UNICEF has released a statement in response to the tragic death of 13-year-old Marita Meparishvili, and called on Georgian authorities to “do everything possible to ensure the safety of children in public spaces and to support children in realizing their rights to survival, play, leisure, and development.”
“Cities in Georgia should be fit for children, so no such tragedies happen again,” Ghassan Khalil, UNICEF Representative in Georgia, emphasized in the release.
Meparishvili died after she was electrocuted alongside two friends on 13 October in a fountain in central Tbilisi’s newly-renovated Vake Park. While she passed away from her injuries, her two friends were discharged from clinics after being treated for their injuries. Immediately after the public called for Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze to resign for City Hall’s failure to detect safety issues in the project before accepting it from the company which carried out the works. While Mayor Kaladze maintained his refusal to resign, the Head of City Hall’s Environmental Protection Department resigned from his post, and 9 people were arrested in connection to the matter.
In its statement, the organization urged both national and local authorities to ensure children’s safety within their “accountabilities, [and] in coordination with specialists, civil society, and the private sector…”
UNICEF underscored that the Vake Park incident “draws attention to the safety norms and standards in public spaces in Tbilisi and in other cities and towns of Georgia where children’s security and safety might be jeopardized.”
They stressed that through urban planning, cities should provide “safe and inclusive public and green spaces” for children and communities while adhering to norms and standards, especially when it comes to the technical security of public amenities and ensuring that accessibility, as well as the safety and health of individuals, are protected.
“Planning urban settings in a child-responsive manner begins with the understanding of how an urban setting can support and enhance the development of children,” UNICEF explained while emphasizing that “the right to play is fundamental for a child’s development and public spaces should guarantee a safe environment for children while playing or being engaged in outdoor activities.”
UNICEF pointed out that child-responsive urban planning focuses on “increasing community safety through environmental planning, design, and infrastructure,” while trying to improve locations in a way that discourages crime and encourages public use of the space, “as well as ensuring safe routes to and from school.”
UNICEF stressed that “relevant lessons” should be taken from this tragedy by “scrutinizing safety measures in existing public spaces and building new such spaces using child-responsive urban planning.”