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Georgia to toughen laws on child-sex offenders

20 March 2019
Deputy Interior Minister Natia Mezvrishvili, who initiated the bill. (Pirveli)

The Georgian government has lodged a bill in parliament that aims to update Georgia’s Criminal Code in order to tackle sex crimes against children, including by creating a child-sex offenders registry.

According to the Interior Ministry, which drafted the bill, the ‘Law on Combating Crimes against Sexual Freedom and Sexual Inviolability’ would focus on developing an effective prevention system, depriving offenders the opportunity to commit future crimes.

The initiative would stipulate the creation of a registry with the personal data of those convicted of sex crimes against minors.

According to the Interior Ministry, this registry would help law enforcement agencies to both prevent crime and also make it easier to track down suspects.

The database would include convicted sex offenders’ history and fingerprint records, with the ‘relevant state agencies’ responsible for monitoring them after their release.

Presenting the bill to parliament on Monday, Deputy Interior Minister Natia Mezvrishvili said that the updated Criminal Code would also ‘send those convicted of rape of underage people to jail for life’, though the existing prison sentence from 15–20 years would also be an option, depending on the case.

According to Mezvrishvili, the Interior Ministry also intended to make ‘coercion into sexual intercourse or any other act of a sexual nature’ against a member of a person’s own family an aggravating circumstance, which would lead to longer prison sentences.

Mezvrishvili also vowed that police would have a specially trained unit to deal with sex crimes against minors.

Restriction of rights

The Interior Ministry proposed to codify what it said would be barriers against convicted offenders to stop recidivism.

If passed, those convicted for rape or committing a lewd act on a minor, as well as those prosecuted for trying to meet a minor for sex or who involved a minor in pornography, would be barred from being employed in the education system or any institution dealing with minors.

Offenders would also be restricted from going within 30 metres of such institutions.

They would also be barred from being employed in state and local government bodies, as social workers or physicians, and from living with a minor.

Additionally, the law would strip convicted sex offenders of their voting rights, would prevent them from buying, possessing, or carrying a firearm, and would prevent them from having a driving license.

The length the restrictions would be put in place would be at the discretion of a judge and would depend on the gravity of their crime, with a maximum period of 15 years.

In 2014, Georgia ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, which required the adoption of ‘specific legislation and policy measures to prevent sexual violence, protect victims, and prosecute perpetrators’.

Numbers and ‘amnestying paedophiles’

Opposition parties including the former ruling party the United National Movement (UNM) and their offshoot European Georgia have been critical of the government for a hike in crime statistics since Georgian Dream came to power in 2012.

In January 2018, the Interior Ministry released data from 2017 showing a 5.4% rise in crime compared to 2016. The latest statistics released by the authorities in February also suggested a rise in crime in 2018 compared to 2017.

The Interior Ministry also offered statistics as proof of the need for a new law against sex offences.

According to them, 287 of the 405 sex crimes registered last year involved a minor. Among the sex crimes against minors reported in 2018, 12% were related to sexual violence.

According to police figures, in 2017, the number of reported sex crimes involving a minor was 224 out of a total of 339, and in 2016 it was 262 out of 336.

According to the government, these numbers reflect the ‘special vulnerability’ of minors to sex crimes.

So far this year, 116 people have been charged with sex crimes against minors.

In recent years, political debates over public safety in Georgia have discussed the consequences of a mass amnesty of prisoners in 2013.

During the 2012 elections, which resulted in the first peaceful transition of power in the country’s history, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream coalition ran on a promise to stop the ‘mass incarceration’ of Georgians by then–president Mikheil Saakashvili’s government.

Georgia was among the countries with the highest number of prisoners per capita at the time.

Saakashvili, a minority president in May 2013 after his party lost to Georgian Dream, vetoed the amnesty, before being overruled by parliament, saying that he had no intention of ‘pardoning paedophiles’.

The universal amnesty slashed prison terms for those convicted of rape by 25%.

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