A recent report by the Public Defender’s Office says the caregivers at Georgian Orthodox Church-run Ninotsminda Orphanage used “humiliating, degrading and traumatic” punishment methods against minors, who were over the years subjected to “actions on par with torture and inhuman treatment.”
The report unveils details the Office received from interviews from former beneficiaries of the orphanage, public information, and from the case files of the four criminal probes into the treatment of minors at the church-run foster home.
The 40-page-long document comes following a controversy over the orphanage that shook Georgia in spring, as previous leadership refused to allow Public Defender’s monitors to examine the situation at the establishment. Following Ombudsperson’s efforts, public outcry and a UN Committee on the Rights of the Child measure and the departure of Bishop Spiridon Abuladze from the leadership of the orphanage, the Public Defender entered the establishment in June for monitoring.
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“Systematic violence” against minors at the orphanage
The report says that “systematic violence” against the children of the orphanage is evident in the case files of the four criminal investigations related to the foster home, three of them involving allegations of violence against minors and one of the alleged rape of a minor.
According to the report, beneficiaries said that caregivers used to deprive them of food and sleep and physically abuse them as punishment. They recalled caregivers allegedly used to dine while making the food-deprived children kneel and watch.
The files show that one of the caregivers allegedly made a child stand naked in the corridor for bed-wetting, and forced another to wear tattered clothes for the same reason.
For refusing to eat, the caregivers allegedly spilled the food over the children’s heads. In one instance, one of the caretakers reportedly poured tea over one of the minor’s head and did not allow them to wash it off.
A caretaker also allegedly tied a child’s hands with a bandage for an entire night as punishment.
Also, one of the beneficiaries was allegedly placed in a psychiatric hospital because of insulting Bishop Spiridon with a swear word. Another beneficiary claimed that caregivers did not allow them to cry when they were being punished.
According to the report, a caretaker allegedly hit a child on the tongue with a hairbrush. Also, caregivers once allegedly made the children lie down on their wood beds without mattresses, and forced them to cover themselves with the said mattresses.
Citing the beneficiaries’ testimonies to the media, the Public Defender’s Office notes that caregivers at the orphanage as punishment also allegedly made minors kneel for hours on grains of wheat and corn beat them with planks of wood and rulers or forced them to do squats.
It also cites the minors’ accounts that they were forced to give caregivers foot massages when they watched TV.
The minors were afraid to report the possible instances of abuse to the previous head of the orphanage, Bishop Spiridon, because after he reprimanded the caregivers, they mistreated the children even more severely, according to the report.
The report also details that former beneficiaries, in interviews with the Public Defender’s representatives, manifested problematic traits, including self-harm, inability to make eye contact, lacking vocabulary, dissociative reactions and regressive actions.
According to the report, these could point to developmental trauma among the former beneficiaries and necessitates a neuropsychological examination of all residents of the foster home.
The report notes that after looking into the case files, the Public Defender’s Office unveiled multiple violations as “the investigative activities did not consider the best interests of the children.”
The document raises doubts over the impartiality of the investigators in all four criminal cases.
It also says that investigative activities were dragged-out and were inactive for years. For example, the report cites that in one of the cases, the authorities launched a probe only two months after a child had reported alleged violence.
The Public Defender’s report also points out that one of the investigations into alleged violence was launched in 2016 and the authorities have yet to interview people who may have important information about the case. Neither did they request information and documents for the orphanage or set up medical or psychological examinations of the claimant, the report says.
No plan for deinstitutionalization yet, report says
Overall, the report says the Government is obligated to close down large orphanages and establishments and begin the process for deinstitutionalization.
But the Public Defender’s Office points out that Georgia still does not have a concrete plan for the process.
The document notes that the state agencies are often “not even informed about the needs” of children living in orphanages, and even when they are, they are unable “to act timely and in a coordinated manner to ensure minimal guarantees for the protection of minors.”
Following the heated controversy in spring, currently, 17 minors remain at the orphanage, while 12 were returned to their families, 15 were transferred to smaller orphanages and 7 were taken in by foster families, according to the Public Defender’s Office.
The report notes that workers of the State Agency for Care take 24-hour shifts at the orphanage and permanently continue to assess the needs of the children.
However, it notes that the state has not yet managed to remove all the beneficiaries from the orphanage. The document voices particular concern over one child with a disability still remaining at the orphanage, despite a ruling by the Tbilisi City Court in June to remove all such beneficiaries from the establishment.
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