Georgian Authorities Failing on Child Protection

By Tea Topuria - Caucasus
CRS Issue 595,
10 Jun 11
Rights activists say violence against children is rife in Georgia, and accuse the government of doing too little to assess the scale of the problem and take appropriate action on cases.
A study conducted last year by the Anti-Violence Network of Georgia suggested that 52 per cent of Georgian fathers, 46 per cent of mothers and 35 per cent of teachers were prepared to use violence against children. The survey, in which more than 1,250 people were questioned, indicated that four per cent of children who had suffered violence had also suffered sexual abuse.
Nestan Londaridze, a lawyer from Georgia’s Human Rights Centre, cited the example of a nine-year-old girl subjected to physical and psychological abuse by her stepmother.
“The neighbours were forced to call the police several times, and then they came to us,” he said. “Various witnesses have told us the stepmother used to systematically beat the girl and punish her with vicious techniques like forcing her to take cold baths or to sleep outside. She threatened and abused her.”
Nato Zazashvili, a psychologist with Sapari, a group that works against domestic violence, says assaults on children are commonplace.
“It’s mainly violence within the family. In most of these cases, the father is violent towards the mother, and she in turn towards the children,” Nato Zazashvili, a psychologist with Sapari, a group that works against domestic violence, explained. “There are cases of violence involving fathers, but this is rarer since fathers tend not to be involved with the children. Mothers vent aggression on their children because they cannot stand up to their husbands.”
Experts say cases like this are worryingly frequent, and most often the police and courts are never brought in.
“Our statistics are incomplete. Most of the time, cases of violence against children do not reach the police, or even psychologists, since people shun publicity,” Zazashvili said.
The government’s Social Services Agency is supposed to track child abuse cases, but critics of its performance point to the discrepancy between the figures it records and the much larger numbers that come out in independent surveys.
The agency’s figures indicate that fewer than 100 cases of violence against children came to its attention last year, of which 38 involved sexual abuse.
The more recent report from Georgia’s human rights ombudsman or National Defender, Giorgi Tugushi, said regional offices of the Social Services Agency often failed to record child abuse cases or investigate them thoroughly. Nor did the agency always inform the police when it did uncover cases.
The ombudsman urged the agency to make child protection a priority.
A spokeswoman for the Social Services Agency, Ekaterina Saneblidze, said efforts were now under way to collate information held at regional branches on a central database.
Child protection experts want the authorities to act more decisively to identify cases and deal with them, and to create greater public awareness that child abuse is a crime.
“Many people don’t even see it as violence when they beat their children,” Zazashvili said. “As far as sexual assaults are concerned, I can’t say whether there are more cases. The position is probably the same as before; it’s just that the number of reported cases has risen. Previously no one spoke about it at all.”
Tea Topuria is a freelance journalist in Georgia.