Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, but criminal law does not specifically address spousal rape. Criminal cases of rape could generally be initiated only after a complaint by the victim. A first-time offender may be imprisoned for up to seven years, while a repeat offender or rapist with multiple victims may receive up to 10 years. If the victim is or becomes pregnant, contracts HIV/AIDS, or is subjected to extreme violence, the sentence may be increased to 15 years. If the victim in any of these cases is a minor, the sentence may be increased to 20 years. During the year authorities initiated investigations in 54 rape cases, the same number as in 2015.
Domestic and other violence against women remained a significant problem. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 16 women died during the year as a result of domestic violence. The Public Defender’s Office reported there were 20 investigations initiated between January and July into killings or attempted killings of women. Of these, 10 involved domestic or gender-based violence.
In cases that do not result in injury, penalties for domestic violence include 80 to 150 hours of community service or deprivation of liberty for up to one year. Repeated acts of domestic violence or acts of violence against a pregnant woman, a minor, or a person with disabilities or that take place in the presence of a minor or against two or more persons may be punished by 100 to 200 hours of community service and restriction or deprivation of liberty for one to three years.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported it opened 1,727 cases of domestic violence during the year, compared with 1,151 cases from January to September 2015 and 636 in 2014. The Supreme Court reported 981 domestic violence cases were adjudicated in 2016. The Chief Prosecutor’s Office reported initiating 1,380 domestic violence prosecutions in 2016. Despite increased public awareness, NGOs believed cases of domestic violence were underreported. According to the Public Defender’s Office, despite a number of domestic violence awareness campaigns, legislative and institutional safeguards, and the criminalization of domestic violence, many persons continued to reject intervention by “outsiders” into domestic violence and continued to prefer resolving it within a closed social circle such as the family. The Public Defender’s Office also attributed the reluctance of domestic violence victims to report abuse to concern they would not receive help and because they mistrusted police.
According to a special report on domestic violence by the Public Defender’s Office, the role of social workers remained critical but underresourced. In June the UN special rapporteur on violence against women noted social workers were not given sufficient resources to support domestic violence victims. The special rapporteur also highlighted the need for teachers, doctors, and social workers to have adequate training in domestic violence prevention.
Domestic violence laws mandate the provision of temporary protective measures, including shelter and restraining orders that prohibit an abuser from coming within 310 feet of the victim and from using common property, such as a residence or vehicle, for six months. A victim may request an unlimited number of extensions of a restraining order. The first violation of a restraining order results in an administrative fine, but a second offense is punishable under the criminal code. In September the NGO Article 42 of the Constitution reported that police in a number of cases failed to enforce restraining orders.
During the year authorities provided domestic violence training, including on the investigation of cases, to 92 law enforcement officers.
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 four of the country’s 10 regions had such facilities. The domestic violence hotline continued to function, but its operators did not speak most minority languages. All shelters adhered to the same general standardized regulations and provided the same services. The shelters included crisis centers that offered victims psychological, medical, and legal assistance. Shelters also provided high-quality primary care and safety services but were inadequate in terms of providing rehabilitation and help in finding long-term housing.
In 2015 the Public Defender’s Office reported the State Fund for the Protection and Assistance of Victims of Human Trafficking made several improvements to its shelters, including revising and extending their list of food products and adding a nurse in each unit. The Public Defender’s Office also noted, however, that shelters were unable to provide sufficient compensation to victims whose social allowances had been terminated and lacked the resources to assist victims who were drug users.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was not a widespread practice and generally prohibited by law. In November the Public Defender’s Office released a statement confirming instances of FGM/C on girls under the age of 18 in three villages in the eastern part of the country. The statement explained the practice was conducted in homes and that the local population was not aware of FGM/C risks and possible health complications. The Ministry of Internal Affairs started an investigation but found no evidence of a crime. Authorities formed a working group to address the problem.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Kidnapping women for marriage occurred in remote areas and ethnic minority communities but was very rare. Police rarely took action in these cases, because there was usually no way to distinguish whether the event was a kidnapping or an arranged elopement.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in the workplace was a problem. The law provides for gender equality in labor relations and gives a general definition of harassment, but it does not provide a legal sanction for such harassment.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men but was not always respected. Discrimination against women in employment was reported. The law provides for the establishment of a gender equality council, enhancement of women’s security, and strengthening of women’s political participation. It provides that the government should engage in gender-responsive planning and budgeting. The Public Defender’s Office monitored gender equality cases.
Three ministries designated a full-time officer to handle gender equality issues, while the remaining ones assigned gender equality matters as an additional duty to existing elements. While representation of women in leadership positions in local governments remained limited, women comprised the majority of staff employees of local councils, executive bodies, and mayor’s offices.
