Street Children in Georgia
18 September, 2014
Street Children in Georgia
Lately, upon coming to work, I’ve been noticing a well-dressed, well-groomed little girl who followed people passing by a certain church, begging them for money.

I watched the girl for 15 minutes and in this short time, she made 3 lari. She looked happy, although she was surprised why I wasn’t giving her money. Outwardly, she didn’t look like a homeless person or someone from a socially unprotected family, so I tried to find out who placed her on this
path to begging instead of making her read books and work on a bright future for herself since childhood. She is 7 years old and goes to school. “Now that I am on summer holidays, I don’t have time to read books; I need to get money so that I could buy an even more beautiful dress,” she said. She refused to tell me her identity, but said that her mother knows about what she does. Her mother, she said, is nearby, sitting somewhere at Pekini Street and also begging. I asked the girl to lead me to her mother, but she refused, instead pointing in the general direction of her mother and running off. Several days later I came across the girl again; this time she was with her older sister. Once again, I tried to explain to them that such behavior will not bring them anything good in the future and once again, they ran away from me.
Organizations that work with homeless children say that gaining their trust is extremely difficult – they only ask for money and do not care for useful advice. Children are actively forced into the illegal business of begging in Georgia, but the money they obtain ends up in the hands of those who own them. They are the best “moneymakers,” since people warm to them more easily.
We tried to find out how many children make their living in the streets with hands outstretched, how much they make every day, whether there are more boys than girls among them, whether they are orphans and homeless or whether their own families force them to beg due to poverty? We took all these questions to the Ministry of Healthcare’s Social Assistance Agency.

Mariam Tsereteli, head of the Social Service Agency’s Child Protection and Social Programs Department:

– When it comes to street children, up-to-date statistics showing their amount do not exist currently. Such surveys were only done in 2005 and 2008, commissioned by UNICEF and a NGO called “Save the Children.” Back then it showed that there were 1000-1200 children living in the streets. We have new, but incomplete statistics that keep tabs on about 400 children. There are more boys than girls among them, although the gap isn’t big. Results of such surveys are split into categories, such as children who work only during the day or during nighttime as well. Very few of them sleep with their families at night. Many of them are not citizens of Georgia to begin with, but still, a child is a child and they have as many rights to the services we offer as local children do.

– How do children with foreign citizenship end up on the Georgian streets?

– They come mainly from Azerbaijan, crossing the border legally. Their influx is caused by Azerbaijani law being very strict towards beggars. Azerbaijani Criminal Code has a punitive article against begging, and thus many of them migrate here.

– Which areas of Georgia have highest concentrations of street children?

– They congregate mostly in big cities; there are barely any in small towns and boroughs. However, they move from one big city to another depending on season. For example, there are more of them in Batumi than in Tbilisi now.

– What does the government do to help these children?

– Last year a special program aimed at helping children was started under the management of UNICEF; one of its subprograms is designed specifically at helping street children. It’s a three-year program and its purpose is to bring children into daycare centers where they will be placed in a healthy and clean environment, given food and education and entertained in various ways. We already have children who attend these centers regularly. Their education is a serious problem, since their biological age does not correlate with their educational progress. Thus, the Ministry of Education is involved in the program and is planning a special education program for such children.

– What is the function of the 24-hour crisis centers?

– Our first and foremost aim is to gain the trust of these children and get them into our centers. The program aimed at street children has been working for three months now. Among them are those without a personal number or any kind of identification. We have already managed to get some children off the streets and involve them in our programs. We believe that we will get results soon, but we can’t promise that children you see in the streets will disappear overnight. Working with them requires a lot of effort and results don’t come easily.

– Is it possible to outlaw begging in Georgia?

Davit Sergeenko, Minister of Healthcare and Social Security:

– This question is under our jurisdiction and accordingly, research has been done on that issue. The problem is terrible. Begging is a rapidly growing and well-organized industry in Georgia. These people make 200-300 GEL per day. This money, along with “workplaces,” is rotated by certain individuals. Banning begging in such cases usually brings completely opposite results than is expected. Our foremost priority is to secure the children’s rights, which is what daycare centers are for. We also plan to research the problem with local municipality, to get a better understanding of it. Begging even became prestigious in its own way – sometimes you encounter healthy, well-dressed people blocking your way and asking for money. I think this is caused by degeneration of our values, which in turn made this “business” prestigious. Thus, this problem is to be solved not by banning it, but by joint efforts of many people with heads far clearer than mine.”

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