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Georgia failed to protect children against violence and abuse in church-run orphanage, UN committee finds

27 June 2024

GENEVA – Georgia violated its child rights obligations by failing to take immediate intervention to address the frequent physical and psychological abuse of children who lived in a close-type orphanage run by the Georgian Orthodox Church, the UN Child Rights Committee has found.

The Committee issued a Decision today after reviewing a complaint filed on behalf of 57 children residing in Ninotsminda St Nino Children’s Boarding School at the time of submission.

Of these 57 children, the individual cases of M.L. and L.K. revealed the extent of abuse and mistreatment. Born in 2008, M.L. was placed in Ninotsminda St Nino from the age of three to thirteen where she suffered harsh punishments for bedwetting. Caregivers would often instruct older children to “discipline” her and other children by hitting them with sticks or hands. She was also compelled to take psychotic medicines when she was 11. Another child, L.K., born in 2003, faced similar hardships, including inadequate food, poor hygiene, and restricted movement. Her brother, who had disabilities, also experienced neglect and abuse.

“Children deprived of their family environment are entitled to special protection and assistance from the State, which is their custodian,” Committee member Benoit Van Keirsbilck said, adding that the Georgian government is thus held accountable for what happened behind the closed doors of an orphanage or any other similar institutions.

Ninotsminda St. Nino Children’s Boarding School is a residential facility for orphans and children without parental care. Its dire condition was first identified by the Public Defender’s Office of Georgia in a 2015 report. The report pointed out frequent psychological and physical bullying among children, as well as corporal punishments by caregivers such as prostrations, skipping meals, confinement, and forced crawling. Nonetheless, the orphanage was granted a care license in 2016 after the new edition of the Law of Georgia on Licensing of Educational Activities took effect.

The Public Defender’s Office issued a follow-up report in 2018, underlying the systemic problems within the orphanage and the urgent need for oversight and improvement in the care of the children. For almost a year since June 2020, the Public Defender’s Office was repeatedly denied access to the orphanage.

Noting that the authorities had not been able to monitor children at the orphanage, NGO Partnership for Human Rights first took the matter to various courts in Tbilisi and eventually brought the case to the Committee in May 2021.

The Committee immediately granted interim measures in favour of 57 children requesting access for the Public Defender’s Office to the orphanage.

One month later, the Public Defender's Office was allowed to enter to undertake a comprehensive assessment, which resulted in the transfer of 27 children to alternative care.

As of November 2021, 15 children, including at least one with a disability, still lived at the orphanage, although the issues raised remained unresolved.

After reviewing the complaint, the Committee found that Georgia had failed to protect the children in Ninotsminda St Nino Children’s Boarding School, who were deprived of their family environment and some of whom had disabilities, from violence and abuse, in violation of their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Committee requested Georgia to provide effective reparation to the child victims, including adequate compensation and rehabilitation, a public apology, reassessment of those still under State care, and independent investigation and prosecution of those responsible. Reparation measures should be coordinated with the child victims to incorporate their views.

“We are appalled at the situation these children deprived of their families, some of them from a very young age and throughout their childhood. The treatment they received will have life-long consequences on their development” Van Keirsbilck said.

“Regular and independent monitoring of institutions where children reside is essential to ensure that the treatment and living conditions comply with child rights standards and that these violations are not repeated in the future,” he added.

For more information and media enquiry, please contact: 
Safa Msehli at [email protected] 
Vivian Kwok at vivian.kwok@un,org

Background: 
The Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors States parties' adherence to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols on involvement of children in armed conflict, and on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The Convention to date has 196 States parties. The Committee is made up of 18 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure (OPIC-CRC) allows the Committee to receive and examine complaints by individuals or groups of individuals claiming to be victims of a violation of the rights of the child by States that have ratified the Optional Protocol. To date, 52 States, have ratified or acceded to the OPIC-CRC. The Committee’s views and decisions on individual communications are an independent assessment of States’ compliance with their human rights obligations under the Convention and its two substantive optional protocols.

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