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Several social workers have been attacked at their offices in in Tbilisi’s Gldani District by members of a family they recently took children from.
A Tbilisi court ordered that three children be separated from their family after social workers testified that the mother had neglected them.
On 5 September, five social workers from the Gldani department of the Social Service Agency tried to separate all three children from the family. After meeting resistance from their mother and the eldest, 13-year-old, child they called police.
One of the social workers claims that the mother had attacked them. Despite the presence of police, they managed to take only two of the children into care.
Netgazeti quoted one of the social workers as saying that police asked the mother to calm down and advised her that she could visit the children at the agency’s office.
Inadequate police response
After an hour, the mother and eldest daughter entered the Social Services office in Gldani, which has no security guards, and demanded to see the children. The children had already been taken from Tbilisi by that time.
After realising that the children were not there, ‘the sister suddenly started throwing things to the floor — our binders, cases; she began screaming, crying, swore at us, kicked the door, took a computer and threw it at one of our employees’, Netgazeti quoted one of the social workers as saying. According to them, the girl scratched one of the employees, who was trying to restrain her.
Social workers claim that once police arrived, they tried to claim that there was no violence in their report.
‘Did you call us because of this scratch?’, Khvtisiashvili quoted one of the police officers, as asking, and claimed the policed laughed at staff and advised them to ‘install an iron door’.
On 6 September police told Netgazeti that ‘physical violence did not occur’. However, later that day, the Ministry of Internal Affairs launched an investigation for ‘violence’, which is punishable by up to 3 years in prison.
OC Media has reported several recent cases in which the police response to complaints has been criticised as inadequate.
On 25 August, two leaders of a Georgian queer rights group claimed that police not only watched them being attacked in the street, but then abused them as well. In july, a Nigerian citizen residing in Georgia was attacked, allegedly on racial grounds, and said he was disappointed when police treated the case as a ‘verbal insult’ and let the offenders go.
Challenges faced by social workers
According to Liberali, a number of social workers have recently left jobs at the state Social Service Agency, which operates under the Ministry of Health and Labour, citing busy work schedules, low pay, poor working conditions, and others factors that hinder their work.
‘The most terrible thing is that when you are trying to do your job, somebody attacks you physically and psychologically, and you are afraid to return to your job’, Sopo Khvtisiashvili, one of the social workers who was attacked on 5 September wrote on Facebook.
Until 2010, there were no official statistics on child abuse in Georgia; the numbers reported have been rising since records began. While in 2010 only 90 cases were reported, according to Georgia’s Public Defender’s 2017 report on children’s rights in Georgia, the Social Services revealed 755 cases of child abuse in 2016, including physical and psychological violence, labour exploitation, and several others. The most frequent type of abuse reported was neglect with 192 cases.