Years of conflict, economic collapse and the tradition of isolating children with disabilities have resulted in large numbers of children who need special protection.
Many languish in dismal institutions, live and work on the streets, turn to crime, suffer sexual exploitation, and engage in hazardous labour. Neglect and under-funding of children’s institutions have created an underclass of young people who are poorly prepared for adult life.
Residential care remains the dominant response to poverty, family distress, and disability, reflecting the absence of social safety nets There are over 5,000 children in various state or private institutions—87 per cent of these children have at least one parent. The situation of children living in institutions is daunting—children continue to reside in crumbling and shabby buildings without appropriate services. Moreover, they are deprived of their basic right to have a family.
There are an estimated 2,500 children working in the streets, some of whom sleep on the street. The risky lifestyles of children living on the streets expose them to alcohol and drug abuse, HIV/STI infection and exploitation. Studies indicate that street children are involved in a variety of activities: selling foodstuffs, begging, heavy labour (e.g., unloading railway carriages, in which some children spend the nights), stealing, and prostitution. Most appear to have homes and to give their earnings, or some part of them, to their families. Children on the streets and those in special shelters are the ones who are most usually exposed and susceptible to crime.
Available data likely underestimates the extent of delinquency in Georgia, but an upward trend is evident. Due to a lack of alternatives, imprisonment is still seen as the only recourse of many judges, who have no special training for cases involving minors.
Nearly 45,000 children are internally displaced whose families have fled conflicts, many of whom live in dilapidated public buildings and suffer from a disproportionately high incidence of health problems.
The network of social infrastructure to protect children has deteriorated; qualified social workers are in short supply and law enforcement officials are inadequately motivated to intervene where needed to protect children. Insufficient funding of state institutions, policies that fail to encourage alternatives to institutionalisation, and legislative gaps are among the national-level causes of Georgia’s failure to meet the rights of special protection of children.