Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal if it is committed by use of force, threat of use of force, or with a victim of a “helpless condition,” a legal term generally applied to elderly individuals, persons with mental or physical disabilities, or others deemed unable to resist. Some expressed concern that the definition of rape did not conform to international standards to combat violence against women, and that the lack of a positive consent framework meant that some rapes went uninvestigated or unpunished. A convicted first-time offender may be imprisoned for up to eight years. The government did not enforce the law effectively.
Investigative authorities lacked training on effective procedures on case handling and evidence collection. Survivors were often told to focus on physical violence as proof of sexual violence. GYLA reported sexual violence was prevalent and underreported. In only a small number of reported cases were perpetrators convicted. Prosecutors applied overly burdensome evidence requirements for bringing charges against perpetrators of sexual violence, while overwhelmingly strict requirements for convictions of sexual violence crimes were applied by judges.
The Public Defender’s Office noted in its 2020 report, released in April, serious legislative shortcomings in the regulation of crimes involving sexual violence, as well as in investigation, criminal prosecution, and court hearing of such crimes, falling short of the standards of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and international human rights. The office’s analysis showed that in the cases of rape and other sexual violence, courts did not consider the absence of a survivor’s consent an integral part of the definition of crime. Furthermore, the legislation does not consider a broad spectrum of circumstances that may affect the survivor’s will and provides for a disproportionately lenient punishment for a crime committed in certain conditions.
The law criminalizes domestic violence. In cases that do not result in physical injury, penalties for conviction of domestic violence include 80 to 150 hours of community service or imprisonment for up to two years. Domestic and gender-based violence remained a significant problem that the government took several steps to combat. The Ministry of Internal Affairs had a risk assessment tool that enables a police officer to decide whether to issue a restraining order based on a questionnaire available in the restraining order protocol, the data assessment, and risk analysis. In addition, if there was a high risk of recurrence of violence, a system of electronic surveillance allowed the Ministry of Internal Affairs to monitor abusers 24 hours a day. The high rate of domestic violence showed reporting of incidents increased in the country and that police were responding. The 112 Emergency Center also deployed an app that allows survivors of domestic or other violence to communicate via text message with emergency operators, making it easier to report abuse without alerting the perpetrator who may still be nearby. Shortcomings, however, remained. In one example, in 2019 an employee of the Tbilisi City Council accused council member Ilia Jishkariani of sexual assault and beating. The Prosecutor’s Office charged Jishkariani with sexual and other violence; the trial at Tbilisi City Court, which started in 2019, continued as of year’s end.
In June parliament approved legislation on the introduction of witness and survivor advocates that sit within police units. The provisions, which took effect on June 24, allow survivor advocates to support witnesses and survivors during the legal proceedings by establishing effective communication between them and investigators, provide necessary information during the investigation, and offer state services and assist in the application of such services. As of November there were 13 such advocates assigned to major police departments. Previously, these positions existed only at the Prosecution Service.
Despite legislative changes, the Public Defender’s Office reported in its annual report for 2020 that authorities lacked a comprehensive approach to combating domestic violence and violence against women, and there was insufficient coordination among government agencies.
The Public Defender’s Office highlighted a shortage of measures to prevent violence against women and to empower survivors of domestic violence. The office analyzed gender-based killings (femicides) and concluded they demonstrated an absence of mechanisms to prevent violence against women in the country.
The law provides for measures to detect signs of domestic violence in minors by crisis and shelter staff and promotes a prevention-oriented approach. The Public Defender’s Office and women’s rights NGOs emphasized there remained a need for the government to improve coordination between government agencies working on the matter.
NGOs and the government expanded services provided to survivors of domestic violence in recent years. GYLA remained concerned that notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic, official statistics on domestic violence and violence against women did not change significantly, which indicated a possible underreporting of domestic violence incidents by victims.
Domestic violence laws mandate the provision of temporary protective measures, including shelter, protective orders, and restraining orders that prohibit an abuser from coming within 330 feet of the survivor and from using common property, such as a residence or vehicle, for up to nine months.
In 2020 authorities began using electronic surveillance bracelets for domestic violence abusers. The use of electronic surveillance is subject to a judicial decision. Police assess the risk of recurrence of violence and, in parallel with issuing the restraining order, are required to submit a report to the court for approval within 24 hours. Both the electronic surveillance period and the validity of a restraining order last for one month and require consent of the survivor.
Local NGOs and the government jointly operated a 24-hour hotline and shelters for abused women and their minor children, although space in the shelters was limited and only five of the country’s 10 regions had facilities.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Kidnapping women for marriage occurred in remote areas and in ethnic minority communities but was rare. The Public Defender’s Office reported some cases of kidnapping for forced marriage and early marriage in its 2020 report.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal under the code of administrative offenses but is not criminalized; it remained a problem in the workplace. By law sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination and is defined as an unwanted physical, verbal, or nonverbal action of a sexual nature that aims to degrade or results in the degradation of a person or creation of a hostile environment for that person. Based on laws on sexual harassment, the public defender analyzes the case and provides recommendations on the case to authorized persons at the institution where the violation took place. During the year the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure, Civil Service Bureau, State Inspector’s Service, and an office in the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport developed internal regulatory frameworks for responding to workplace sexual harassment incidents, according to UN Women.
