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What’s being done for vulnerable children?

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, May 14
Media seminar on the new state program for Social Rehabilitation and Childcare and Children Living in the Streets was held for journalists in Kvareli May 10-11. The program on children living and working in the streets was implemented with the support of the European Union and UNICEF.

The seminar revealed that significant steps have been made from UNICEF and the state in changing the situation in terms of children in Georgia. However, major problems remain. This includes the lack of a working system of state bodies, a lack of finances and incorrect public attitudes towards violence against children.

UNICEF representative Sascha Graumann told The Messenger that currently Georgia lacks education as a basis for achieving success – not only with regard to children’s rights, but in other aspects as well.

“The political developments of 2013 coincided with important developments for children in Georgia. One milestone was the government’s commitment to halve child poverty in the coming years,” Graumann stated, stressing that 77,000 children are living in extreme poverty below $1.25 per day and 205,000 children below the relative poverty line of approximately GEL 3.60 per day. Out of 44 European countries, Georgia is ranked 42nd in terms of child mortality with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan being behind.

“UNICEF works with the Government of Georgia to influence policies, systems and decisions affecting children and to translate these policies into tangible resources and good practices,” Graumann stated.

Graimann told The Messenger that the government is now working to revise the existing social protection system and to make it more inclusive and child-sensitive. We welcome the government’s efforts to improve policies, but we continue to advocate for more positive changes to further reduce equity gaps.”

Graimann also stresses that work across different ministries remains fragmented, under-resourced, and incomplete with regard to the situation of children. UNICEF also advocates allocating benefits for vulnerable children from the state budget. However, according to the healthcare minister, delivering of such pensions to children is useless due to a lack of awareness among the public.

According to the Social Service Agency’s Mari Tsereteli and Keti Melikidze, the Social Welfare Program Chair, various steps have been made in the implementation of the state program for the children living and working in the streets. They said that the major changes were related to the closure of large children’s orphanages and moving the children to family-type institutions or to foster care. According to them, special working groups and programs have been created to reintegrate the children into their families and prevent them from being abandoned.

“There are mobile groups consisting of social workers, psychologists, and individuals who lived on the street and managed to reintegrate into society, who work with children living and working in the street. There are day centers and 24/7 services. The aim is to bring children from streets to such centers where they will have food, hygiene and the ability to participate in informal educational activities,” Tsereteli said. Melikidze explained that currently there are 3 mobile groups in Tbilisi, 2 day centers and 2 transit service centers. “We have registered up to 300 children in the database, 30 already have documentation; there are 9 children under foster care. Both Tsereteli and Melikidze stated that families refrain from taking children with disabilities into foster care, and that low awareness of children’s’ rights from the authorities and the other bodies are making the situation complicated in terms of children’s rights protection. However, they said that various steps are being planned to help increase awareness.