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COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF REPORTS OF GEORGIA UNDER THE OPTIONAL PROTOCOLS ON THE SALE OF CHILDREN AND ON CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT

Committee Experts Raise Concerns about Children Being Recruited to Fight in Syria and Iraq, and about the Effective Criminalization of Violations
17 September 2019

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the initial reports of Georgia under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

Committee Experts raised concerns about the situation of children being recruited to fight in Syria and Iraq or being taken there by their parents. They said that there were cases of Georgian children from the Pankisi Gorge being recruited to go fight in Syria as part of terrorist groups. Could the delegation comment on this? How did the Government provide for the reintegration and rehabilitation of children coming back to Georgia after having taken part in such activities?

In response, the delegation of Georgia said that there were people from the Pankisi Gorge who had taken part in the war in Syria, taking their children and spouses with them. In that regard, the Government had made a number of arrests, but none involving juveniles. On the three kids that had returned to Georgia from Iraq, the delegation explained that they were two, four and five years old and had not taken part in the armed conflict. Their father had gone to Iraq to fight alongside terrorist organizations. The three children were living in a Baghdad prison when the Georgian Government intervened to return them. The Government had developed a development plan for the Pankisi Gorge region. Large-scale awareness raising campaigns and meetings with stakeholders, including on human rights, were carried out in that region.

Khatuna Totladze, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, introducing the reports, said that the recommendations of the human rights monitoring bodies were translated into human rights national action plans for their effective implementation. In order to ensure the effective implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, an inter-agency commission had been established in 2016.

The Code on the Rights of the Child, which had recently been elaborated in the Parliament of Georgia, was an overarching document of all child-protecting legislation in Georgia, Ms. Totladze continued. In 2019, the Government had approved the National Strategy of Georgia on the Fight against Terrorism and its 2019-2021 Action Plan, which provided a unified vision and roadmap on preventing and combatting terrorism, radicalization and extremism in all their dimensions, notably by putting emphasis on rolling out preventive measures with respect to children.

Experts said the violations of the children’s rights enshrined in Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography were concerning. Had the Protocol been translated into national legislation through the criminalization of violations included in it? Had everything been done to ensure the Optional Protocol was truly effective in Georgia?

Responding, the delegation spoke about awareness-raising efforts on children’s rights, noting that there were about 25,000 teachers and that they were obliged to undertake obligatory training, notably on human rights. It said that data showed that the number of early marriages that had led to a child dropping out of school had gone down from 550 to 150. As child poverty was one of the risk factors related to violence against children, child sale, and child pornography, the delegation said that significant measures had been taken to tackle poverty in general and child poverty in particular through targeted social assistance. The Government was working to tackle forced labour in children through the labour inspection system. Domestic violence was also a priority for the Government of Georgia.

Velina Todorova, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Georgia, in her concluding remarks, said the dialogue on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography had been productive. Georgia had done a lot, and in a short time, even though some gaps remained.

Gehad Madi, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Georgia, in his concluding remarks, said it had been a constructive and transparent discussion on the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. There were still some pending issues, however. It was important to have an explicit criminalization of the recruitment of children by non-State armed groups.

Ms. Totladze, in her concluding remarks, said that the Government looked forward to receiving the concluding observations of the Committee. Georgia would engage in the follow-up process in good faith and in close dialogue with all relevant actors. In this context, it was important to mention that the inter-agency commission responsible for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and children’s rights would carefully study the concluding observations and translate them in all relevant strategies and action plans to the fullest extent possible.

Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the frank and open attitude displayed during the dialogue. He encouraged the State party to disseminate the concluding observations.

The delegation of Georgia consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labour, Health and Social Affairs, the Parliament of Georgia, the Georgian State Security Service, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, and the Permanent Mission of Georgia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 18 September at 3 p.m., to consider the report of the Republic of Korea under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/KOR/5-6).

Report

The Committee has before it the initial reports of Georgia under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict CRC/C/OPSC/GEO/1 and CRC/C/OPAC/GEO/1 respectively.

Presentation of the Report

KHATUNA TOTLADZE, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, introducing the two reports, said that Georgia enjoyed fruitful cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Government had extended a standing invitation to all Special Procedure mandate holders in 2010 and had already hosted several visits, including the visit of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in 2016.