Under the code of administrative offenses, sexual harassment victims may file complaints with police. If found guilty, a person can be punished with a token monetary fine; repeated violations result in an increased fine or correctional work for up to one month. Repeated violations in the case of a minor, a pregnant woman, a person unable to resist due to physical or mental helplessness, a person with a disability, or in the presence of a minor with prior knowledge leads to a more substantial fine. Through October the Public Defender’s Office examined four cases of alleged sexual harassment and identified violations in two instances. Others were pending.
The public defender considered especially problematic a selective approach applied by authorities to instances of violence against women and domestic violence involving influential persons as abusers. In such cases authorities often delayed their response, leaving the impression that preference was given to the abuser’s, rather than the victim’s, interests. Victims often had to go public to prompt action by relevant authorities.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Authorities regulated the use of surrogacy services. A Ministry of Justice decree regulating civil acts restricts the right to surrogacy to heterosexual couples who have been married or living together for more than one year. Women and LGBTQI+ rights organizations considered the restriction an infringement on the ability of single women and LGBTQI+ persons to have a child.
The UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) reported that women from minority communities, women from rural areas, and poor women faced barriers in accessing information related to their reproductive health and financial barriers limited access to customized contraceptive options for many women.
According to the Public Defender’s Office, limited access to information about contraceptives remained a problem for girls and women of childbearing age. The office stated human sexuality education was not fully integrated into school curriculums. Programs in schools failed to provide information to teenagers on safer sex. The lack of comprehensive education prevented girls from understanding the risks associated with early marriage and protecting themselves from early pregnancy.
The Public Defender’s Office stated in its 2020 annual report that “women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, full integration of family planning services and contraceptives into primary care, as well as integration of comprehensive education on human sexuality into the formal education system remain challenging.” Women in rural areas, especially remote mountain villages, lacked regular access to family planning services and clinics. Women often had to travel to larger towns for these services, causing additional financial burden.
While women have the ability to access skilled personal medical attention during pregnancy and childbirth, the use of maternal health services decreased during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated movement restrictions. The Public Defender’s Office reported a lack of the postpartum care needed for the prevention of maternal mortality and for maintaining women’s mental and physical well-being. Maternal health services were somewhat limited for women who did not speak Georgian.
The Agency for Social Care, under the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health and Social Affairs, provided medical, psychological, legal, and additional assistance to survivors of sexual violence.
The UNFPA reported that the state funded services for survivors of sexual violence based on a decree that stipulates the state must fund certain services, including, but not limited to, emergency contraceptives and postexposure prophylaxis. Regulations, however, require survivors of sexual assault, who may hesitate to come forward, to notify police to receive these services. Victims of trafficking in persons and domestic violence do not need to cooperate with police to receive services.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men, including under family, religious, personal status and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing business or property.
Civil society organizations continued to report discrimination against women in the workplace. The Public Defender’s Office monitored gender equality complaints, in particular those involving domestic violence and workplace harassment, and stated that gender equality remained a problem. The office considered the small number of government projects, programs, and initiatives designed to empower women to be inadequate to achieve gender equality.
The law prohibits discrimination. According to the Public Defender’s Office, the government “instead of tackling systemic inequality practices, largely was focused on eliminating individual cases of discrimination.”
The Public Defender’s Office and NGOs reported some instances of discrimination against minorities. As of year’s end, the office had received 15 claims of discrimination based on nationality or ethnic origin. The Public Defender’s Office reported it did not receive any complaints during the year alleging racial discrimination by law-enforcement officials.
There were multiple incidents of ethnic or religiously motivated violence during the year. For example, on May 16, a fight broke out in a store owned by an ethnic Azeri in the town of Dmanisi. The conflict occurred when Svans (a subgroup of ethnic Georgians) were denied credit for their attempted purchase. The fight quickly escalated into a riot between Svans and ethnic Azeris. Police arrested six Svans in connection to the riot, and hundreds of Svans who were residents of nearby villages protested for their release. Police released the six, the group returned to ethnic Azeri neighborhoods, and another clash between the two ethnic groups resulted in dozens of injuries on May 17. Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri and State Security Service chief Grigol Liluashvili traveled to Dmanisi on May 17 to condemn the violence, stating that the ethnic Azeris were Georgian citizens and such violence would not be tolerated. After intervention from religious leaders from the Georgian Orthodox Church and the mufti of Eastern Georgia, the groups ended the conflict. No one involved was charged with any crimes.
During the year the Prosecutor General’s Office charged nine individuals with committing a crime based on nationality, race, or ethnicity.
Media outlets reported numerous cases of hate speech targeting minority groups during the year.
In addition to political, civic, economic, and cultural obstacles, weak Georgian-language skills remained the main impediment to integration for members of the country’s ethnic minorities. Some minorities asserted the law requiring “adequate command of the official language” to work as a civil servant excluded them from participating in government. The Public Defender’s Office reported that involving ethnic minorities in national decision-making processes remained a problem due to the small number of representatives of ethnic minorities in the central government.
