Several dozen ultra-conservative activists gathered on Sunday in front of the UN House in central Tbilisi to protest the UN’s ‘advocacy of values foreign to Georgia’.
They demanded that the new draft Child’s Rights Code, which had a hearing in parliament the following day, be withdrawn from parliament.
The initiative to amend a number of Georgian laws and create an ‘integrated system’ of support and protection for children’s rights was prepared by parliament’s Human Rights Committee with the help of UNICEF.
The rally was organised by the Society for the Protection of Children’s Rights, together with other prominent ultra-conservative activists including Dimitri Lortkipanidze, a former MP and one of the leaders of the far-right Georgian March, Levan Chachua, chair of non-parliamentary political party Georgian Idea, and Guram Kartvelishvili, a prominent conservative media personality.
The protest organisers demanded a meeting with the UNICEF Representative in Georgia, Ghassan Khalil, but were reportedly turned down after demanding the meeting occur in the presence of local media.
In an earlier statement, Khalil stated that the code, if passed, would serve as a legal 'umbrella' to encompass all the areas of children’s welfare and rights in the country. He said concepts such as ‘children’s participation’ and the ‘best interests of a child’ were absent in Georgian legislation.
UNICEF Representative in Georgia Dr Ghassan Khalil talks about the draft Child Rights' Code pic.twitter.com/7skAhuEazC
— UNICEF Georgia (@unicefgeorgia) February 22, 2019
The authors of the initiative presented the draft code to the public on 4 February; the first hearing on the initiative occurred on 4 March, the day after the protest.
At the presentation in March, Sopo Kiladze, head of Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, said that the new code would strengthen the Public Defender's involvement in identifying specific violations of a children’s rights. She said the amendments would increase the powers of local government bodies to respond to children’s needs.
The code was created to codify a child’s right to protection from physical and psychological violence, including within their homes.
Ultra-conservative groups have waged a campaign in recent years against government plans to introduce ‘juvenile justice’, alleging it would grant the state the right to interfere with the right of parents to ‘raise their children properly’.
A group of priests, including prominent Archbishop Davit Isakadze who has been close to the ultra-conservative Union of Orthodox Parents, were present at Monday’s hearing.
A broader movement and demands
At Sunday’s rally, the head of the Society for the Protection of Children’s Rights, Guram Palavandishvili, listed demands including ‘the end of the cultivation of the destruction of families, perversion, and sodomy in Georgia’.
Palavandishvili demanded changes to education in Georgia, including the cancellation of ‘gender-neutral programmes in kindergartens’, citizenship classes in schools, and UN training sessions in children’s summer camps.
The ‘Me and Society’ subject was introduced in schools in 2017 and according to the curriculum at the time discussed the family, the school environment, friends, education, media and information, Georgia, and the state.
The UN Population Fund, UN Women, as well as several local rights groups and teachers were involved in developing the programme.
Conservative groups claimed the classes amounted to sex-education, a topic not taught in Georgian schools, as well as ‘teaching homosexuality’.
The subject was ultimately approved by the education ministry in 2016 but any mention of ‘gender’ or overt messages of tolerance, which were originally intended to be included, were dropped.
Palavandishvili also called for an ‘end to lobbying for LGBT [rights] in sports’ as well as teaching ‘acceptance of homosexuality’ among Georgians.
The group and their allies have been critical of Georgian footballer Guram Kashia’s pro-equality stance after he wore a rainbow armband during a match in 2017 in protest against discrimination in football.
Several conservative groups opposed his continued presence on the national team, especially after he was presented in August 2018 with UEFA’s inaugural Equal Game Award ‘for his courageous support of equality’.