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Georgia: The Street Kids Of Tbilisi

This photo documentary was started in 2013 by Onnik James Krikorian. It grew out of another project documenting the problems of children deprived of parental care and sent to institutions in Armenia and Georgia during the years between 2000 and 2010. Georgia has initiated reforms of its child protection system, but many children still can be found living or working on the streets.


Khanim is a young girl who can often be seen sitting alone begging on Tbilisi’s Pekini Avenue. Her elder relatives identify themselves as Kurds from Azerbaijan. The problem of children living and/or working on the streets is not specific to any ethnic group.  
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Khanim is a young girl who can often be seen sitting alone begging on Tbilisi’s Pekini Avenue. Her elder relatives identify themselves as Kurds from Azerbaijan. The problem of children living and/or working on the streets is not specific to any ethnic group.  

A Soviet-era boarding school (now closed) in Kutaisi, Georgia’s second largest city. The World Bank says that such institutions “[create] an underclass of children marked by poverty, stigmatization and a lack of proper care and education who are likely to lack opportunity as adults.” In the mid-2000s, Georgia embarked on an ambitious process of reform that included closing such institutions and replacing them with alternative forms of care.
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A Soviet-era boarding school (now closed) in Kutaisi, Georgia’s second largest city. The World Bank says that such institutions “[create] an underclass of children marked by poverty, stigmatization and a lack of proper care and education who are likely to lack opportunity as adults.”

In the mid-2000s, Georgia embarked on an ambitious process of reform that included closing such institutions and replacing them with alternative forms of care.

The reforms largely proved successful. When the process started there were over 5,000 children in institutions in Georgia, but by 2010 there were just 120 compared to 4,900 in neighboring Armenia, and 10,000 in Azerbaijan.  Instead, Georgia established alternative forms of care such as this family-type group home in Kutaisi.
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The reforms largely proved successful. When the process started there were over 5,000 children in institutions in Georgia, but by 2010 there were just 120 compared to 4,900 in neighboring Armenia, and 10,000 in Azerbaijan. 

Instead, Georgia established alternative forms of care such as this family-type group home in Kutaisi.

With institutions considered a "primary social safety net" for children from socially vulnerable families, another key element in Georgia’s reform program has been the establishment of centers where children from socially vulnerable families can receive food and other assistance, such as this one operated by the group “Child and Environment.”
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With institutions considered a "primary social safety net" for children from socially vulnerable families, another key element in Georgia’s reform program has been the establishment of centers where children from socially vulnerable families can receive food and other assistance, such as this one operated by the group “Child and Environment.”

Foster Care has been another key component of Georgia’s de-institutionalization process. However, it is only considered if the reintegration of children deprived of parental care into their biological families is impossible or unsuccessful. Some have recommended that similar measures should be taken to address the problem of street children in Georgia.
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Foster Care has been another key component of Georgia’s de-institutionalization process. However, it is only considered if the reintegration of children deprived of parental care into their biological families is impossible or unsuccessful. Some have recommended that similar measures should be taken to address the problem of street children in Georgia.

Despite reforms in the area of child protection, the number of children living and working on the streets has increased. And contrary to general perceptions, not all have chosen to follow this path. Ruslan, for example, lost his leg when a drunken security guard accidentally shot him on an abandoned construction site. Lacking documents such as a birth certificate, he was unable to have access to education or social services. Since this photograph was taken at the Gldani Crisis Centre (now closed), World Vision has assisted children such as Ruslan, and he now has a passport. 
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Despite reforms in the area of child protection, the number of children living and working on the streets has increased. And contrary to general perceptions, not all have chosen to follow this path.
Ruslan, for example, lost his leg when a drunken security guard accidentally shot him on an abandoned construction site. Lacking documents such as a birth certificate, he was unable to have access to education or social services. Since this photograph was taken at the Gldani Crisis Centre (now closed), World Vision has assisted children such as Ruslan, and he now has a passport. 

This teenager of ethnic Chechen origin is seen at the Gldani Crisis Centre, a place which took care of children mostly found on the streets. Although offering proactive activities to aid the children's future prospects, Gldani has since been closed.
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This teenager of ethnic Chechen origin is seen at the Gldani Crisis Centre, a place which took care of children mostly found on the streets. Although offering proactive activities to aid the children's future prospects, Gldani has since been closed.

Some see begging as the only way to make a living. Children and mothers with babies are a common sight in cities such as Tbilisi, Rustavi, Kutaisi, and Batumi where they either sit on the street or walk from car to car in busy traffic.
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Some see begging as the only way to make a living. Children and mothers with babies are a common sight in cities such as Tbilisi, Rustavi, Kutaisi, and Batumi where they either sit on the street or walk from car to car in busy traffic.

Citing UNICEF reports, Caritas Georgia estimates the number of children living or working on the streets in Georgia at around 2,500. They are especially visible on major streets in the main commercial districts. 
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Citing UNICEF reports, Caritas Georgia estimates the number of children living or working on the streets in Georgia at around 2,500. They are especially visible on major streets in the main commercial districts. 

Although many claim that street children are only from minority groups, Caritas Georgia say that 50 percent are ethnic Georgian. The problem spans a wide range of ethnic groups including, in recent years, ethnic Kurds from Azerbaijan.
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Although many claim that street children are only from minority groups, Caritas Georgia say that 50 percent are ethnic Georgian. The problem spans a wide range of ethnic groups including, in recent years, ethnic Kurds from Azerbaijan.

In 2013, UNICEF and World Vision launched a €750,000 EU-funded two-year project to address the problem. UNICEF also contributed an additional €100,000.  Working with the government, mobile teams identify and counsel children on the streets. Still, the problem persists. 
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In 2013, UNICEF and World Vision launched a €750,000 EU-funded two-year project to address the problem. UNICEF also contributed an additional €100,000.  Working with the government, mobile teams identify and counsel children on the streets. Still, the problem persists. 

UNICEF defines street children as those that have run away from their families, those living with their families on the street, or those who spend most of their time on the street, often begging. As elsewhere in the world, there are cases of all three in Georgia, but by far the largest group is the third.
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UNICEF defines street children as those that have run away from their families, those living with their families on the street, or those who spend most of their time on the street, often begging. As elsewhere in the world, there are cases of all three in Georgia, but by far the largest group is the third.

In many situations the police do little, or nothing. That might change after the January 2016 announcement by Georgian Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who said legislation would be introduced to ‘protect children living and working on the streets.'
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In many situations the police do little, or nothing. That might change after the January 2016 announcement by Georgian Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who said legislation would be introduced to ‘protect children living and working on the streets.'

Three ethnic Kurdish street children from Azerbaijan, pose for the camera outside the Tbilisi Beer Festival held on the city’s Rose Revolution Square. Such events offer them an opportunity to beg among large groups of people, although security guards and police try – and often fail – to keep them away.
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Three ethnic Kurdish street children from Azerbaijan, pose for the camera outside the Tbilisi Beer Festival held on the city’s Rose Revolution Square. Such events offer them an opportunity to beg among large groups of people, although security guards and police try – and often fail – to keep them away.

“[The] lack of family support services as a means to prevent further institutionalization and the presence of street children remain a key concern,” wrote ChildPact, a regional coalition working on child and youth welfare, in 2014. Unfortunately, the problem still persists. For more photos by Krikorian, visit his website http://www.onnik-krikorian.com.
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“[The] lack of family support services as a means to prevent further institutionalization and the presence of street children remain a key concern,” wrote ChildPact, a regional coalition working on child and youth welfare, in 2014. Unfortunately, the problem still persists.

For more photos by Krikorian, visit his website http://www.onnik-krikorian.com.

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