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Georgian government urged to crack down on forced marriages after ‘16-year-old rape victim kidnapped again’

13 June 2019

Human rights groups have called on the Georgian government to strengthen measures against forced and early marriages after a girl who was raped when she was 14 years old was kidnapped again two years later by her alleged rapist.

The Equality Coalition, a group of prominent Georgian rights groups, said in a statement that the 14-year-old girl was kidnapped by several people and then raped by a 24-year-old man in December 2015 in Sagarejo Municipality, in Georgia’s eastern Kakheti Region.

The girl was taken to a farm and locked in a room with the man, the statement said.

[Read more about early marriages in Georgia on OC Media: Georgia’s early marriages: destinies blackened in white dresses]

‘Despite her resistance, the older man tied her to the bed and raped her. The following day, upon returning home, the girl told everything to her parents and warned that if pressured to marry him, she would kill herself’, the groups said, adding that the parents then appealed to the police.

An investigation was launched after the victim was questioned but the alleged perpetrator was not found. However, the family of the girl and other witnesses claimed that he remained in the village the entire time, according to the statement.

The man was charged and ordered an arrest warrant was issued, the statement said, however, other individuals identified by the girl as participating in the crime were not arrested.

For the following two years, the girl did not attend school as she ‘didn’t want to attend classes where everybody knew she had been raped. In 2017 she was admitted to a school in the neighbouring village’, the groups said.

On 4 May 2019, the girl was again kidnapped by her alleged rapist, who was still wanted by police.

‘Currently the girl lives in the house of the kidnapper, who was arrested only after the story was covered by the media. For now, the girl is abstaining from communicating with police, which can be explained by alleged pressure from the rapist’s family and her mistrust towards law enforcement officials’, the human rights groups said.

A ‘flawed investigation’

The groups questioned the effectiveness of the investigation as they said investigators failed to examine new evidence provided by the defendant’s lawyer, a letter in which the victim and her mother say that they neither have nor will they have any complaints against the defendant in the future.

They suggested that the victim could have been pressured to sign the letter and that investigators did not ask to question the girl again.

The groups said that negligence during the investigation ‘resulted in yet another violent act against the girl’.

‘In this case, it’s important to note that the victim is from an ethnic minority, because in the regions, especially the ones where ethnic minorities reside, defending women’s rights is especially challenging. Law enforcement officials and social service providers show discriminating negligence’, they said. Harsh social and economic conditions, poor education, and low employment opportunities were the key factors in early marriages, they said, adding that it required a systematic approach from the government.

They urged investigators include ‘rape’ and ‘illegal restriction of freedom’ to the charges against the defendant, in addition to ‘sexual contact with a juvenile’.

‘informal marriages still prevail’

Another case of child rape made headlines in June after a 16-year-old girl gave birth ‘without knowing she was pregnant’. The girl said she had been raped twice by the 40-year-old father of a friend. The man denied the accusations but on 10 June, the police said that DNA tests had confirmed he was the biological father of the child.

The girl’s family claimed that the defendant’s family had approached them and offered that his 14-year-old son could marry the victim.

According to the Georgian Public Defender’s 2018 report, despite marriage to anyone under the age of 18 is prohibited, informal marriages still prevail.

In  2018, 715 girls under the age of 18 were registered as mothers compared to 23 boys under 18.

The Public Defender recommended measures against early marriages including educational campaigns and the introduction of sex education in schools.

The report also highlighted the specific nature of early marriages in regions resided in by ethnic minorities. It said that the rection the law enforcement agencies was weak when it came to early marriages in ethnic minority communities.

‘Certain cases show that dissatisfaction towards law enforcement officials prevail because the investigation process is prolonged in the hope that two families will settle the issue and the problem will be solved. The cases studied by the Public Defender reveal that some girls leave school in fear of being kidnapped’, said the report.

Before 2015, it was legal to marry at 16 in Georgia with parental approval.

The law banning registration of marriages for anyone under the age of 18, regardless of parental consent, was enacted only in January 2017.