"Kicked with the chair leg, thrown on the cold floor"- Ombudsman's report on Ninotsminda orphange
Georgian Public Defender’s report on Ninotsminda boarding house
The Office of the Public Defender of Georgia has published a report about the Ninotsminda Children’s Boarding School, which states that, for years, the institution had resorted to actions that can be described as torture and inhuman treatment of children. According to the report, the forms of punishment in the methods of upbringing were humiliating, degrading and traumatic for juveniles.
The boarding school for orphans in the town of Ninotsminda is one of the institutions that has long raised suspicions among human rights defenders.
On June 5, 2021, Judge Ivane Glonti granted a Partnership for Human Rights (PHR) a permission to remove all children from the Ninotsminda boarding school.
The organization presented to the court a video released by the Archbishop of Skhalt, Spiridon, which clearly shows the faces of children. According to lawyers Ana Arganashvili and Ana Abashidze, this video proves that the lives and health of children are in danger.
Information about possible cases of psychological and physical abuse of boarding school students has been actively discussed in the big media. Employees of the Public Defender’s Office of Georgia, who are responsible for monitoring any closed institution, along with other government departments, were not allowed in the boarding house. The reason was the order of a high-ranking clergyman – the Archbishop of Skhalta, Reverend Spiridon, who is also the rector of the same boarding house.
The Public Defender also learned from the Prosecutor’s Office that in the last five years, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has launched four investigations into alleged incidents of violence against Ninotsminda boarding school children, including sexual violence.
In fact, there was no NGO or political group left that did not respond to the news of the Ninotsminda boarding house. At the same time, protests were held in front of the Government Chancellery and the Prosecutor’s Office. Police arrested nine people during one such rally on June 3. Eventually, the staff of the Public Defender’s Office was allowed to enter the boarding house.
Since the spring of 2021, a total of 12 juveniles have been transferred from the facility to their biological families, while 22 children have been placed in other care facilities. 15 of the minors transferred from Ninotsminda boarding school were transferred to a small family-type home, and 7 to a foster families.
Report states that the systematic nature of violence against children in Ninotsminda boarding school is confirmed by the evidene collected from the testimonies of the children who had been residing there, as well as the of several criminal cases.
The ombudsman’s office notes that the ban on sleeping and eating, as well as physical violence, was used as a form of punishment of children in boarding schools. The children recalled how the caregiver punished the whole group and did not allow them to eat, while “they ate themselves and watched the children, who were forced to kneel”.
One of the caregivers, stripped a student naked for involuntary urination at night and placed them into the corridor. Another child, for the same reason, was forced by the cargivers to wear torn clothes as punishment. One of the caregivers made a child stick out their tongue and hit it with a comb. When the children woke up after the afternoon nap, the caregiver forced them to stand up, pick up the mattress, lie down on the bed plank, and cover themselves with mattresses.
- What’s happening behind closed doors of religious boarding schools in Georgia?
- Anti-vaxxing, homophobia, pro-Russian sentiments – is the church an obstacle on Georgia’s pro-Western course?
The report also says that the children were addressed with the words: “animals”, “street trash” and “foundlings”. Children had food thrown on their heads if they refused to eat. In one case, the caregiver poured tea on the child and then forbade them from bathing. As a form of punishment, one of the educators used to tie up child’s hands and leave them like that all night.
As the ombudsman notes, the juveniles also reported being hit with a chair’s leg and forced to stay on a cold floor. According to one of the pupils, he was told to make a 10-yard touchdown just because the ball accidentally hit a window while the students were playing.
“One of the children, who insulted the former head with obscene words out of spite was sent to a mental institution. The former beneficiary of Ninotsminda explained that crying was banned during violent punishments, which is why he still has the fear of crying and is unable to express this emotion”, the report reads.
- Activists demand access to orphanage managed by the Georgian Patriarchate
- Georgian Patriarchate’s orphanage investigated for rape, child abuse
Report also states that the children living in the boarding school did not have access to proper education tailored to their needs.
Interviews with the school principal and the staff of the Ninotsminda boarding school revealed that the boarding school had a particularly acute problem of integrating and socializing the children: the beneficiaries were not allowed to leave the institution independently, play with their peers or participate in other entertaining activities without a supervision of their caregivers.
In addition, the juveniles not only went to school accompanied by the educators and some of them stayed in the school building until the end of lessons.
According to the document, this attitude “substantially contradicts the interests of minors, violates socialization and their relations with community members, and the requirement for the children’s development and their preparation for independent living”.
What is happening in the boarding house today
The Public Defender addressed the Prosecutor General of Georgia with a proposal to conduct an effective investigation into the alleged crimes against children in the Ninotsminda boarding school. Nino Lomjaria demands that a unified state strategy and plan for deinstitutionalization be developed and approved as soon as possible.
“The Public Defender’s representatives and the public were informed that all children with disabilities were removed from the boarding school, however, at that time there were still two minors with disabilities, one of whom was transferred to another form of care only on September 24, 2021, and the other still lives in the boarding house. This is exacerbated by the fact that the documents of many juveniles living in the institution directly mention the need for the involvement of a psychologist, and in one case, a psychiatrist, which the state has not provided so far. In this regard, it should be noted that the psychologist was found by the management of the boarding house, which visited the institution only twice in a month”, the report reads.