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State addresses street children

By Salome Modebadze
Wednesday, May 22
Zhana is a teenager. She has spent over half of her life in the streets begging. It was her parents who forced her to do what she did not want to.

Around a year ago, Zhana was taken to the Gldani crisis center where children working and living in streets are sheltered. “I do not have a family,” she says now, refusing to go home. Although she is not very optimistic about her future, she still wants to study and get an education.

“I live one day at a time. I do not have any particular plans,” she says, adding that if God has let her stay alive to this day, he will show the way in the future, too.

According to the survey of Save the Children and UNICEF carried out in 2008, over 1, 500 children live and work on the streets in Georgia. Because these children do not have ID cards or birth certificates, it is difficult to figure out their exact number. Poverty, unemployment or domestic violence often is the reason why children move to streets.

The project, which aims to reach highly vulnerable children living and working on the streets, was officially launched in February of 2013. Different ministries, NGOs and international donors have expressed their hopes that one day, no child will be begging in Georgia.

Eka Saneblidze, Head of the Guardianship/Care and Social Programs Department of the Social Service Agency, said the project is underway. Firstly, the mobile teams of social workers, psychologists, teachers and peer educators are being established. These are the people who will become the bridge for the street children to change their lifestyle. The success of the project depends on these teams to a great extent, because they have to build up trust among the children to motivate them to go to the daycare centers. Here they will be offered life skills, psychological support, medical care, informal education and entertainment. And finally, three 24-hour transition centers will help children adapt to life away from the street.

The two-year project is funded by the EU and UNICEF.

According to Nino Kochiashvili, Project Manager from the EU Delegation to Georgia, the EU assists the state in the first steps in the creation of the system, while the unity between the different branches of the executive body is vital.

As a result, a mechanism will be worked out that will adjust the infrastructure and service of the reform to these children and identify why a child is begging/living on the streets and what kind of situation they have in the family.

If children are forced to beg for economic reasons, their families should be included in the list of socially vulnerable, or offered day care centers or foster families to prevent children from going out on streets. Stressing that systemic changes are needed, Kochiashvili said the process should not be forceful or artificial, but rather engage working groups to help children integrate back into the society step-by-step.

Public engagement is also essential. However, when people see children begging in the streets, they try to help them by giving money, while such an attitude can cause harm and as a result, strengthen “the system of street.”

“We will struggle with economic or social reasons, and other factors that force the child to go out in the street,” Kochiashvili said, stressing that the state and the public should find the right path together.

UNICEF Chief of Child Protection, Aaron Greenberg, said the project should make sure that vulnerabilities in the family are addressed.

He said the children in the streets require more than services. Many of these children come from families without official documents. That’s why the Ministry of Justice is actively involved in the process, because a form of temporary ID numbers should be introduced to ensure that these children and their families can gain access to other services like pensions, education and healthcare… “We are sure that the issue of social exclusion of families is the major problem,” said Greenberg. So looking at how you approach the street children and their families who are so marginalized from the society and how you get them to trust you is also a big issue.

As Georgia slowly integrates with the EU it is necessary to have state investment in human rights, because this is an equally as important issue as economic growth and trade policy.

Even if the expectation that we cannot see children begging in the streets in a couple of years is unrealistic, everyone agrees that if the public looks at the issue from a different angle and helps the children abandon the streets by receiving, teaching and developing them, the main goal of the project will be achieved and the words of the Head of delegation of the EU to Georgia, will become a reality!