Breaking the cycle of child abandonment in Tbilisi, Georgia
By Maya Kurtsikidze
On 18 October, UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre will launch ‘Social Monitor 2006: Understanding Child Poverty in South-Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States’, a report urging governments to tackle child poverty in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Here is the first in a series of related stories.
TBILISI, Georgia, 13 October 2006 – Niko, 4, is proud of his twin brothers, David and Georgi – siblings he almost never had the chance to know. His mother, Maia, was thinking of abandoning her boys because she could not care for them. Fortunately, Maia found the support she needed at the Mother and Infant Shelter in Tbilisi.
The shelter, which is funded by UNICEF in partnership with the non-governmental organization World Vision, was opened at the Tbilisi Infants Home in April 2003. Since then, social workers have identified 208 mothers at risk of losing their children.
“It provides an alternative to child abandonment,” says UNICEF Representative in Georgia Giovanna Barberis. “Mothers are staying with their babies. We help them to find some way of living together.”
Partnership for families
For many of the over 5,400 children living in Georgia’s residential institutions, being orphaned may have been preventable. Most of them still have living parents. But with approximately 50 per cent of families in this post-Soviet country living below the poverty line, it is understandable that parents often see institutionalization as the only solution.
In 2002, UNICEF Georgia began partnering with the Ministries of Health and Education, as well as with World Vision and the UK-based organization Every Child, to provide much-needed support to single mothers.
As part of this collaboration, the Mother and Infant Shelter helps women cope with the pressures that could lead them to abandon their infants. In South-Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, an estimated 18 million children under the age of 15 live in extreme poverty. Many mothers cannot afford to feed, clothe or educate their children.
In addition to financial hardships, Georgia is a country of strict traditions where families may not accept children born out of wedlock. These factors may help explain the high rates of child abandonment.
At the shelter, women are provided with the tools they need to become self-sufficient. They receive employment assistance and take professional training courses in areas such as office management, computer repair and cosmetology. So far, 35 women have become empowered enough to start their own small businesses, ranging from dairy product production to auto repair.
Irina is a single mother who came to the shelter directly from the maternity hospital. As part of the programme, she was offered the opportunity to study as a seamstress at a local design studio.
“I am more confident in myself now, ” Irina says. “I want to learn more. Probably, one day, I will be able to open my own shop.”
The Mother and Infant Shelter offers women the chance to gain strength from each other while they receive valuable counselling and job training. When they are finally able to support themselves, they will move into their own homes – and their children will be with them.