Feature - A commitment to moving forward: Georgia marks 20th anniversary of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by establishing Child Rights’ Council
By Sarah Marcus for UNICEF Georgia
The 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was marked in Georgia not only by celebrations and appraisals of work done and still to do, but also by a welcome announcement from the Government of Georgia.
Speaking at Tbilisi’s Radisson hotel during a series of presentations by representatives of UNICEF, government and civil society marking the anniversary, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Giorgi Arsenishvili said that a Child Rights’ council at the Parliament of Georgia is to be created on the joint initiative of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee of the Parliament. It will oversee all aspects of the authorities’ work to improve the situation of children in Georgia.
‘This council will include members from UNICEF and the Public Defender’s Office and will help to accelerate our actions in this area and overcome bureaucratic hurdles,’ Arsenishvili told the audience of ambassadors, diplomats and people actively working to improve the situation of children in Georgia.
The announcement was warmly welcomed by Benjamin Perks, UNICEF Georgia Deputy Representative and by Giorgi Tugushi, the Public Defender of Georgia. Tugushi also commended the Georgian government for their cooperation in the area of child rights, in particular the work of the Department of Education on the problem of violence and exclusion in schools.
He detailed his office’s work on analysis of legislation concerning children and raising public awareness of child protection issues, among other things.
‘In our work we always make provision for child’s rights, including in our last report,’ he told the audience.
The situation of children in Georgia is much better than in many other countries, but there is still much work to be done, said Martin Klaucke from the Delegation of the European Commission.
The EC works on many aspects of child rights but is particularly active in improving juvenile justice systems, which although improving in Georgia under the three-year reform project launched in March 2008, remain beset by a lack of rehabilitation services and poor prison conditions.
Benjamin Perks of UNICEF provided an overview of the problems overcome in recent years and of those yet to be solved. Achievements include the deinstitutionalisation of 4,000 children and improved enrolment in pre-primary, primary and secondary education.
He commended the Ministries of Justice and of Probation and Penitentiaries for their action on reform of the juvenile justice system. He said the Government had made an ‘incredible commitment’ to increasing the birth registration rate – which correlates directly with infant mortality rates and social progress - among the Azeri community from 76 to 100 per cent.
Even in these areas of achievement much remains to be done, Perks said. Child protection mechanisms need to be strengthened throughout Georgia,
Akaki Chalatashvili, representing the Children’s Council of Georgia, told the audience about the Council’s development of a Child Action Plan for which they held consultations with children throughout the country.
Finally, prominent independent journalist Ia Antadze spoke about two projects created by a network of journalists and activists and implemented by the Civic Development Institute: one project invited children to enter a painting competition to depict articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in art; the second mobilised journalists throughout Georgia to help 5th grade students acquire books and crucial learning materials.
Helping Georgia’s youth to help themselves: School Objects Fund project targets 5th gradersA week before the 20th anniversary celebrations, the fruits of the latter project were on show at two schools near the city of Gori.
Designed to give practical applications to the conclusions of UNICEF’s 2008 Child Poverty Study, the project aimed to look at how local people could work together and solve some of the problems identified in the study.
The project was supported by UNICEF and implemented by the NGO Civic Development Institute (CDI) in partnership with the local NGO Civic Education Office. Journalist Antadze and colleagues publicised the project in local media throughout Georgia.
It focused on solving different problems facing schools in different parts of Georgia. In Gori, the most pressing problem identified is that children and their parents lack the money to buy the right textbooks. Furthermore, set texts change frequently and books are poorly cared for and often thrown away.
UNICEF led discussions on how small-scale advocacy and self organisation could address this problem and helped by CDI five schools in Gori and the surrounding community were quick to find solutions.
In one school teachers organised a scheme under which older children donated their used books to the school library where they were accessible to younger children.
Students at this school also won a competition to get grants from the Eurasia Foundation to buy supplies for their library and materials for their school.
At a small ceremony to celebrate the win and to mark the successful implementation of the book loan project, Tako Kechuashvili, a 16-year-old pupil and member of the school government said, ‘We are very happy to win these two grants. To get them we had to produce a plan of what we would do with the money if we won.’
‘We will buy school supplies and books and encyclopaedias with these grants. It’s very important to have these books in order to increase students’ level of knowledge,’ she added.
Another school near Gori also held a ceremony to celebrate a successfully implemented book loan scheme. At the library at this school there is a specific collection of books reserved for children from socially vulnerable families.
‘The book loan projects at this school and elsewhere are small scale, but they show what communities can do to help themselves and to support the most vulnerable members of society. Problems which stop children going to school must and can be overcome,’ said Natela Giunaishvili of CDI.