The government continued its “1+4” program for ethnic minorities to study the Georgian language for one year prior to their university studies. Under a quota system, the government assigned 12 percent of all bachelor or higher certificate-level placements to students with ethnic minority backgrounds. Of these reserved slots, ethnic Armenian and Azeri communities each received 40 percent (5 percent of the total), while Ossetian and Abkhaz communities received 10 percent each (1 percent of the total).
Abkhaz de facto authorities continued policies that threatened the legal status of ethnic minorities, including Georgians, Armenians, Greeks, Roma, and Syrians, living in Abkhazia.
The government continued to report discrimination against ethnic Georgians in the Russian-occupied territories. The Public Defender’s Office continued to note the case of Tamar Mearakishvili, an activist in South Ossetia who alleged persecution by the de facto authorities because of her Georgian ethnicity. In April the de facto prosecutor dropped a slander charge against Mearakishvili but was reportedly reviewing previous charges of illegal acquisition of citizenship and possession of Georgian citizenship. In 2019 de facto authorities in Akhalgori had cleared Mearakishvili of charges and lifted all restrictions imposed on her, including the restriction on leaving South Ossetia. The de facto prosecutor appealed the decision, and the court dismissed all charges later that year. The de facto prosecutor appealed the decision; in January 2020 the de facto supreme court partly satisfied the appeal, returning one case to the trial court. At the same time, in February 2020 the de facto prosecutor filed the same charges against Mearakishvili in the other case in which the de facto supreme court had acquitted Mearakishvili. In September 2020 Mearakishvili reported she had been without electricity since the middle of the month in what she characterized as an act of retribution by Akhalgori de facto prosecutor Alan Kulumbegov. Prior to the cut-off of her electricity, she reportedly complained to the de facto prosecutor general’s office that Kulumbegov repeatedly sought to blackmail her.
Birth Registration: By law citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory; children born to stateless parents in the country are citizens. According to UNICEF, 99 percent of children were registered before reaching the age of five.
While IDP returnees were in principle able to register their children’s births with de facto authorities, they reportedly preferred to have their births registered with Georgian authorities.
Education: Children of noncitizens often lacked documentation to enroll in school. The level of school attendance was low for children belonging to disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as street children and children with disabilities or in foster care.
According to a multiple indicator cluster survey conducted in 2018 by the national statistics office GEOstat and the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health with UNICEF support, total enrollment of preschool children between the ages of three and five was 82 percent. Enrollment rates were lower for children of ethnic minorities (the rate for Azeri children was 28.8 percent, while the rate for Armenian children was 68.8 percent) as well as children from socially vulnerable groups (poor or large families, single parent families, IDPs, families with persons with disabilities) (63.6 percent) and rural communities (70.2 percent).
According to a UNICEF study released in 2018, most street children did not have access to either education or medical services beyond emergency care. According to a public defender report, most street children were vulnerable to violence and had limited access to education or health care.
Abkhaz de facto authorities did not always provide ethnic Georgians opportunities for education in their native language. De facto authorities dismissed ethnic Georgian teachers in Abkhazia deemed to have insufficient knowledge of Russian. The language of instruction for students in first through fourth grades in Lower Gali was Russian. Russian was the only instructional language in the Tkvarcheli and Ochamchire zones, and de facto authorities prohibited Georgian-language instruction there.
The Public Defender’s Office noted that in the Gali, Ochamchire, and Tkvarcheli districts, ethnic Georgian students and teachers had poor command of Russian, and therefore Russian-only instruction had significantly affected the quality of their education. Local communities had to either pay for teachers, arrange for teachers to cross from Tbilisi-administered territory to teach, or send their children across the ABL for Georgian-language lessons. According to the EUMM, some Gali students faced difficulties in crossing the ABL to take university entrance examinations.
De facto South Ossetian authorities also required ethnic Georgians of all ages to study in Russian.
Child Abuse: The law provides for the right to dignity, life, survival, and development, and prohibits discrimination. Conviction for various forms of child abuse, including trafficking, forced labor, or forced begging, is punishable by a spectrum of noncustodial sentences and prison terms. Conviction of domestic violence against minors is punishable by community service or imprisonment for one to three years, and conviction for trafficking minors is punishable by eight to 20 years’ imprisonment, depending on the circumstance. The Public Defender’s Office reported that general education institutions and preschools lacked qualified professionals who could detect and respond to signs of violence against children in a timely manner.
Authorities referred children who suffered abuse to the relevant community and government services in coordination with stakeholders, including police, schools, and social service agencies.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both men and women is 18. Conviction for forced marriage of an individual younger than 18 is punishable by two to four years’ imprisonment. The Public Defender’s Office reported the practice of early marriage and engagement remained a problem. Law enforcement agencies, social services, and secondary education institutions did not coordinate their efforts to deal with the problem.
Home-based learning due to COVID-19 made it more difficult for social workers to detect cases of child marriage and intervene promptly.