In order to ensure the effective implementation of Georgia’s reporting obligations before the United Nations treaty and charter-based bodies, the Government had developed an inclusive national reporting process with the active engagement of all relevant stakeholders. The role of the Georgian Parliament in this process had been increased as a result of the legislative changes adopted in 2017. All State reports were now subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.

Georgia paid attention to the implementation of recommendations of the human rights monitoring bodies, which were translated into the human rights national action plans for their effective implementation.

In order to ensure the effective implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, an inter-agency commission had been established in 2016. The commission was chaired by the Head of the Human Rights Secretariat and engaged representatives of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, the Public Defender’s Office, and civil society organizations inter alia.

The Code on the Rights of the Child, which had recently been elaborated in the Parliament of Georgia, was an overarching document of all child-protecting legislation in Georgia. In 2019, the Government had approved the National Strategy of Georgia on the Fight against Terrorism and its 2019-2021 Action Plan, which provided a unified vision and roadmap on preventing and combatting terrorism, radicalization and extremism in all their dimensions, notably by putting emphasis on rolling out preventive measures with respect to children.

In 2018, legislative changes had been made, and pimping had been criminalized. Relevant amendments had been made to the Criminal Code aimed at ensuring the proper qualification of trafficking cases and preventing children from getting involved in prostitution. In order to expand international cooperation in combatting cross-border trafficking, Georgia had concluded cooperation agreements with 30 countries.

Measures were being taken for the protection of children in street situations. Special mobile working groups, comprised of a psychologist, a social worker and a peer educator, were operating to identify such children and to engage them in State-run services offered by day-care centres and 24-hour shelters.

The Juvenile Justice Code fully incorporated into the Georgian legal practice the principles of superiority of the best interest of a child, along with other key standards of juvenile justice enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its Optional Protocols and the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Comments, and other relevant international instruments. The Code ensured that detention and imprisonment of children were used only as a measure of last resort.

Georgian legislation fully prohibited the conscription of persons who had not reached the age of 18 into compulsory military service as well as into contracted (professional) military service of the country. However, persons under the age of 18, after graduating from school, were entitled to become students of the National Defence Academy with the consent of their parents or legal guardians.

Turning to the alarming situation in occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions of Georgia, she said that the population, in particular children in these occupied territories, continued to suffer from the ongoing occupation and its humanitarian consequences. Unfortunately, the human rights situation on the ground had further deteriorated. The few remaining Georgian schools in both regions had been shifted to the Russian educational system with Russian as the language of instruction. Kids from kindergartens and pupils from primary schools, including some of Georgian ethnicity, were forced to perform Russian military songs during military celebrations and participate in military simulation games hostile to Georgians.

The situation became even more worrying given that no human rights monitoring mechanisms were allowed inside the occupied regions, despite the direct call of international organizations. Since 2017, the Human Rights Council had been adopting a resolution on “Cooperation with Georgia”, expressing concern over the situation in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions of Georgia and strongly calling for immediate and unimpeded access to be given to the Office of the High Commissioner and international and regional human rights mechanisms. Unfortunately, Russia, exercising an effective control therein, remained irresponsive to international calls. As an occupying power, the Russian Federation bore full responsibility for all human rights violations occurring in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions of Georgia.

The Government of Georgia spared no efforts to mitigate the suffering of those remaining behind the occupation line, first and foremost children. It kept this issue high on the international agenda and called for an unimpeded international presence on the ground.

Questions by the Committee Experts


HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Georgia, expressed satisfaction regarding the progress made in implementing the Convention in Georgia. She said that violations of children’s rights under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography were of concern to the Committee. Had the Optional Protocol been translated into national legislation through the criminalization of the violations which it covered? Had everything been done to ensure the Optional Protocol was truly effective in Georgia?

There needed to be additional efforts to harmonize definitions of offences across the Government to ensure that adequate measures were in place to address violations. Did the Government have international cooperation agreements to help it work on that issue?

On the national action plan, she requested more specific information about what was being done to combat the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. What coordination means were in place to ensure the adequate harmonization of the actions of the various relevant stakeholders?

