Georgia must significantly increase investment in human capital
15 May, 2014
Georgia must significantly increase investment in human capital
“Our Sasha” is an epithet that is generally used by Georgian officials when they speak about or address Sascha Graumann, UNICEF representative to Georgia. Speaking with him during several meetings made me appreciate him very much. Georgian Journal spoke with Mr. Graumann to hear more on the situation of our future, our children. Unfortunately, the reality is still far from what is desirable. What are the major problems Georgia is currently facing in terms of children’s’ rights?
While Georgia has made
good progress for its children in recent years, there are still challenges that need to be addressed. The situation of the most vulnerable children is a major issue. 77,000 children are living in extreme poverty below USD 1.25 per day and 205,000 children below the relative poverty line of approximately GEL 3.6 per day. Out of 44 European countries, Georgia is ranked 42nd in terms of child mortality with only Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan being behind. Approximately 800 children die annually in Georgia. Major causes are malnutrition and low quality of perinatal care. According to OECD’s international comparative student assessments, Georgia has one of the worst education achievements in Europe. After eight years of Georgia’s Child Care System Reform there has been real progress in ensuring a family environment for every child and comprehensive system changes have been introduced at all levels. Today, 2/3 of the children who were living in large scale state institutions, are living in families, their own families, or in foster care. Strengthening of social work has been a key component of the child care system. However, children with disabilities now account for most of the children who still live in the last remaining state-run institutions. Georgia spends still less on education, health and social protection than other countries, and less on children aged 0 to 5 than on any other age group. The Government of Georgia must significantly increase its investments in human capital.
What is the role of UNICEF in reducing problems in this field in our country?
UNICEF works with the Government of Georgia to influence policies, systems and decisions affecting children and to translate these policies into tangible resources and good practices. We also advocate for prioritizing children in existing policies, budgets and programmes.
UNICEF supports the government in the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and in improving the well-being of the most vulnerable. Our goal is to address disparities so that more children and mothers benefit from quality social services. In particular, UNICEF supports the development of a pre-school law so that all children have access to quality pre-school education. UNICEF supports the Government of Georgia in revising its social protection system that will include benefits for children under the age of 16, and effective mechanisms to deliver those benefits. UNICEF supports the development of child protection referral mechanisms to protect children from violence and abuse. We also work with our partners to establish and develop services for children with disabilities. UNICEF also supports the introduction of child development monitoring so that children’s health and development are under the surveillance and all the risks related to development are identified and addressed on time.
Have any significant steps been made in reducing the major problems?
2014 was declared the Year of the Protection of the Rights of the Child by the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee of the Parliament of Georgia. The National Human Rights Action Plan is under development now and we are pleased to see that child rights will become a vital part of the plan. There should be proper coordination and monitoring to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child so that Government fulfils its commitments to protect child rights. With this in mind, we advocate for the establishment of a child rights coordination council in the format of the human rights protection council at the Prime Minister’s office. The Government has taken important steps to improve social situation in the country, including providing free health insurance, doubling social benefits, and increasing pensions. These measures will have a positive impact on children as well. However, unless a national political effort is undertaken, the work across different line ministries will remain fragmented, under-resourced, and incomplete with regard to the situation of children. The issue must be elevated to the national level in order to be visible as a political priority, guided by high level coordination efforts, leveraging existing and committing new resources. It is important to get solid policies in place and then translate these into concrete actions on the ground to ensure that they have a life-changing impact on Georgia’s most disadvantaged children.
What should the initial moves of the government be to somehow change the current reality?
Addressing social disparities is a priority. Georgia’s equity gaps remain among the largest in Europe. In order to address child mortality there is a need to improve perinatal care and reduce malnutrition. Proper nutrition during the 1000 day period from a mother’s pregnancy until a child’s second birthday is crucial. Proven, low-cost solutions that can reduce malnutrition include: micronutrient supplementation, flour fortification and promotion of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. If no action is taken the burden of malnutrition alone will amount to USD 1.3 billion over the next 10 years. Mother and Child Health Policy should be focused on maternal, newborn, and child health continuum of care. There should be a specialized justice system for children, including courts, police, prosecution and legal aid. The Child Care Reform should now have a stronger focus on children with disabilities. The Government should ensure equal access to services for children with disabilities, inclusive education and reduce stigma in the society towards these children. All children should have universal access to quality pre-school education. The Parliament of Georgia has initiated development of a preschool education law and is working on universal access to school readiness for all five-year-old children. Education should become a priority in the national development agenda. To address violence against children our recommendation is to prohibit all forms of violence against children, all professionals who work with children should have more clarity about their obligations, the reporting of suspected cases should be encouraged and positive parenting needs to be promoted.
Is the government willing to listen to your recommendations?
We work with the government on a daily basis. We provide evidence and recommendations to improve policies and systems that affect the most vulnerable children. This is a working process. The government is open to discuss the issues affecting children and committed to pursue real changes. We hope that within the framework of the Year of the Protection of the Rights of the Child the government will effect crucial legislative and policy changes to further improve the situation of children in Georgia. Poverty reduction and addressing disparities should be at the forefront of these efforts.
Is the government taking steps to combat the reasons of these problems?
There has been real progress achieved in the situation of children during the last decade, but more needs to be done to address poverty and disparities. It is a welcoming fact that the government is now working to revise the existing social protection system and to make it more inclusive and child-sensitive. We welcome the government’s efforts to improve policies but we continue to advocate for more positive changes to further reduce equity gaps.
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