Poverty, domestic violence and parental neglect are some of the reasons children end up on the streets.
UNICEF has carried out research concerning children living and working on the streets of Georgia and Azerbaijan. The research revealed certain similarities in the situation in the two countries.
The main reasons why children end up on the streets are: ‘parental’ poverty, forced migration, death, arrest, illness and drug addiction.
These circumstances lead to parents abandoning their children or failing to properly look after them, which leaves the children having to fend for themselves. Also, the children sometimes end up on the streets after fleeing domestic violence situations, or they prefer life on the streets to that in a children’s home where they are expected to follow a strict discipline.
The population of children living and/or working on the streets is varied and includes children who live and work without their parents looking after them; children who work during the day to take their earnings to their families at home; children who are supervised by adults who also work on the streets; children from migrant families, including, mostly, Roma and Azerbaijani Kurds.
The difference between social security programmes and laws in Georgia and Azerbaijan (where, for instance, begging is banned) and the depreciation of the Azerbaijani currency means some Azerbaijani families have moved to Georgia only to eventually find themselves reduced to living on the streets. In the summer, during the tourist season, many of them go to Georgia’s seaside resorts.
Some street children and teenagers come together to form gangs. In any gang there’s a leader and subordinates. The leader forces the others, usually the younger children, to commit crimes and takes all the money they ‘earn’. The minimum age of criminal prosecution in Georgia is 14 years old, meaning the gang leaders use the children as a shield allowing them to avoid prosecution.
A major problem is sexual violence against girls living on the streets. Ex-members of one of the gangs in Tbilisi said that girls had been forced to provide sexual services to older members (or others) of the group. Others said that part of their income had been taken from them and used to pay for these kinds of services.
UNICEF has made recommendations for government structures and NGOs working to address the issue of street children. One of the main recommendations is that family support services should be set up to help prevent children from ending up on the streets. Special measures need to be taken to help migrant children and their families and to ensure a proper response to their needs.