The Public Defender’s Office reported it received up to 10 complaints as of October regarding discrimination against women in employment in both the job selection process and the content of job criteria posted in vacancy announcements. The Public Defender’s Office issued three recommendations based on these reports, including two cases regarding a pregnancy and one regarding gender.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the most recent data from the Georgian National Statistics Office, in 2015 the gender ratio of children born in the country was 109 boys for every 100 girls. The skewing of the gender ratio was particularly acute for the birth of a woman’s second or third child, but neither the public nor the medical society considered gender-biased sex selection to be a serious problem. There were no known government actions to address the imbalance.
Birth Registration: By law citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory. It applies to children of stateless individuals. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 99 percent of births were registered before the child reached the age of five.
In 2015 UNHCR reported a widening documentation gap in Abkhazia, noting that fewer residents of Gali District held valid documents due to expiration and nonissuance of documentation by de facto authorities, and it reported that more than 400 returnee children born since 2013 had not been issued birth certificates because their parents lacked valid documents required for registration. In June UNHCR visited 29 villages in the eastern part of Abkhazia and identified four children without birth certificates.
Education: Children of noncitizens often lacked the documentation to register in school, impeding registration in some cases. 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. The Public Defender’s Office reported that violence, negligence and other forms of mistreatment were still acute in educational institutions.
In June parliament adopted a law on early and preschool education aimed at creating a stronger legal basis and national standards for inclusive treatment of all children through increased central government monitoring support to municipalities.
Child Abuse: There were some reports of child abuse, particularly of street children, although there was no societal pattern of such abuse. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as of August authorities opened investigations into three cases of rape, 144 cases of sexual intercourse with children under 16, two cases of sexual abuse involving violence, and three cases of the production or sale of child pornography. The ministry investigated 173 alleged cases of child abuse as of August. The Public Defender’s Office of Child’s Rights reported high rates of violence against children in various forms. The main problems facing authorities included an inability to establish whether acts of violence took place, a lack of professional psychologists working in social services, and insufficient cooperation among relevant institutions.
Authorities referred children who had suffered abuse to the relevant community and government services in coordination with stakeholders, including police, schools, and social service agencies.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both men and women is 18. Forced marriage of an individual under the age of 18 was punishable by two to four years’ imprisonment. As of September the Public Defender’s Office reported it was reviewing 11 instances of potential early marriage and that two investigations had been launched by the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of alleged forced marriage. In December 2015 the government abolished the exception allowing parents or guardians to authorize marriage at 16. Reports of child marriages continued throughout the year, although there were no official statistics. Child marriages reportedly occurred more frequently among certain ethnic and religious groups.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. Street children and children living in orphanages were reportedly particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
The minimum age of consensual sex is 16. The law classifies sexual intercourse with a juvenile as rape, provided the perpetrator is shown to be aware of the victim’s age. The penalty for violation is imprisonment of up to nine years; the government generally enforced the law. Other sexual crimes carry increased levels of punishment if the victim is a juvenile.
Displaced Children: Difficult economic conditions contributed to the problem of street children, although it was unclear how many were geographically displaced. The Public Defender’s Office reported a lack of information about street children and noted inadequate resources were devoted to them.
In July new legislative measures went into effect to mitigate street begging in Tbilisi. According to the Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs, mobile teams established contacts with 700 children working or living on the streets. As of September more than 400 of these children were provided with targeted services, including 40 who were enrolled in the education system, 42 who were transferred to the care of social services, 90 who were provided with personal documentation, and up to 42 who were enrolled in social programs.
In April the UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography emphasized that, despite the government efforts to protect children from abuse, violence, and exploitation, significant problems remained for children living and working on the streets. The special rapporteur noted the lack of long-term assistance for children who leave state-run shelters when they turn 18 and criticized the government’s methods of identifying and referring homeless children to social services, including temporary shelters.
The government had not finished replacing large-scale orphanages with smaller foster-parenting arrangements. According to UNICEF, during the year 320 children were housed in 47 small-group homes and 1,354 children were placed in different forms of foster care. 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.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Observers estimated the Jewish community to be no more than 6,000 persons. There were no confirmed reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, as well as 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 was not effective in enforcing the provisions. The Public Defender’s Office reported persons with disabilities continued to encounter barriers to participating in public life as full-fledged members of society. Many families with children with disabilities considered themselves stigmatized and kept their children out of public view. Discrimination in employment was also a problem.
