Child Rights Situation in Georgia
With a population of around 3.7 million people, Georgia is located in the South Caucasus at the intersection of Europe and Asia. After regaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia embarked on the path of building a closer relationship with Europe and signed the EU-Georgia Association Agreement in June 2014.
As a result of liberal economic reforms and an active fight against corruption, the country’s economy has experienced rapid growth. Nevertheless, according to research conducted by UNICEF, poverty, triggered by unemployment and increased consumer prices, still remains an acute public policy challenge.
Economic, social and cultural developments in the recent history of the country have affected the status of human rights protection and particularly, the rights of children in Georgia. Namely, in the last decade, the Government of Georgia has made significant progress in overall child welfare reform processes, including legislative, policy, and practical changes in inclusive and special education. However, the recent Child Rights Situation Analyses identified insufficient access to inclusive education and services for children with disabilities country-wide. Statistics show that a large number of children with disabilities remain unidentified and do not receive the social, educational, medical, and material support to which they and their families are entitled.
Furthermore, as part of the Child Welfare Reforms, legislation regulating childcare services was amended and new standardised regulations were introduced for all residential childcare institutions. These efforts significantly reduced the number of children in large-scale state-run institutions and children were reintegrated into their biological families or provided with alternative care, such as foster care or care in small-group homes. However, unregulated residential institutions managed by various non-governmental organizations and local governments, as well as by the Georgian Orthodox Church and Muslim faith-based organizations still function beyond the reach of state social services.
Efforts on the part of the government as well as by local and international actors resulted in a decrease in the gap between urban and rural areas and rich and poor communities in terms of preschool attendance. However, according to recent studies, 6 out of 10 children aged 3-5 from poor families have no or limited access to children’s books, while around 20% of children between the ages of 15 and 18 representing the poorest groups are out of education (UNICEF).
Due to the secessionist conflicts in the Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia and the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic in the early nineties and again in August 2008, 273,411 people (approximately 7% of the overall population of Georgia) were granted IDP status (data from the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia). As a result, according to the Council of Europe’s Report, Georgia has one of the world’s highest incidences of internal displacement relative to its overall population. According to reports, there seem to be fewer opportunities available for the socio-economic integration of IDPs, the large majority of whom continue to depend on state assistance. Access to employment, and also to some healthcare services and education, continues to remain a pressing problem which is often compounded by a lack of awareness regarding rights and entitlements (for example in relation to private health insurance). These factors appear to have an impact on the effective exercise of the relevant rights of internally displaced children as well.
While reviewing the rights of children, the interests of adolescents (ages 10-19) and youth (ages 15-24) should also be paid particular attention. The Georgian state as well as international and local actors are addressing the needs of youth who face multiple interrelated barriers, including poverty; unemployment; gender inequality; health issues, including those related to sexual and reproductive health; and lack of political and public representation. The youth unemployment rate in Georgia is 30.8%, which is higher than the EU average (Country Program Document by Danish Neighbourhood Programme (DANEP)). This is partly due to a mismatch of skills and jobs on the labour market. This issue also requires holistic and multistakeholder approaches, especially when faced with high rates of unemployment and low access to relevant skills training.
Other problems directly affecting the rights of children include the issues of street children, early marriages resulting in the abandonment of education, as well as bullying and exclusion on the basis of ethnic, religious, gender or other grounds. While these issues are being tackled by the country with the support of international and local actors through policymaking and legislative efforts, these issues still represent a challenge to the country.