The Public Defender’s Office noted in its 2020 report that the social service agency did not have guidelines for managing child marriage cases and that its response to child marriages was often superficial and fragmented.
Reports of child marriages continued throughout the year. The public defender’s annual report for 2020 indicated that child marriages occurred more frequently among certain ethnic and religious groups. Authorities had difficulty providing timely and effective responses to unlawful imprisonment and forced marriage. The public defender reported that inadequate official response to such incidents encouraged potential offenders, who believed they would not be held responsible.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction for commercial sexual exploitation of children or possession of child pornography is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Authorities enforced the law. Street children and children living in orphanages were reportedly particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The law considers sexual intercourse with a juvenile as rape, provided it is committed by use of force, threat of use of force, or with a victim of a “helpless condition.” If these elements are not present, sexual intercourse with a minor can be charged as a crime of “penetration of a sexual nature into the body of a person younger than 16 years of age,” which carries a lower sentence. The penalty for conviction for rape is from six years to life imprisonment, depending on circumstances; the government generally enforced the law. Conviction of other sexual crimes carried increased levels of punishment if the victim was a juvenile.
Displaced Children: The Public Defender’s Office reported a lack of information regarding street children and noted the inadequacy of resources devoted to them. It was unclear how many children were geographically displaced, and a significant portion belonged to families that migrated seasonally to Georgia from Azerbaijan. In its annual report for 2020, the Public Defender’s Office reported that despite improvement in identifying and establishing contact with children living in the streets, the identification process remained inadequate.
The Public Defender’s Office 2021 report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child described children living and working on the street as a vulnerable social group that faced a high risk of labor exploitation. They lacked protections from forced labor and had limited access to health care and education. The government’s detection, outreach, and actions to protect and assist street children were limited, and access to services for them and their families remained inadequate.
Due to their homelessness and lack of sanitation, street children had a higher risk of COVID-19 infection. The Public Defender’s Office reported that, based on information from the Agency for State Care, a quarantine area for children was opened in Tbilisi in 2020. If necessary, mobile groups working under a state subprogram placed street children in the quarantine area as well. On April 1, the Public Defender’s Office reported that in 2020, the psychosocial needs of homeless children were not being properly met in the quarantine area.
The population of street children consisted of ethnic Georgians, members of two Romani language groups, Kurds from Azerbaijan, children of Armenian refugees, and children of IDPs from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Police and labor inspectors began to take enforcement action, but more work was needed to protect children from being trafficked or exploited through illicit work and forced labor.
While some shelters existed, the full spectrum of services needed did not exist outside of Tbilisi.
Institutionalized Children: The government continued replacing large-scale orphanages with alternative arrangements. The government provided grants for higher education for institutionalized and foster-care children, including full coverage of tuition and a stipend, and provided emergency assistance to foster families.
The government continued to transfer children, including those with disabilities, who were institutionalized in large-scale orphanages to family and family-type services (small group homes for specialized care). The government increased the pool of foster parents and specialized foster parents available to receive children from orphanages and avoid an inflow of new cases to orphanages.
In June the Public Defender’s Office reported that protection of minors in state care and in some orphanages operated by the Georgian Orthodox Church remained a problem. The protection of children in state care from violence, care for their mental health, protection of right to education, preparation for independent life, improvement of care-taking personnel, and allocation of sufficient human and financial resources posed a problem. Teachers in small family-type homes as well as foster parents lacked the knowledge and skills to handle children with behavioral problems or child victims of violence. This resulted in children being moved between different types of care, creating additional stress and worsening their situation. Minors with disabilities presented a particular problem because assistance programs were not oriented to meeting their individual needs for protection, preparation for independent living, and education. The practice of placing children with behavioral or mental-health problems together was also problematic and aggravated their situation.
In May the Public Defender’s Office reported that Ninotsminda Orphanage’s principal, Bishop Spiridon, barred its representatives from monitoring the orphanage, which was operated by the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Public Defender’s Office has a constitutional right to enter institutions to conduct monitoring. The Public Defender’s Office reported there were allegations of physical and psychological abuse of children at the orphanage. Bishop Spiridon responded that he would never allow the office, which he claimed was propagating same-sex marriage, inside the institution. On June 2, the Public Defender’s Office cited Ministry of Internal Affairs’ reports that four criminal cases concerning the orphanage had been opened since 2016. Three of the cases involved allegations of violence against minors and one the alleged rape of a minor. The bishop’s refusal to allow the office to enter the orphanage prompted the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to call on authorities to ensure monitoring occurred.
On June 5, the Tbilisi City Court ruled in favor of the NGO Partnership for Human Rights that children with disabilities should be removed from the Ninotsminda Orphanage. The court stated that the State Care Agency, which is responsible for the protection of children in foster facilities, could apply to the court to extend the removal order to other children. The Georgian Orthodox Church announced its intention to appeal the court ruling on June 6. On June 13, the church replaced Bishop Spiridon with Archbishop Iakob as principal of the orphanage, and on June 17, Archbishop Iakob agreed to allow Public Defender Nino Lomjaria to visit. On June 28, the public defender visited the orphanage and said that the Archbishop Iakob agreed to work with the Public Defender’s Office. Archbishop Iakob also dismissed 20 orphanage employees. As of November an investigation into alleged abuse was underway.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
Observers estimated the Jewish community to be no more than 6,000 persons.
