A scandal-racked orphanage run by the Georgian Orthodox Church in Ninotsminda is to be converted into a daycare centre, the institution’s new director has said.
The announcement follows a meeting between Bishop Iakob, who was brought in to replace the previous management after the scandal erupted and Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria.
The two also agreed that the Public Defender would be admitted to the institution and that the two would visit together at the end of next week.
Representatives of the Public Defender’s Office had previously been barred by priests from entering, leading to concern about the wellbeing of the children inside.
The doors of the Ninotsminda boarding house, which is subordinate to the Patriarchate, the ruling body of Georgia’s Orthodox Church, have been, with rare exceptions, completely hidden from public scrutiny for years, despite reports of dire conditions and abuse.
[Read on OC Media: Child abuse allegations dog Georgian Church orphanage]
Bishop Iakob also announced that the Church planned to open a new orphanage ‘following international standards’ in the future.
The church-run orphanage, which housed 57 children, came to public attention in April after the Public Defender was prevented from visiting.
Since 5 June, over 20 of the children have been rehomed after a court ruled that there was a risk to their lives and health. More than 20 children have left the boarding school.
According to the Public Defender’s Office, since 2016 four criminal cases have been launched in response to alleged violence against minors at the orphanage, and one in response to allegations of child rape.
On Thursday, the Public Defender said that an investigation may be launched into several more cases of what could amount to torture and inhuman treatment.
The head of the UNICEF social services programme in Georgia, Tinatin Tsertsvadze, told OC Media that the remaining children in the orphanage should also be rehomed.
She said there were three options for those remaining, ‘return to their families and receive support from the state, move to foster care, or move to family-type orphanages’.
‘As for the Ninotsminda orphanage, it is important to have support for the children who have left there and for their families. The children who stayed in the orphanage should be evaluated as promptly and painlessly as possible to determine where they can be transferred.’
Tsertsvadze said that there were around 900 children in large orphanages across the country. ‘A large institution is an unsafe environment for a child’, she said.
‘Large orphanages have begun to be closed in Georgia since 2005 […] but there are still similar institutions and we hope that the deinstitutionalisation process will end soon’, she concluded.