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77,000 children live below poverty line in Georgia

By Ana Robakidze
Monday, March 25
Doctors say that one year-old Gogita Abashidze died of malnutrition. Doctors were unable to save the exhausted child suffering from weight deficiency. According to the examination results, the child suffered from pneumonia and poor physical development.

The Abashidze family from the village of Makho in the Adjara region was unable to provide the child with sufficient care, neither were they able to receive any kind of social assistance from the government. According to the local municipality, the family was unable to receive the status of socially vulnerable, as the family members were unable to provide the necessary paperwork. Levan Abashidze, the father of the child, said that neither the head of the village municipality, nor local doctors had visited the family, even though they were aware of Gogita's health conditions.

The fact has caused anger among society and raised many questions about the social vulnerability of the citizens.

The death of Gogita Abashidze was aired on media immediately and was followed by several protests. The citizens were protesting against the authorities as well as against society itself. Rallies were held in Tbilisi and in Kutaisi in front of the parliament building.

People protesting in Tbilisi said that the government should pay more attention and properly identify its priorities, to make sure the money taxpayers pay is spent on social issues. Protesters also requested the list of the socially vulnerable families to be reviewed as many families with proper income have ended up on the list, while Abashidze and his family are left without social benefits.

The Public Defender's office released the official statement, which says that responsible institutions should conduct a comprehensive investigation of the facts and reveal the preventive measures that could have saved the life of Abashidze. The statement refers to the research by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, carried out in 2008, 2009 and 2012. The UN reports indicated that around 12% of Georgian children live below the extreme poverty line.

According to the statement, the current situation is proof that authorities had never considered the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The public defender's office calls on the government to review the social policy and define the priorities based on social need, rather than on available financial resources.

UNICEF released a special statement and expressed the fact that malnutrition remains among the major threats to the lives of many children in Georgia.

"Poverty is a leading factor in this. In Georgia, almost 77,000 children live on approximately 2 GEL per day. Children are not well represented in the existing social protection mechanisms." the statement says.

UNICEF also refers to Georgia's National Nutrition survey conducted in 2009, which depicts the existing troublesome situation in the country. "Half a million Georgians, mainly women and children, suffer from some form of malnutrition– and will not achieve their full potential as students, workers, citizens and parents. Nearly 300 children under five years die every year in Georgia as a result of maternal anaemia, low birth-weight, folic acid related birth defects and suboptimal breastfeeding."

UNICEF calls on the government to fix the gap in the system, as well as "to introduce a universal child benefit to protect the most vulnerable children and their families. The maternal, newborn and child health continuum of care during a child’s lifecycle also needs to be ensured."

The Social Service Agency of Georgia will start an investigation to reveal the reasons Abashidze family was not provided socially vulnerable status.