The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities and stipulates fines for noncompliance. Very few public facilities or buildings were accessible, although the building of the Ministries of Internal Affairs, Justice, and Education, and the Public Defender’s Office complied with the law. Public and private transportation generally did not accommodate persons with disabilities, but the Tbilisi mayor’s office introduced new buses equipped with disability access. Sidewalk and street-crossing accessibility was poor.
The Public Defender’s Office reported the infrastructure of preschool institutions failed to accommodate the needs of children with disabilities. Only a limited number of preschools among the 165 monitored by the Public Defender’s Office in Tbilisi were accessible to children with disabilities.
In January the Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs, the Social Services Agency, and UNICEF signed a memorandum on creating alternative, smaller, family-like institutions that provide services for children in need of care and with more-significant disabilities. As of December, however, there was no unified standard regulating accessibility of preschools.
According to UNICEF, the government lagged in its plan for deinstitutionalizing the two remaining state-run institutions caring for children with disabilities in Tbilisi and Kojori and shifting to small-scale, family-type alternative services that NGOs and UNICEF believed would result in more efficient, affordable, and higher-quality care. While some children with disabilities in state care were deinstitutionalized, the number in unregulated orphanages run by the Georgian Orthodox Church was unknown.
The Public Defender’s Office reported that, despite state programs on childcare and social rehabilitation, many persons with disabilities, especially those living outside of Tbilisi, lacked information regarding access to social, medical, and other programs. The universal health-care program did not cover all needs for such persons, particularly with regard to provision of medication. The Public Defender’s Office stated that inclusive education remained a major challenge. Despite the introduction of inclusive education in professional and general educational institutions, preschool and higher education were not part of the system.
The Public Defender’s Office reported various problems remained for children with disabilities living in mountainous regions, in particular the lack of access to services and medicine provided free of charge under universal health care. In January a law on the development of mountainous regions entered into force that grants persons who receive government assistance an additional 20 percent supplement. The Public Defender’s Office reported that local councils focused on addressing disability-related problems were established in 22 municipalities as part of the government’s 2014-16 Action Plan on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities but that the councils’ effectiveness remained to be seen.
The Public Defender’s Office and NGOs reported some instances of discrimination against minority communities. In its 2015 annual report, the Public Defender’s Office noted that full-fledged protection of ethnic minorities remained a problem. Minority rights NGOs reported that victims rarely registered claims due to a lack of knowledge about their rights and criticized authorities for not raising greater awareness in minority communities.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were no reports of crimes committed on the basis of race, nationality, or ethnicity during the year. It also reported no such crimes in 2015. In contrast, a March report by the European Council against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) on the country for the five-year period through mid-June 2015 stated that physical attacks against ethnic and religious minorities “occur with worrying frequency.”
Although NGOs did not observe major patterns of violence against national, racial, or ethnic minorities during the year, numerous cases of hate speech targeting minority groups were reported in print media and on television. The NGO Media Development Foundation reported several dozen instances of xenophobic statements in media, mostly of an “Islamophobic” and “Turkophobic” nature. The March ECRI report noted “hate speech against ethnic and religious minorities continues to be a widespread problem in Georgia and these groups are still often viewed mainly through a security lens.”
Weak Georgian-language skills was the main impediment to integration for members of the country’s ethnic minorities, although political, civic, economic, and cultural obstacles to integration also remained. Ethnic Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Abkhaz, Ossetians, and Russians usually communicated in their native languages or Russian in the areas where they were the dominant groups. The law provides that citizens have the right to be public servants, provided they have “adequate command of the official language.” Some minorities asserted that this law excluded them from participating in government.
The government continued its “4+1” program for ethnic minorities to study the Georgian language for a 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. Ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani communities each received 5 percent of the slots, while Ossetian and Abkhazian communities received 1 percent each.
In December the Public Defender’s Office noted the involvement of ethnic minorities in civic and political life remained a serious challenge. As a result of the redistricting of electoral districts for the October elections, the majoritarian districts of Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda-Samtskhe-Javakheti (towns with compact ethnic-Armenian population) were combined, diminishing the number of majoritarian members of parliament from the area.
The law permits the repatriation of Muslim Meskhetians, a national minority group deported in 1944. According to the Ministry for Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Refugees, and Accommodations, 1,533 of more than 5,840 applications were approved by August. Of this number, 494 applicants received “conditional citizenship,” which, according to a presidential decree, will grant them “full Georgian citizenship” upon renouncing their current citizenship. In August the government extended the deadline for applicants to submit official documentation proving their abandonment of foreign citizenship from two to five years.
