Current events in Ninotsminda Boarding School require the immediate intervention of the state

4 Jun, 2021

Current events in Ninotsminda Boarding School require the immediate intervention of the state

The member organizations of the Coalition for Equality believe that the current events related to the Ninotsminda Boarding School are alarming and require an immediate and drastic response from the state.

According to the Public Defender of Georgia, based on the information requested on the alleged criminal facts at the Ninotsminda Boarding School, in 2016-2021, four criminal cases were launched in response to allegations of violence against minors. In addition, the prosecutor’s office is investigating a rape case at the Children’s Boarding School run by Bishop of Skhalta – Spiridon Abuladze.

According to Bishop Spiridon, there are currently about 150 children in the Ninotsminda Boarding School, which is under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church. This figure is much higher than previously reported. Unfortunately, despite numerous requests and appeals, the Public Defender has not been given the opportunity to exercise its authority to monitor the boarding school. A social worker was also not allowed to observe the conditions of the children. After allegations were reported, a social worker was permitted to enter the institution, but the extent to which s/he was allowed to observe the current situation of the children is not yet known to the public.

Given the existing background, the news spread a few days ago that Alt Info, the pro-Russian media outlet promoting pro-violence narratives, and representatives of other violent groups, including Alexander and Guram Palavandishvili and Dimitri Lortkipanidze, the director of the Primakov Georgian-Russian Public Center, were admitted to the Ninotsminda Boarding School. Bishop Seraphim Jojua, who was dismissed from the Eparchy of Borjomi and Bakuriani for suspected sexual abuse of a minor, joined them to conduct a service.

Up to now, no state agency has expressed a clear position on the continuing allegations of violence against minors and the violation of children’s rights in the boarding school. At the same time, the state has not established a democratic work process in order to allow the Public Defender to monitor the situation of children’s rights in the boarding school.

Moreover, as of yet, no statement has been made by the public authorities on the deinstitutionalization of large boarding houses or the implementation of the reforms needed to create a dignified and proper living environment and to protect the rights of children living in these institutions.

In the monitoring reports of 2015 and 2019, the Public Defender indicated that the restrictions in boarding schools, the strict rule of upbringing, and the large number of minors prevent the creation of an inclusive family-type environment. According to the staff, it is especially problematic that the responsible agencies still do not possess information on the exact number of religious boarding schools or the number of children enrolled in them and the mechanism of state control and monitoring is very weak in already identified institutions. LEPL Social Service Agency barely participates in the process of enrollment and exclusion of children in/from the institution and does not control the educational conditions and environment in boarding schools. Accordingly, the process of entering and leaving the institution takes place beyond the responsible agency of the state. All this puts the beneficiaries of these institutions in a completely vulnerable position (2019 Monitoring Report).

The information released by the Public Defender about the increased risks of violence is especially worrisome. According to the Ombudsman, based on the results of the monitoring of the Public Defender of Georgia, the following types of punishment can be used on children: pulling on ears, pulling hair, putting children in a corner, temporarily restricting participation in religious rituals, and kneeling. At the same time, children often do not have the opportunity to protest against such treatment and instead grow accustomed to the existing environment. In the Ninotsminda Boarding School, minors are almost completely isolated from society. Children do not have detailed information about whom they can address for the protection of their rights. The Public Defender also points out that there is a lack of qualified staff in the boarding schools, the personal documentation of the children is often out of order, children are not provided with personal space, and they do not have access to adequate psychological assistance if necessary.

With respect to above mentioned, we appeal

To the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia

To immediately inform the public about the results of the investigation of alleged crimes committed at the Ninotsminda Boarding School and immediately pursue prosecution of all persons who participated in the alleged crimes committed against children.

To the Government of Georgia

To ensure full access of the Public Defender in order to provide transparent and effective monitoring of the Ninotsminda Boarding School and effectively implement the process of deinstitutionalization of all large orphanages.