Detection and Referral of Cases of Child Marriage

On November 30, 2022, presentation of the study "Harmful Practices of Early/Child Marriage in Georgia - Existing Challenges and Solutions" was organized by the United Nations Population Fund(UNFPA)Georgia Office.

The study was prepared by the Center for Democracy and Governance, within the framework of the United Nations Joint Programme for Gender Equality, in cooperation with the Public Defender’s Office and with the financial support of Sweden.

The event was opened by Lela Bakradze, Head of the United Nations Population Fund(UNFPA)Georgia Office, Nino Lomjaria, Public Defender of Georgia, Niko Tatulashvili, Human Rights Adviser to the Prime Minister, and Ulrich Tidestrom, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden to Georgia.

The purpose of the study was to analyze the barriers relating to the enforcement of early/child marriage legislation and administration of justice in Georgia and to contribute to the improvement of preventive and effective response policy by developing relevant recommendations.

"The study that we presented today provides unique information about the monitoring of measures taken for the prevention and elimination of harmful practices of early/child marriage. While the average rate of child marriage in the country reaches 14%, a multisectoral approach and effective cooperation between the relevant agencies are of particular importance. UNFPA will continue to support the State so that we can prevent this harmful practice as much as possible and protect the right of every teenager to get an education and be able to fully realize his/her potential," said Lela Bakradze, Head of the UNFPA Georgia Office.

The study analyzes 74 criminal cases, in which justice was administered in 2020 and 2021. It also includes cases where proceedings have been completed in the court of first instance or appeal, or the investigation has been terminated, as well as the results of the qualitative research prepared on the basis of focus groups and interviews with school students and representatives of the state agency working on early/child marriage issues, and the cases examined by the Public Defender’s Office in 2020-2021 and in the first 6 months of 2022.

"It is true that the registration of marriage with a person under the age of 18 has been prohibited by legislation, which had a positive effect on the reduction in the number of such cases, however, there remain frequent cases of unregistered marriage or actual cohabitation with a minor, which is often done criminally.

It is particularly problematic to identify cases of early marriage and refer them to the responsible agencies, as well as to ensure effective and smooth coordination between educational and medical institutions, the State Care Agency and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In order to address and prevent such crimes, it is necessary to implement complex measures, including measures aimed at ensuring educational, social and economic empowerment, increased opportunities for young people, improvement in sexual and reproductive health care," – the Public Defender said.

As a result of the study, proposals were developed to be submitted to the Parliament of Georgia, which will contribute to the harmonization of national legislation with international standards. The key findings highlight the importance of coordinated and proactive work by relevant agencies, including:

  • Effective and proper coordination between educational institutions, the State Care Agency and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and proper functioning of referral procedures are still problematic;
  • Detecting and referring cases of child marriage remain problematic. Cases of non-fulfilment or improper fulfilment of obligations imposed by legislation on the entities responsible for the referral procedure were identified;
  • Relevant specialists, especially teachers, do not have adequate information or knowledge about the detection indicators, referral procedures or obligations;
  • It is particularly difficult for the relevant agencies to respond to the cases of child marriage that do not constitute a crime. This, to some extent, can be explained by the lack of effective legislative levers;
  • In the case of the engagement of minors, the authorities are mostly unable to identify the alleged coercion of marriage;
  • In most cases, the motive for gender discrimination is not identified, which is caused by failure to ask relevant questions during an interview with the victim/witness and the lack of obtaining relevant evidence;
  • The rate of involvement of psychologists, witness and victim coordinators, and lawyers is very low;
  • The plea bargaining mechanism was used in most cases. In particular, out of 39 cases, such an agreement was signed in 29 cases (74%); This practice is especially high for crimes of sexual intercourse between an adult and a person under the age of 16 and illegal deprivation of liberty;
  • Due to early marriage, underage girls often stop receiving education or face various barriers and obstacles to go to school and attend classes;
  • Public awareness of the harmful practices and legal regulation of child marriage is still low, which is why most of the people do not report alleged crimes to the police or other government agencies;
  • Unlike previous years, the Ministry of Internal Affairs does not produce detailed, segregated statistics on crimes of child marriage.
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