Ethnic Georgians living in the Gali District of Abkhazia faced problems receiving an education in the Georgian language. According to the EUMM in Georgia, some Gali students seeking to attend school in government-administered territory faced difficulties at the start of the school year crossing the administrative boundary to attend school. In September 2015 de facto authorities shifted the language of instruction for students in grades one through four in Lower Gali to Russian. According to the Abkhaz government-in-exile, in the Tkvarcheli and Ochamchire zones, Russian was the only instructional language and, since the 2008 conflict, the de facto government had prohibited Georgian language instruction. Teachers who did not speak Russian had to memorize lessons in Russian, although some continued to instruct students informally in Georgian. Local communities had either to pay for teachers, arrange for teachers to cross from undisputed government territory to teach, or send their children across the administrative boundary for Georgian-language lessons. To take university entrance exams, graduates had to cross the administrative boundary line.
Georgian language instruction was being steadily replaced by Russian in Gali schools by order of the de facto authorities. The Public Defender’s Office noted that in 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.
According to the Public Defender’s Office, the situation in the occupied Akhalgori District of South Ossetia was also unchanged. Of the 11 schools in the district, six were Georgian and five were Russian.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The constitution provides for fundamental equality before the law, and a variety of laws or regulations contain antidiscrimination provisions. The criminal code makes racial, religious, sexual orientation, and other bias motives of an offender an aggravating factor for all crimes. According to NGOs, the government rarely enforced the law, and law enforcement authorities lacked robust training on hate crimes.
Societal prejudices against LGBTI individuals remained strong. NGOs reported that most LGBTI persons concealed their sexual orientation for fear of harassment, and few organizations worked openly because of extensive societal stigma. Victims of discrimination and violence also were reluctant to report incidents to police due to fear of disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity to family members and of homophobic reactions by police. The Women’s Initiatives Supportive Group (WISG) reported the LGBTI community lacked trust in police.
According to NGOs, political controversy during the year over amending the constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman pushed LGBTI issues to the forefront, leading to further stigmatization of LGBTI individuals and more frequent attacks against members of the community. As of October WISG reported there had been up to 20 attacks on transgender persons and concluded there was a trend of increased violence. In one example, in October a transgender woman was attacked in Tbilisi and died from her injuries in the hospital in November. A suspect was detained on a charge of murder. NGOs and the Public Defender’s Office called on the government to investigate the attack as a potential hate crime. An investigation into the attack continued as of December.
LGBTI organizations were not able to hold a rally on May 17 to mark the International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO) because the Ministry of Internal Affairs allegedly could not guarantee a safe environment on Rustaveli Street or Freedom Square. NGOs noted that the Georgian Orthodox Church had already reserved the area for a procession to mark Family Day. Activists reportedly were offered a different location to hold a rally but turned it down.
On the morning of May 18, law enforcement officers detained a group of 10 LGBTI activists for vandalizing various locations of downtown Tbilisi with graffiti, including a wall of the administrative headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which condemned same-sex sexual activity. The activists fled the scene and subsequently claimed the law enforcement officers who detained them were not in uniform, did not identify themselves, and some used homophobic language against them. The activists were charged with resisting arrest and painting graffiti without permission. In June a judge found the 10 activists innocent of resisting arrest but fined some for graffiti.
LGBTI organizations also reported that on May 18, law enforcement officers arrested two additional LGBTI activists for narcotics use. The activists stated that police ordered them to take drug tests. When they complied and were taken to police precincts for testing, they were charged with resisting arrest and taken to court. Both activists tested free of narcotics, and a judge acquitted them of resisting arrest.
LGBTI organizations documented cases of anti-LGBTI violence throughout the year, including three of domestic violence due to homophobic bias. In May NGOs reported documenting approximately 10 cases of physical and verbal abuse around the time of the May 17-18 incidents.
According to LGBTI organizations, the Ministry of Internal Affairs appealed a December 2015 Tbilisi City Court ruling that the ministry did not ensure the safety of activists in the 2013 IDAHO rally. The appeals court had not issued its ruling as of December.
According to the LGBTI community, the law provides for gender recognition for transgender persons. NGOs reported, however, that the Civil Registry Office and Service Development Agency applied a discriminatory standard that requires applicants to present proof of gender reassignment surgery to change gender status in their documents. LGBTI rights NGOs reported that LGBTI community members were not able to apply to change their gender identity status due to a lack of procedural knowledge. WISG also reported that one court ruled against a request to overturn the requirement for gender reassignment surgery as a prerequisite for changing gender status and that two gender recognition cases were pending with the Supreme Court.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS were major barriers to HIV/AIDS prevention and service utilization. Negative social attitudes and low public awareness also remained obstacles. 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.