As of November an appeals court decision was pending regarding whether the 2018 killing in Tbilisi of human rights activist Vitali Safarov, who was of Jewish and Yezidi origin, constituted a hate crime. Human rights NGOs alleged the two men responsible for the killing were members of a neo-Nazi group, and a key witness at the trial testified that Safarov was killed because he was Jewish. In 2019 the Tbilisi City Court convicted the two men and imposed a 15-year prison sentence for the killing of Safarov but dismissed qualifying the killing as a hate crime; the prosecutor appealed the court’s decision not to classify the killing as a hate crime.
On August 21, former Georgian Orthodox priest Basil Kobakhidze posted a critical statement on his Facebook page regarding a recording of Georgian Orthodox priest Archil Mindiashvili who made anti-Semitic statements about the COVID-19 vaccine and stated he would not be vaccinated.
On January 4, Archpriest Ilia Karkadze asserted that Jewish persons in the financial industry controlled Russia and Georgia today, conquering them with “offshore money.”
In response to Karkadze’s statement, the Tolerance and Diversity Institute and the Public Defender’s Office issued statements warning of the rise in anti-Semitism that statements like these could cause. The Georgian Orthodox Church’s metropolitan Ioane Gamrekeli issued a statement on Karkadze’s remarks that said, “[the remarks] represent completely groundless accusations against the Jewish people or its individual representatives. It is not based on the teachings of the Church and is inspired with the anti-Semitic pathos.”
While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system and right to a fair trial, and the provision of other government or private-sector services, the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The Public Defender’s Office reported persons with disabilities continued to encounter barriers to participating fully in public life. Many families with children with disabilities considered themselves stigmatized and kept their children from public view. The office reported that violence, especially sexual violence, was a significant problem for persons with disabilities. Discrimination in employment was also a problem. A new law on the rights of persons with disabilities came into force on January 1.
The country operated several orphanages for children with disabilities as well as specialized family-type services and foster parenting. The government continued operations of state-run institutions for adults with disabilities. Despite some improvements in these institutions, they lacked infrastructure, trained staff, psychosocial services, and opportunities for patients to have contact with the outside world and families. There was no plan for replacing the institutions with community-based services and other alternatives.
The Public Defender’s Office report for 2020 noted that the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the rights of persons with disabilities, as remote work and distance learning were not viable for many such persons. In addition, many remote services were ineffective because they could not ensure proper provision of services to individuals.
The law provides principles to guide the government’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and clarifies the government’s roles and responsibilities to ensure persons with disabilities fully and effectively participate in society. The law mandates all agencies employ the principles of universal design, reasonable accommodation, and independent living; recognizes Georgian sign language as an official language for communication and education of deaf and hearing-impaired persons; authorizes special plaintiff organizations to represent persons with disabilities in court; requires municipalities to provide services to support independent living for persons with disabilities; and mandates that relevant state agencies ensure all new and old buildings and services will be accessible for persons with disabilities within 15 years. The law requires the education system to elevate the status of special education teachers and introduce social workers at schools to work on the inclusion of children with disabilities.
Approximately 1,250 persons with disabilities were registered on the Worknet public employment portal in 2020-21, leading to 37 persons with disabilities being hired in 2020 and 63 in 2021. The Labor, Health, and Social Affairs’ Employment Support Agency, under the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, cooperated with a range of large companies to find employment for persons registered in the portal.
Provisions of the law that disqualify a person with disabilities working in the public sector from receiving state disability assistance were seen as a disincentive to such work, although in January the government passed legislation that would maintain social benefits for one year in cases in which a person with disabilities found public-sector employment. The Public Defender’s Office reported persons with disabilities employed in the public sector, unlike those in the private sector, cannot receive social benefits (except those with severe disabilities or visual impairments).
In a case litigated by the NGO Partnership for Human Rights, the court ordered state-funded 12-hour personal assistance for a child with severe disabilities who had to be institutionalized at a psychiatric hospital for one month since no community-based care options were available to him. As a result of the decision, in December 2020 the government approved the 2021 State Program of Social Rehabilitation, which provides that the needs for individual home-care service for children with disabilities would be identified by a multidisciplinary team and children would be able to receive personal assistant services at government expense.
Stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS were major barriers to HIV/AIDS prevention and service utilization. NGOs reported that social stigma caused individuals to avoid testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS. Some health-care providers, particularly dentists, refused to provide services to HIV-positive persons. Individuals often concealed their HIV/AIDS status from employers due to fear of losing their jobs.
The law makes acting on the basis of prejudice because of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity an aggravating factor for all crimes. According to NGOs, however, the government rarely enforced the law. The Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs trained officers on hate crimes.
