Perhaps, a family home for orphans and street children would stop the wave of juvenile crime
Street children in Abkhazia are becoming a growing concern for society, but no solutions to the issue have been found thus far.
What the public sees
One of the most high-profile criminal cases in 2018 was that of the writer of Abkhazia’s national anthem, Valery Chkadua, who was arrested for pedophilia.
He was sentenced to 20 years for molesting at least two underage girls, both of whom came from disadvantaged families.
However, this story is not unique in Abkhazia.
Astamur Jopua, a former member of the presidential guard, is serving a 20-year sentence for raping an underage girl and threatening to kill her.
The trial of this high-profile case took place under close public scrutiny, so much that activists from public organisations and other individuals collected money to pay for the victim’s lawyer.
The Parliament of Abkhazia has responded to these high-profile cases by toughening the punishment for sexual crimes against minors. At the end of July 2018, the Criminal Code was amended to exclude the possibility of replacing the punishment for pedophilia with a more lenient sentence or parole.
What the public doesn’t see
However, these two cases are just some of the few that actually lead to a conviction.
Meanwhile, specialists working with disadvantaged and socially vulnerable families say that there are many more children in need of state protection.
One man in a remote village in Abkhazia was discovered to have repeatedly raped one of his neighbours’ children. It was difficult to prove as it is almost impossible to take a child away from a dysfunctional or disadvantaged family, given that there are no shelters in Abkhazia.
Fortunately, this particular story ended well. Representatives of Kiaraz, a public organization which supports large families, found a relative who was able to take the child in.
But not everyone is that fortunate.
“Just yesterday I received a call about a lonely [abandoned] little girl. Nobody knows who her mother is spending time with and how,” says the Head of the Abkhaz Children’s Fund, Ashida Lomia.
“Neighbors feed the child, but the girl is all alone. According to neighbors, the mother used to sell her children [for sex].”
This case should be dealt with by child protection services in the country. However, even if the child is taken away from their family, it will be difficult to determine what is to be done with the child.
Lomia can cite about a dozen examples of street children who currently need help. Abkhazia has been in need of a family-style orphanage for a long time, and Lomia believes such an orphanage to be the best solution.
A family home for orphans is a cross between a foster family and a children’s home or boarding school. A family home is organized on the basis of a family. The total number of children in a family-type orphanage, including relatives and adopted children, should not exceed twelve people.
Achievements which are actually failures
The absence of orphanages in Abkhazia was for a long time believed to have been an achievement. Judging by numerous stories, the public appears eager to take in abandoned children from maternity hospitals or even buy newborns.
Many in Abkhazia also think that there are no children roughing it on the streets.
However, various public organizations have for several years held the opinion that a temporary shelter is needed for street children. One is also needed for women who are victims of domestic violence.
This topic has been brought up many times over the years, says Kama Gopia, head of the Kiaraz organization. There are quite a few children registered with Kiaraz who live in families without proper care. There are also children that have been completely abandoned and live on the street.
Gopia says that this is not a mass phenomenon. The problem in the current situation, however, is that it is difficult to get help for even one child.
A unanimous source stated that a plot of land was bought in Sukhum for the construction of a children’s shelter. However, it is not yet known who will finance the construction thereof. No state body has commented on the matter either.