What measures were in place to ensure that the Child’s Rights Centre was visible and able to discharge its mandate, as well as to guarantee that children could access it in full confidentiality? She asked the delegation to describe precisely what happened when a child sought assistance from the Centre.

The Co-Rapporteur asked about the real level of awareness of the Convention amongst the general children population, professionals who worked with children, and vulnerable children, such as children living in the street. Could the delegation provide the Committee with information on the budget allocated to the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography?

On prevention, she commended the State party for referring to risk factors, such as poverty, that were related to the offences covered by the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. She requested information on measures taken to address them.

She also requested information about sexual exploitation in the area of tourism and travel; efforts made to genuinely protect children from online exploitation; and the effective challenges faced by the State party in implementing the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Georgia, congratulated the State party on achieving legislation changes and providing a range of services to children that were in line with the Convention and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The Government had put a lot of effort and achieved results on human trafficking. However, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography did not only deal with this phenomenon.

She noted that Georgian criminal law penalized offences that were similar to the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. And yet, the sale of children was not explicitly prohibited in the penal code. Furthermore, the sale of children did not always happen in the context of trafficking. There was for instance no explicit criminalization of sale for marriage in Georgian law. As for child prostitution, she stressed that the consent of the child was irrelevant. Could the delegation comment on these matters?

The criminal code did not criminalize possessing and exporting child pornography. Could the delegation comment on the existence of these gaps? She also sought its opinion on the role of the Internet and practices such as grooming.

Turning to the issue of jurisdiction, the Co-Rapporteur noted that the State party did not envisage extra-territorial jurisdiction with regard to child victims. Should the Georgian police not take action if, for instance, a Georgian child was subject to sale in a foreign country? The issue of double criminality was not adequately addressed in Georgian legislation. It really should be abolished, like statutes of limitations.

The Committee was concerned that the process of identification of the victim could lead to re-victimization. Adequate guarantees should be put in place in that regard.

Access to hotlines and other mechanisms put in place to provide assistance to victims was also a source of concern.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the National Human Rights Strategy was a 26-chapter long document that was adopted by Parliament. It included a chapter on children’s rights. The Government ensured that the strategy was implemented by translating it into a detailed and well-structured action plan, which included timelines, indicators, and information about the instance that had recommended each activity or action outlined in the plan.

The Child Rights Commission was comprised of the relevant State institutions, including those stemming from the legislative branch of Government. That body’s main task was to improve the level of coordination amongst various governmental bodies. It did not directly provide any services.

On awareness-raising, the delegation remarked that there were about 25,000 teachers and that they were obliged to undertake obligatory training, notably on human rights. The percentage of schools offering psychosocial services stood at about 75. The number of social workers had been increased four-fold. The Ministry of Education was closely working with the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Affairs to further enhance cooperation and identify gaps and shortcomings.

Data showed that the number of early marriages that had led to a child dropping out of school had gone down from 550 to 150.

Child poverty was one of the risk factors related to violence against children, child sale, and child pornography. Significant measures had been taken to tackle poverty in general and child poverty in particular through targeted social assistance. The Government’s approach targeted families with children, aiming to decrease child poverty.

The Government was working to tackle forced labour in children through the labour inspection system. It had broadened this system’s mandate as of September 2019 to include all businesses and allow for inspections without prior notice. The Government was also working to make the labour inspection process more transparent and efficient, as well as to digitize it. It sought to capacitate the labour inspection system further to improve the quality of the inspections it carried out. Awareness-raising activities were carried out in regions where child labour had been identified as a particular issue of concern.

Domestic violence was also a priority for the Government of Georgia. Information campaigns were rolled out to increase access to services and change attitudes regarding violence against children. As of 2019, a special methodology had been developed to address the specific rehabilitation and reintegration needs of child victims. Services in that regard were provided in shelters.

The Government had been taking steps to address social work-related issues, notably through legislative amendments, and this had led to the increase of the number of social workers, 80 per cent of whom were employed by the Government. It was important to note that this was a new profession in Georgia. The Government was now building capacity amongst social workers and providing them with additional financial support. Lack of social workers was an issue, but the Government was on the right track to addressing it.

In addition to the shelters, the Government had a foster family programme which was the preferred option for children who had to be removed from their own family.