The Public Defender’s Office reported LGBTQI+ individuals continued to experience systemic violence, oppression, abuse, intolerance, and discrimination. LGBTQI+ rights organizations reported several instances of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals during the year. Authorities opened investigations into several of the cases. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, in the first nine months of the year criminal prosecutions were initiated against 64 persons on the basis of intolerance on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The office reported that violence against LGBTQI+ individuals, whether in the family or in public spaces, was a serious problem and that the government’s actions were insufficient to respond to this challenge.
LGBTQI+ organizations, NGOs, and the Public Defender’s Office reported the government’s ineffective antidiscrimination policy reduced the LGBTQI+ community’s trust in state institutions, and they pointed to homophobic statements by politicians and public officials as furthering hatred and intolerance against the community. For example on July 5, regarding the planned Tbilisi Pride march, Prime Minister Garibashvili stated “the march scheduled today carries risks of civic confrontation because the march is unacceptable by the vast majority of the country’s population. That is why I believe that the conduct of the march on Rustaveli Avenue is not reasonable.” He added separately, “The opposition headed by Saakashvili is behind the pride march, which is aimed at provoking civil confrontation and turmoil.”
During the year there was a rise in attacks against LGBTQI+ persons and those perceived to be associated with the LGBTQI+ community, most notably against transgender women. Violent protests and riots during Tbilisi Pride culminated in homophobic and anti-Western riots on July 5 (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association). Individual attacks were also on the rise. For example on April 30, a 17-year-old transgender girl was attacked by two unknown suspects who beat her, smashed her cell phone, and used transphobic rhetoric. On May 1, two individuals were charged for this crime and were released by the court on relatively low bail given the nature of the violent crime. On June 7, the case was referred for trial to the Tbilisi City Court; as of year’s end, the trial continued.
On October 31, a man entered a massage parlor in Tbilisi and attacked two transgender women with a knife, killing one and wounding another. The suspect was arrested and faced a charge of premeditated murder. The Prosecutor General’s Office said the suspect “wanted to kill transgender people on the grounds of intolerance of gender identity.” As of year’s end, the case was still pending.
On April 20, a man attacked a lesbian couple in front of their child outside their home in Tbilisi. The attacker, a neighbor, insulted them and demanded they move out of the building. The attacker then spat on them, continued with homophobic insults, and threatened the couple with a knife. Police arrested the man, who was released on bail on April 23 and was allowed to return to their shared apartment building. LGBTQI+ activists cited the case as an example of the government not taking LGBTQI+ hate crimes seriously. In June the case was referred for trial to Tbilisi City Court; as of year’s end, the trial continued.
The Public Defender’s Office received 10 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation and seven cases based on gender identity. Of these cases, 16 were being investigated by the Internal Affairs Ministry. In one of the cases, the claimant alleged refusal of service based on homophobic motives. On July 6, a private company refused to prepare a seal for the organization, The Network of a European Person’s Rights. The claimant also said that an employee of the company, who was preparing the mold of the seal, used degrading and insulting language towards the LGBTQI+ community. When the claimant told the employee the name of the organization, the latter started insulting the Tbilisi Pride event, praising Levan Vasadze – a businessman and far-right political leader – and speaking about the July 5 violence. The Public Defender’s Office was reviewing the case.
In a high profile case, in 2019 the Ministry of Internal Affairs charged one person for making death threats based on sexual orientation after he threatened an individual who made public statements against homophobia on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia. In July the case was referred for trial to Batumi City Court. As of December the trial had not commenced.
The law requires gender confirmation surgery for legal gender-identity change and does not provide options for transgender individuals who do not wish to undergo confirmation surgery to change their gender identity.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law generally provides for the right of most workers, including government employees, to form and join independent unions, to legally strike, and to bargain collectively. According to the law, if a trade union or a group of employees initiates negotiations for the conclusion of a collective agreement, employers shall negotiate in good faith. The parties should provide each other with information relevant to the issues being discussed during negotiations.
Although the law provides for the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, employers did not always negotiate in good faith. Employers’ obligations to participate in mediation are not clearly defined by law or practice. This was illustrated by a collective bargaining process that deadlocked at the Rustavi Azot nitrogen plant. On April 28, approximately 2,000 workers walked out on indefinite strike after the company rejected demands for a 50 percent pay increase. After a few days of negotiations, employees settled for raises ranging between 8.7 percent and 25 percent, according to the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC). This caused a split in the striking workforce, as media outlets reported that many workers were dissatisfied because the increases were less than half of what they had demanded and were not indexed to inflation.
While strikes are not limited in length, the law limits lockouts to 90 days. A court may determine the legality of a strike, and violators of strike rules may face up to two years in prison. Although the law prohibits employers from discriminating against union members or union-organizing activities in general terms, it does not explicitly require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.
Certain categories of workers involved in “critical services” or related to “human life and health,” as defined by the government, were not allowed to strike. The International Labor Organization noted the government’s list of such services included some it did not believe constituted essential businesses and services, such as municipal cleaning departments, natural gas transportation and distribution facilities, and oil and gas production, preparation, refining and processing facilities.
