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Children on the Streets of Georgia Lack Access to Education, Health, and Protection Services, UNICEF study says

Poverty, family dysfunctionality, violence in families, and parents’ migration were all major factors contributing to children ending up on the streets according to a new study presented by UNICEF today regarding children living and working on the streets of Georgia.

The study was conducted by UNICEF Georgia with the support of the European Union and in collaboration with the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labour, Health and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, World Vision International, the Open Society Georgia Foundation, Caritas Georgia, and UNICEF Azerbaijan. It was carried out by Fafo, a Norwegian research institute.

The aim of this study was to understand the characteristics of children living and working on the streets in Georgia and to map existing institutional responses so as to develop policy recommendations and enforce preventive measures.

“Children who work and live on the streets are particularly vulnerable to violence from adults as well as from fellow street youth,” said Laila O. Gad, UNICEF Representative in Georgia. “UNICEF has closely been working with the Government, the EU, and partner NGOs to establish state-run mechanisms and services like mobile teams, and rehabilitation centres to support children who live and work on the streets. There is a need to further expand response mechanisms, but it is equally important to prevent children from ending up on the streets in the first place through developing stronger protection mechanisms and conducting systemic changes,” added Ms. Gad.

“Protection of children against all forms of violence, and addressing the most vulnerable children’s needs is a priority for the EU, and it is also part of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement. We note that the Government is making progress in this area, but there is still some work to be done and we hope that the evidence generated by this research will further drive those efforts. So far we are happy to hear about the efforts made towards initiating shelter and designated services in Adjara, as well as towards creating working groups and conducting research to raise awareness and find best practices in this area,” noted Catalin Gherman, Deputy Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation to Georgia.

The study demonstrates that the population of children living and/or working on the streets of Georgia is highly diverse and includes: youth/children who live and work on the streets without protective care from parents, children who spend most of their daytime hours working on the streets and who themselves contribute income to the family, children who are accompanied by adults who are also street workers, and children of migrant street families who are predominantly Roma and Azerbaijani Kurds.

Differences in social assistance schemes in Georgia and Azerbaijan, as well as different legal frameworks (like prohibitions on begging and stricter enforcement of sanctions against petty trade) and the depreciation of Azerbaijani currency, lead many Azerbaijani families to migrate to Georgia and resort to a life on the street. Migrants also follow tourist flows that bring not only Azerbaijani families but also Georgian street families, unaccompanied children, and youth to the seaside resorts during the summer.

The research reveals that some groups of children live and move together in order to protect each other, to find places to sleep, to create spaces for leisure and entertainment, to cultivate friendship, and to cooperate in economic activities like petty trading, street begging, and petty crime. Other groups of children have internal structures that divide them into seniors/superiors and subordinates. Older children sometimes use younger children below age 14 (subordinate children) as ‘shields’ to avoid criminal prosecution, pushing them to carry out criminal activities and hand over the profits.

A Steering Committee was created to ensure inclusiveness, knowledge sharing, and further ownership of study findings and recommendations. Members include the initial partners as well as the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education and Science, International Labor Organization, Public Defender’s Office, and Save the Children.

Based on the study findings and its recommendations, the Steering Committee worked out country-specific recommendations that entail the development of an overarching vision, strategy, and action plan to ensure adequate prevention and response measures to safeguard children from street life.

One of the key solutions will be the development of family support services to prevent new children from entering a life on the street. There is also a need to increase geographical coverage of the existing services and establish new services in Adjara. Special approaches should be employed to reach out and address the needs of migrant children and their families.