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Coalition for Equality echoes the alarming facts of violence against girls and early marriages

12.06.2019

 
The member nongovernmental organizations of the Coalition for Equality echo the grave case of rape and forced marriage of underage girl in Sagarejo municipality. We request the State to take systemic, effective and urgent steps to prevent forced marriages and violence against girls. It is noteworthy that in the course of recent days another astonishing fact of rape of an underage girl was also reported from Lagodekhi municipality. 

Factual circumstances about the case

On December 7, 2015, at night, several individuals kidnapped 14-years-old girl in Sagarejo municipality and took her to a farm located far from the village; there they locked her in the room together with the 24-years-old man. Regardless the resistance of the girl, the man bounded her to the bed and raped. Next morning, having returned home, the victim told everything to her parents and warned them she would kill herself if they make her marry the harasser. The parents applied to police for help. The Coalition member organization Human Rights Center defends the rights of the victim. 

The Sagarejo district police started investigation under the Article 140 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which refers to the sexual intercourse with the person who has not yet attained the age of 16. The victim described all details of the accident in the police and named all individuals who participated in the crime.

According to the investigation, the harasser hid and they could not arrest him. However, the victim, her family members and witnesses reported that all this period he was in the village. The court brought charge against the harasser and imposed imprisonment as compulsory measure in absentia.
 
It is noteworthy that the prosecutor’s office has not started prosecution against other people, who also participated in the crime, who were named by the victim. They still live free and unpunished in the village. 

After being raped, the victim stopped going to school for 2 years because, as she stated, she did not want to study in the environment, where everybody knew about her being raped. In 2017, the parents sent the girl to another school in the neighboring village. 

On April 4, 2019, the wanted defendant repeatedly kidnapped the victim. Currently, the girl lives in the house of the harasser. Reportedly, the criminal case was launched with regard to the second fact of kidnapping but the police arrested the harasser only on the second day after the information was published in media. Currently, the victim girl refrains to communicate police that can be caused by alleged oppression from the side of the harasser’s family members and her mistrust towards law enforcement bodies. 

Social service is involved in the process and has communication with the victim’s family. However, more active engagement of the psychologist is essential to assist the girl to overcome the stress. The social services shall also study why the victim does not want to communicate with law enforcement bodies, or whether she is under oppression. 

At the May 2, 2019 trial the prosecutor did not raise questions about the new circumstance provided by the defense lawyer – the notarized letter of the victim and her mother, which stated that they no longer complain about the defendant. In that moment, the underage victim and her legal representative were not at the trial. The prosecutor did not solicit repeated interrogation of the victim to determine whether the letter was written voluntarily or the defendant had exercised any form of oppression on the victim. 

Legal assessment of the case 

The mentioned case clearly demonstrated negligence and ineffective work of the law enforcement bodies to protect the girl from violence, forced early marriage and to ensure her physical, psychological and moral safety. The rape case of the girl was not properly investigated; the defendant was not timely arrested that resulted into repeated violence against the underage girl. 

In this regard, we would like to underline that the victim is a member of the ethnic minority community and the defense of the rights of the women in the ethnic minority inhabited regions is still a challenge. The law enforcement bodies and social service provider institutions demonstrate discriminative negligence towards them. Hard social and economic situation in these regions, low level of education, limited access to employment and individual development are structural causes of early marriage facts and requires systemic response and transformation from the State. Obviously, traditions of concrete community or shared collective values cannot be viewed as the causes of these challenges. 

The international law obliges the states to comprehensively fight against the violence against women and domestic violence that includes the obligation to prevent, investigate crime and punish perpetrator, as well as compensate the victims (Opuz v. Turkey). The UN Special Rapporteur on the Violence against Women states that “a State can be held complicit where it fails systematically to provide protection from private actors who deprive any person of his/her human rights.”
  
The Public Defender of Georgia also speaks about the weak policy of the State to combat violence against women in the ethnic minorities inhabited regions. According to the 2018 Report, “In the ethnic minority inhabited regions the problem of illegal restriction of freedom of the girls for the purpose of marriage is still unresolved. The case study revealed that when it is about ethnic minority community, no strict policy is applied against this crime. In the process of studying the concrete cases, victims often complain about the police, who drag out operative-investigative activities supposing that the families will reconcile and they will drop the case soon.”
Regardless the reforms commenced in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Prosecutor’s Office in relation with the fight against the gender based violence, it is evident that these reforms and related basic services are not accessible for and shared with all social groups that raises doubts about discriminative approach. 

Considering the abovementioned situation, we call on the Office of the Prosecutor General and the Ministry of Internal Affairs:
  • To take all necessary measures to defend the interests of the underage victim as most likely she is under psychological oppression and threat. It is essential to isolate her from the family of harasser;
  • The Prosecutor’s Office shall ensure adequate qualification of the case as the charges brought against the defendant so far are under the Article 140 of the Criminal Code of Georgia (sexual intercourse with an underage person), while we observe the signs of the crimes punishable under the Article 137 Part 3 – “d” (rape), Article 143 Part 3 – “d” (illegal restriction of freedom) and Article 1441 (torture) of the GCC. Immediately, the defendant shall be charged under these articles too. At the same time, all individuals, who participated in the crime, shall be punished;
  • The gender discrimination motive of the investigation shall be adequately identified in the case;
  • Current psycho-social state of the underage victim shall be determined with the participation of the social worker and psychologist to evaluate current and future risks, that may damage the health and/or life of the underage victim;
  • To immediately commence investigation over the facts of alleged violations and negligence of law enforcement officers towards this particular case.

It is essential that this case exhilarated intensive work of the law enforcement and social institutions in the ethnic minority inhabited regions as well as the revision of the state policy. The State shall implement real law enforcement, social and educational policy to prevent forced and early marriages of girls and more widely, the violence against women and to mitigate risks. 

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