Due to continued concerns over the country’s respect for freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the right to strike, labor unions called upon the government to take further steps to enhance worker protections and protect existing workers’ rights during the year. The government, however, did not effectively enforce laws that protect freedom of association or prohibit antiunion discrimination. Penalties were not commensurate with those under other laws involving the denial of other civil rights. Remedies to address arbitrary dismissal and legal disputes regarding labor rights were subject to lengthy delays. Employees who believe they were wrongfully terminated must file a complaint in a local court within one month of their termination.
Labor organizations reported employers’ obligations to participate in mediation were unclear, and some refused to participate.
Workers generally exercised their right to strike in accordance with the law but at times faced management retribution. On May 3, employees of the Guria Express mill began a 38-day strike, demanding wage increases and a safer work environment. During the strike the employer refused to engage in dialogue with trade unions and resorted to other means to end the strike. Employees ruled out any type of agreement with the employer without a trade union. During a parallel mediation process, the labor inspectorate found a number of safety violations. As a result of multilateral negotiations, large-scale rallies and marches occurred demanding the involvement of state officials in the processes. The strike was resolved with employees, trade unions, and employers signing an agreement on June 12. The management of Guria Express filed a lawsuit against 26 workers requesting to declare their strike as illegal. The court suspended the case, as GTUC proved that the employer did not have a legal basis for declaring the strike illegal.
Some employers interfered with unions. GTUC reported the influence of employer-sponsored “yellow” unions in the Georgian Post and Georgian Railways impeded the ability of independent unions to operate. GTUC also reported widespread instances of harassment in both the public and private sectors based on union affiliation, notably in the railway and postal services. For example, the Georgian Post Office does not have a union due to the employer`s antiunion activities. The Georgian Post Office has a so-called foundation supporting workers that was created to replace the union in the company, according to GTUC. In the Georgian Railway, a “yellow” union still existed, but during the year management of the company began cooperating with the GTUC-affiliated Railway Workers Trade Union and was not interfering actively in its activities.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government’s enforcement of the laws was not always effective. Forced labor is a criminal offense with penalties commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The low number of investigations into forced or compulsory labor, however, offset the effect of strong penalties.
The Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health, and Social Affairs through the Labor Inspectorate reported it found no cases of forced or compulsory labor as of November, although GTUC claimed this was because the Labor Inspectorate lacked enough inspectors to cover the country effectively. The Public Defender’s Office stated the number of inspectors remained a problem, as only 56 of 110 labor inspector positions had been filled as of June. The law permits the ministry’s inspection department to make unannounced visits to businesses suspected of employing forced labor or human trafficking. The Ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs and the International Organization for Migration provided training on forced labor and human trafficking for inspectors.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor such as employment in hazardous work, and forms of exploitation of children, including forced child labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The minimum legal age for employment is generally 16, although in exceptional cases, children may work with parental consent at 14. The minimum wage laws were not enforced to protect children working in the informal sector. Children younger than 18 may not engage in unhealthy, underground, or hazardous work; children who are 16 to 18 are also subject to reduced workhours and prohibited from working at night. Minors between the ages of 16 and 18 may not work more than 36 hours per week. Minors who are 14 or 15 may not work more than 24 hours per week. The law permits employment agreements with persons younger than 14 in sports, the arts, and cultural and advertising activities.
The Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health, and Social Affairs reported that it found one case of child labor law violations during the year and referred the case to the State Care Agency. The government effectively enforced the law, but some child labor persisted undetected. Experts reported minors were employed in the service, construction, agriculture, and tourism sectors. The penalties for violations of child labor laws were commensurate with those for other serious crimes.
According to Child Labor During the New Coronavirus Pandemic and Beyond, a report published during the year by the Public Defender’s Office, approximately 8,800 children were involved in hazardous labor, which equated to 64 percent of working children. In addition to hazardous work, there were reports of unhealthy and violent conditions (constant screaming, physical abuse); harmful work environment (dust, smoke, high temperature, cold, etc.); contact with hazardous substances or devices; and working for long periods of time in the workplace. An estimated 52 percent of children involved in child labor were between the ages of five and 13.
Child labor was widespread in cities, and 88 percent of children involved in it worked in an environment that was harmful to their health. In older age groups, children became increasingly involved in other industries. In most cases authorities did not consider this work as abusive or categorize it as child labor. In some ethnic-minority areas, family farm obligations interfered with school attendance, and school participation by ethnic minority children was especially low. Some families in rural Kvemo Kartli (an ethnic Azeri region) and Kakheti (where there was also a significant ethnic Azeri population) worked in distant pastures for six to nine months a year, so their children seldom attended school. Estimates of the number of children affected were not available.
Street begging remained the most visible form of child labor, especially in Tbilisi. In 2018 UNICEF reported that children of street families and unaccompanied children moved following the agricultural and tourist seasons, including to tourist sites along the Black Sea during the summer. Such children were vulnerable to violence and did not have access to either education or medical services beyond emergency care.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The labor code prohibits discrimination in employment due to race, skin color, language, ethnicity, or social status, nationality, origin, or position, place of residence, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, disability; religious, public, political or other affiliation, including affiliation with trade unions, political or other opinions, or other reasons. It does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on HIV or other communicable disease status or social origin. The law further stipulates that discrimination be considered “direct or indirect oppression of a person that aims to or causes the creation of a frightening, hostile, disgraceful, dishonorable, and insulting environment.”