On children living and working in the streets, specific activities were carried by the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labour, Health and Social Affairs, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior. Particular attention was paid to this segment of the population.

In September 2016, a new mechanism had been put in place which extended the list of governmental bodies that had the responsibility to refer possible cases of violence against children to both the police and social services.

The Government organized special activities under the Anti-Trafficking State Fund targeting children living and working in the streets. To improve the identification process of these children, a grant programme had been put in place to finance a local organization to identify where children worked and lived, support their reintegration, and give them access to various sports and cultural activities. State-sponsored research had shown that they were mostly from dysfunctional families; a majority of them were male; and their situation was related to cultural and socioeconomic factors.

A National Strategic Document was being drafted to address this issue. Consultations and meetings with relevant stakeholders were being held in that context. Another grant programme had been put in place to produce and disseminate material in the context of an awareness-raising campaign on trafficking related issues, which notably focused on the risks faced by children in street situations.

There was a hotline through which children could obtain advice in seven languages on matters related to domestic violence and trafficking.

Follow-up Questions and Answers

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Georgia, noted that the delegation was providing a lot of information that was already in the report.

As far as reaction to crimes covered by the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, information was still lacking. For instance, on child labour, the Committee was interested in instances that were related to the sale of children. The Optional Protocol required criminalization -- prohibition and prosecution, in other words. The Co-Rapporteur requested information about the legal proceedings and the judicial support provided to children in that context. She asked the delegation to focus on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The delegation said a secretariat had been tasked with collecting and analysing data. This allowed the identification of trends and issues that required additional efforts on the part of the Government. On the sale of children, thanks to a coordination mechanism, the information was sent to the secretariat. It also gathered disaggregated data on age, sex, country of origin, etc.
On the legal framework, the relevant articles of the Convention were fairly complex

in Georgian, let alone in English. Exploiting and selling children had been criminalized since 2003, and a life sentence had been handed down in a case of sexual exploitation of a child. Georgia had ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as “the Lanzarote Convention”.

The Government could ask other States to investigate crimes committed against Georgians abroad if it was in the State’s interest.

Questions on the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Georgia, turning to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, said the State party did not explicitly criminalize the recruitment of children under the age of 18. Was it an oversight? How long would it take for this to be rectified?

Turning to the inter-agency commission chaired by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, he asked what activities it carried out related to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. On the issue of policy and strategy, there were references in the report to other policy documents and plans, but it was not clear if they were related to obligations under the Optional Protocol. Could the delegation provide more information on this?

Were there any budget allocations related to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict? If so, details would be welcome.

He requested information on the training of judges, police officers and investigators. To which extent did this include training on the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict? Did the school curriculum cover issues related to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict?

He said there were cases of Georgian children from the Pankisi Gorge being recruited to go fight in Syria as part of terrorist groups. Could the delegation comment on this? How did the Government provide for the reintegration and rehabilitation of children coming back to Georgia after having taken part in such activities?

GEHAD MADI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Georgia, noted that the law in Georgia provided “the possibility for persons to learn in high military educational institutions under 18 as an exception”. What exactly was the exception? At what age could these children join the high military educational institutions?

He requested information about the children who were being trained as Cadets and sought clarification regarding their civilian status. Could they leave the institution at any moment? Did they have access to an independent complaint procedure?

There was no explicit criminalization of the recruitment of children by non-State armed groups. He asked the delegation to comment on this issue.

On the Georgian children from the Pankisi Gorge that had been recruited to go fight in Syria, what had the Government done to prevent such recruitment of children? Could the delegation comment on families reportedly traveling to Syria with their children to engage in the armed conflict taking place in that country?

He asked what kind of mechanisms the Government had put in place for the early identification of foreign children coming to Georgia after having taken part in armed conflict abroad, and provide for their rehabilitation.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation, addressing issues related to the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, explained that the Centre for Child’s Rights, that had been established under the Public Defender’s Office, employed seven persons. It regularly monitored the situation of the protection of children’s rights in the country.

Monitoring was conducted in collaboration with various professionals from relevant fields. The Centre also addressed poverty and inadequate living conditions among children. It had nine regional offices. The Centre examined child’s rights cases in a manner that was professional, objective, sensible and credible. It managed its budget independently. Any person, including children, could appeal to the Public Defender of Georgia by submitting a written request.

