father’s responsibility for child’s education and development is of no less importance. In response to these challenges, in most European countries the legal concept of “maternity leave” was replaced by “parental leave”. In addition, in certain cases, children’s rights might need to be protected on a priority basis, separately from parents’ rights, particularly, when the latter fail to perform their obligations with regard to the development of children and their protection from violence.
  • It is important to emphasize in the Constitution that the state will complement and control parental duties to protect children and whenever necessary, the state may take this duty from parents. We should also note the role of the state in supporting parents to ensure that parents can perform their legal duties properly.  The Venice Commission writes in its report: imposing childcare duties only on parents does not meet the UN children’s rights standards. The role of the state should be defined.  This standard is included in the constitution of Bulgaria which says: “Childcare is a duty of parents which is supported by the state”.
  • It is important to clarify the critical importance of family life for children and the role of the state in ensuring that children grow up in their families, whereas separation of children from families should be a measure of last resort if it is required in the best interests of children. Children’s right to development and life should be protected both in the family and in other forms of childcare.
  • Importantly, the Equality Paragraph should specify age as a discriminating factor thus emphasizing the importance of protecting children against discrimination on the basis of age. This paragraph reaffirms the right of equality before the law for children. The Constitution of 18 countries of the European Council also emphasizes the equality of children before the law regardless of the marital status of their parents.
  • The constitutional provision on the Freedom of Labour should also provide for the protection of children’s rights from child labour and economic exploitation, protection of children from dangerous forms of labour that undermine their personal development and fundamental rights.
  • It is important to include a paragraph in the Constitution on protection of children from violence, abuse and maltreatment. Such provisions are included in the Constitutions of Hungary, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Ukraine, Belgium, Spain, Austria and Poland. These provisions specify that children have rights to apply to state institutions for protection from violence, cruelty and exploitation. 

Lastly, we would like to mention that if these issues are taken into consideration, it is important to list children’s rights in the chapter of Human Rights as a basis for applying to the Constitutional Court, which, according to the Venice Commission, is an effective mechanism for protecting children.

The Coalition for Children and Youth hopes that the Parliament of Georgia will take this historic opportunity to create the significant legal standard for protecting children, and will perform its obligations to children.

  1. Children of Georgia
  2. Georgian Association of Social Workers
  3. SOS Children’s Village Georgia
  4. Save the Children, Georgian branch
  5. Partnership for Human Rights
  6. World Vision Georgia
  7. Partnership for Children
  8. First Step Georgia
  9. Public Health Foundation of Georgia
  10. Association Anika
  11. Global Initiative on Psychiatry
  12. Tanadgoma
  13. International Association Civitas Georgica
  14. International Association For Aid To Children Suffering From Leukemia
  15. The McLain Association for Children
  16. Caritas Georgia
  17. ADC Studio
  18. Association “Right to Health”
  19. Women’s Information Centre
  20. Anti-Violence Network of Georgia
  21. Small Group Homes Association
  22. Our Home Georgia
  23. The Georgian Centre For Psychosocial And Medical Rehabilitation Of Torture Victims – GCRT
  24. Rehabilitation Initiative for Vulnerable Groups
  25. Society „Biliki“
  26. Nonviolent Communication Institute
  27. Union “Imedi Plus”
  28. Child and Family Association
  29. Association for Assistance to Hearing and Speech Impaired Children (Parent’s Union)
  30. Welfare And Development Centre
  31. Union „Orioni“
  32. Initiative for Social Changes
  33. International Scout Centre Rustavi
  34. Young Pedagogues’ Union
  35. Divine Child Foundation of Georgia
  36. Partnership for Social Welfare – PSW
  37. Children’s Welfare League
  38. Child, Family, Society
  39. International Charity Fund For Children Suffering From Leukemia
  40. Mtskheta-Mtianeti Committee of Anti-Violence Network of Georgia – BIA
  41. Equal Opportunities Policy and Advocacy Institute

[1] http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD%282017%29013-e

[2] Parliamentary Assembly  of the Council of Europe, The Inclusion of Children’s Rights in National Constitutions as an Essential Component of Effective National Child Policies, 06 May, 2015, Doc. 13787. P.3

[3] Sir Jeffrey Jowell, evaluation of draft constitution, human rights and judicial power, March 2017, The East-West Management Institute

[4] European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) Report on the Protection of Children’s Rights: International Standards and Domestic Constitutions, 98th plenary session, Venice 21-22, March 2014.

[5] Parliamentary Assembly  of the Council of Europe, The Inclusion of Children’s Rights in National Constitutions as an Essential Component of Effective National Child Policies, 06 May, 2015, Doc. 13787. P.3

[6] Article 363 of the Georgian Constitution states: „the rights of mothers and children are protected by the law.