The law requires that the principle of equal treatment should apply to labor and precontractual relations. In 2019 parliament amended the law to define sexual harassment as a form of discrimination and strengthen regulations against it. By law a person may report sexual harassment in a public space to police for investigation. Cases of sexual harassment in the workplace are submitted to the public defender for investigation.
The law prohibits all forms of discrimination in the employment process unless the unequal treatment serves to equalize the employment opportunities for job seekers and is a proportionate and necessary means of achieving that goal.
The labor inspectorate’s new mandate to conduct inspections covering all aspects of labor law took effect on January 1. The inspectorate, however, did not have enough trained labor inspectors. Due to lack of a fully staffed and functioning labor inspectorate, the government only sometimes effectively enforced these laws. Penalties, when enforced, were not commensurate with those provided by similar laws related to civil rights.
Discrimination in the workplace was widespread. LGBTQI+ activists said that discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation remained widespread and underreported. GTUC reported cases of discrimination based on gender and union affiliation. At job interviews women often were asked specific questions on marital status, family planning, and household responsibilities. Women were frequently paid less than men for the same work and were less likely to receive promotion opportunities. In addition, vacancy announcements often included age requirements as preconditions to apply for a particular position, despite laws that prohibit discriminatory wording in job announcements. As of August the Public Defender’s Office had received one complaint of discrimination, specific to age discrimination, which was under review.
While the law provides for equality in the labor market, NGOs and the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health, and Social Affairs agreed that discrimination against women in the workplace existed and was underreported. Although some observers noted continuing improvement in women’s access to the labor market, women were overrepresented in low-paying, low-skilled positions, regardless of their professional and academic qualifications.
According to the World Economic Forum, women and men had almost the same level of educational attainment, especially regarding to literacy, primary education, and secondary education. The estimated earned income for women continued to lag behind that for men.
There was some evidence of discrimination in employment based on disability. There were also reports of informal discrimination against members of Romani, Azeri, and Kurdish populations in the labor market.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage for both state- and private-sector employees was below the official subsistence income level. Employers did not apply the official minimum wage, however, since the lowest-paid jobs in the private sector were typically significantly higher than the minimum wage.
The law provides for a 40-hour workweek and a weekly 24-hour rest period unless otherwise determined by a labor contract. Overtime is defined as work by an adult employee in excess of the regular 40-hour workweek, based on an agreement between the parties. An executive order establishes essential services in which overtime pay may not be approved until employees work more than 48 hours a week. Pregnant women or women who have recently given birth may not be required to work overtime without their consent. There is no explicit rate for overtime; the law states overtime “be reimbursed at an increased rate of the normal hourly wage…defined by agreement between the parties.” A May court ruling, however, found in one case that a 125 percent rate qualified as meaningful overtime pay. The law does not explicitly prohibit excessive overtime.
The Labor Inspectorate, which is part of the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health, and Social Affairs, is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. The Labor Inspectorate has authority over all sectors of the economy and may make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar crimes, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance fully.
Occupational Safety and Health: According to labor rights groups, occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for the main industries and OSH experts actively identified unsafe conditions in additional to responding to complaints. Different inspectors within the Labor Inspectorate are responsible for covering OSH and other labor violations. During the year the inspectorate was responsible for reviewing and enforcing compliance with COVID-19 safety provisions, and most of its inspections were to enforce those regulations.
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected employment and labor relations. According to GTUC, pandemic restrictions had a significant economic impact on the tourism, retail, and transport sectors, and also affected the construction, real estate, leisure, and entertainment sectors, although the economic situation in the country improved significantly during the year.
Employer abuses of workers’ rights persisted, and it was difficult for workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations without jeopardizing their employment. Workers hired on fixed-term contracts frequently feared that calling employers’ attention to situations that endangered their health or safety would be cause for the employers not to renew their contracts. The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center reported that, considering the difficulty of finding a new job as well as a lack of adequate social protection mechanisms in the country, workers were reluctant to be vocal concerning improper and even hazardous working conditions due to fear they would lose their jobs. This situation was particularly acute in some industrial towns where the local population was dependent on a single business operation. The COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the situation, putting employees in precarious positions due to their social insecurity and inability to demand adequate working conditions.
Conditions for migrant workers were generally unregulated. While the government did not keep specific statistics on migrant laborers in the country, the Public Services Development Agency issued up to 5,000 residence permits annually to migrant workers.
According to GTUC, 33 workers died and 252 were injured in work-related accidents through the end of the year, compared with 39 deaths and 249 injuries in 2020. The mining and construction sectors remained especially dangerous, with reports of injuries, sleep deprivation, and unregulated work hours.
Informal Sector: More than 35 percent of nonagricultural workers worked in the informal sector. Labor laws do not cover workers performing work outside of “organized labor conditions,” as most informal employment arrangements do not include employment contracts and thus many informal workers were not protected by the law. NGOs reported informal-sector workers were vulnerable to exploitation. These workers also tended to be the most affected by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.