On the legislative front, child’s rights protection was a priority. Two reforms had been conducted in that spirit: the Code for the Rights of the Child reform and the Social Workers reform. The new Code created new obligations for the State, such as providing compensation to victims in certain circumstances.

To prevent re-victimization, the Government sought to ensure that each State official that interacted with children that had been victimized was trained to understand the specific needs of children and how they varied based on factors such as age.

Turning to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the delegation said that Georgian regulations were in line with the State party’s obligations under the Optional Protocol. Individuals had to be 18 to be recruited in the country’s armed forces. The rights enshrined in the Optional Protocol were safeguarded for everyone, without discrimination.

The National Defence Academy did not only provide military education. It also provided civilian higher education. It was therefore theoretically possible for someone who had graduated from high school before turning 18 to apply and join the civilian component of this institution. This, however, required the approval of their parents.

The delegation explained that, while falling under the purview of the Ministry of Defence, and even though they were trained on the use of firearms, Cadets were not members of the military. They did not wear military uniforms. The Cadets were civilians, contrary to what their names might lead one to assume.

The fight against terrorism was one of the key priorities of the State. Georgia was a low-risk according to the Terrorism Index, and the Government was proud that Georgia was amongst the safest countries in the world.

A new Counter-Terrorism Strategy had been adopted recently. It outlined measures to be taken to combat terrorism and provided for cooperation with non-governmental organizations and the Ombudsman, inter alia. It put an emphasis on prevention, notably as concerned children, as they were one of the main targets of terrorist and extremist groups’ recruitment campaigns.

The conflict in Syria was a subject of interest for the Government, which conducted research and collected information on this matter. Early identification efforts were carried out. There were people from the Pankisi Gorge who had taken part in the war in Syria, taking their children and spouses with them. In that regard, the Government had made a number of arrests, but none involving juveniles.

Three children had come back from Iraq, and they had been supported and taken care of by the Government. The State and the society were endeavouring to take steps in the right direction.

The Government had developed a development plan for the Pankisi Gorge region. Large-scale awareness raising campaigns and meetings with stakeholders, including on human rights, were carried out in that region. In February 2019, a group of teachers from Pankisi Gorge had visited Brussels to receive training.

On the three kids that had returned to Georgia, the delegation explained that they were two, four and five years old and had not taken part in the armed conflict. Their father had gone to Iraq to fight alongside terrorist organizations. The three children were living in a Baghdad prison when the Georgian Government intervened to remove them. They had been rehabilitated and reintegrated in Georgia, where they now lived.

GEHAD MADI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Georgia, asked about the mother of the children. Should she not have been brought back along with the children, so the family may be reunited?

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Georgia, asked if the children would have been brought back if they had been older?

The delegation said the Government was negotiating with the Iraqi authorities to transfer the Georgian citizen, the mother of the children, who was serving a sentence in Baghdad, to Georgia. An agreement was being prepared. The Government stood ready to take back that woman and have her serve the rest of her sentence in Georgia and hoped the process would be finalized soon.

On the age of the children, the delegation said the Government looked at all the circumstances of a given a case. The decision had not been made on the sole basis of the age of the children concerned.

Concluding Remarks

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Georgia, said the dialogue on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography had been productive. Georgia had done a lot, and in a short time, even though some gaps remained.

GEHAD MADI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Georgia, thanked the delegation. It had been a constructive and transparent discussion on the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. There were still some pending issues, however. It was important to have an explicit criminalization of the recruitment of children by non-state armed groups.

KHATUNA TOTLADZE, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, said that the Government looked forward to receiving the concluding observations of the Committee. Georgia would engage in the follow-up process in good faith and in close dialogue with all relevant actors. In this context, it was important to mention that the inter-agency commission responsible for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and children’s rights would carefully study the concluding observations and translate them in all relevant strategies and action plans to the fullest extent possible.

LUIS ERNESTO PERDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the frank and open attitude displayed during the dialogue. He encouraged the State party to disseminate the concluding observations. The Committee extended its greetings to the children of Georgia.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CRC19.026E