Public Defender Nino Lomjaria today entered the church-run Ninotsminda orphanage, accompanied by the recently-appointed head of the establishment Bishop Jakob of Bodbe, a development that follows some two-month-long controversy as previous leadership refused the Ombudsperson’s monitoring.
Following a four-hour-long stay at the foster home, Lomjaria clarified to reporters that her visit aimed to get acquainted with the children who have “mostly not heard anything good” about the Public Defender. The Ombudsperson said she also reviewed the orphanage’s paperwork and issued some relevant recommendations.
“I saw today complete readiness for every recommendation to be taken into account … overall I saw full willingness for cooperating [with the Public Defender’s Office],” said Lomjaria, adding that visits to the establishment will continue as “there is much work to do.”
Bishop Jakob confirmed that the Georgian Orthodox Church plans to take into account the recommendations by the Ombudsperson, Government, EU, and UNICEF so that the Ninotsminda foster home is turned into an “exemplary” establishment. “Our door is open, if there are any problems we will take care of it all,” added the clergyman.
The newly-appointed head of the orphanage said the situation at the foster home has improved, following the two months of tensions, the children are feeling better and have become more sociable. The orphanage management will not force any child that wants to leave into staying, Bishop Jakob pledged also.
Ombudsperson and Bishop Jakob agreed on conducting a joint monitoring visit on June 17, two days after the clergyman replaced Bishop Spiridon, the previous head of the orphanage who quit amid the heated controversy.
Bishop Spiridon, had refused access to Public Defender’s monitors twice during April-May, triggering public outrage and an emergency measure issued from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child calling on the state to ensure monitoring.
While the controversy unfolded, the Ombudsperson obtained prosecution and Interior Ministry reports unveiling four ongoing criminal investigations related to the foster home, three involving allegations of violence against minors and one of alleged rape of a minor.
Later on June 5, Tbilisi City Court ruled to remove children with disabilities from the Ninotsminda orphanage. Social workers of the Agency for State Care, also barred from entering the institution during June 2020 – April 2021, entered the orphanage and facilitated the transfer of multiple children. According to the latest reports, only 15 minors remain at the foster home, of the initial amount of about 50.
The new head of the establishment, Bishop Jakob, has said he dismissed some over two dozen employees of the orphanage, and will sack any remaining staff if accused of mistreatment. The clergyman also underscored he plans to limit the maximum amount of children housed at the institution in accordance with “world standards.”
This article was updated.
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