CRC ELECTIONS: Nino Makashvili (Georgia)

Nino Makhashvili, 50, from Georgia, is the Director of the Foundation Global Initiative on Psychiatry – Tbilisi.

She has worked to provide psycho-social care to internally displaced and refugee children in Georgia and set up the first centre for domestic violence survivors in the country, as well as a centre for victims of torture. In 2002 she co-wrote a book on children's rights for schools which is still used by teachers across Georgia.

Click here to read Nino's full CV.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience in children's rights?
My second professional life started in 1995. Before that I was a dissatisfied psychiatrist! In 1995, I began supporting war-affected people, including children, with psycho-social care after the internal conflict in Georgia related to South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

After a few years, my colleagues and I founded the centre for torture victims where we provided medical, psychological, social and legal support to victims. We worked mainly with Georgian IDPs, Chechen refugees and ex-prisoners, including children who had experienced secondary trauma and the children of soldiers who had disappeared. We were also dealing with cases of domestic violence and provided support to children in conflict with the law. We were also heavily involved in lobbying for the Optional Protocol against Torture and it is a pleasure to see that now the instrument works - I am a member of the national preventive mechanism.

We got a lot of criticism at first for our work on child abuse; people said that we were copying Western concepts and models of intervention and that it was not possible for children in Georgia to be abused at home. We dealt with this denial by defining terms relating to violence against children in our own language, referring to specific cases, and going on a talk show to discuss particular cases, e.g. abuse of a girl by her father. This provided some context for us to talk more openly about physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse. These talks have resulted in increasing referrals to our service. Gradually the problem was accepted. We established some other services and took part in legislative reform and people began to understand more about child abuse and bullying. The Ministry of Education for example called us some time ago to see if we could set up a crisis intervention centre to deal with child abuse in schools.

After some time, I began feeling like I needed more knowledge to enable me to take part in structural reforms. In my region, many of us are self-educated; we have not received good education in relevant subjects. I joined the Global Initiative on Psychiatry (GIP) - Tbilisi to widen the scope of my experience. GIT-T operates in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and some Central Asian countries. We work to advance reforms in mental health care in a number of ways:

- By initiating and supporting new projects and activities and providing services; in Tbilisi for example, we have just opened a pilot centre for juvenile delinquents to support children at high risk of offending and their families.

- Providing training and capacity building activities to a wide range of professionals and members if civil society; researching, publishing manuals and books, etc.

- We also help monitor and develop policy and legislation on mental health; for example, for the past two years I have been involved in juvenile justice reforms.

Monitoring human rights practices in children's facilities provides us with the data we need to lobby for changes. I remember going before the parliament and sharing this data along with descriptions and photos of the conditions of juvenile detention centres some years ago. Some members of parliament left the building out of sheer emotion!

Rights-based evidence from monitoring helps us in our advocacy work with the State. For instance, we have investigated the impact of funding on abusive practices. Hospitals for people with mental disabilities often did not discharge people because they were getting money for occupied beds. We have successfully advocated for changing the model of funding; now a lot of people are being discharged from institutions. We are working to replace these old-style institutions is to be replaced with community based services.

I believe human rights are the skeleton for change. You cannot ensure effective care if there is no respect for human rights. I am amazed that this is not a prominent slogan in our field.

Which issue in children's rights do you think needs more attention?
I think mental health is too narrowly understood. People think it is all about psychiatry, but it is much wider than that; it includes things like ensuring a healthy and happy environment in schools and in families. I was very happy last time Georgia reported to the UN Committee because the Committee issued a paragraph commenting on the lack of proper children and adolescent mental health care in the country for the first time.

The rights of children in prison have also been neglected. The trauma these children experience has been hidden and few programmes offer a preventive element – they focus more on punishment. At present I am involved in assessing the mental health needs of children in detention, but when I search for what others have said on the subject, I have found very little.

Why do you want to serve on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child?
One of my motivations is to learn from the experiences of other countries and from other members of the Committee. I also think it will be a good thing for my country and region and give me the opportunity to influence children's rights here. Maybe this is naïve, but I hope it will make these countries and especially Georgia more responsible in implementing the Committee's recommendations!

What do you think you can contribute to the Committee's work?
My colleague and friend Dainius Puras, who is also a psychiatrist and is already a member of the Committee, has been able to give much more prominence to children's mental health issues in the Committee's recommendations to States. I think I can add to this work and that together we can bring more attention to this neglected area.

What is your vision for the UN Committee?
This summer my colleagues and I participated in a country consultation to help draft a General Comment for Article 19 of the CRC which relates to the protection of children from abuse and neglect. This process was very positive because we have a lot of direct experience in this area. I think the Committee can do more to promote NGOs' contributions and use them more effectively as a tool both for interpreting articles of the Convention and for monitoring States' implementation of the Concluding Observations.

What is the best achievement of your career?
My biggest achievement is the pleasure of having different circles of colleagues and those we work for around me. This is something that people often under-estimate, but for me the meaning of life is to work with and for people with mutual esteem and enjoy it.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Committee?
I think it is too formal. I know it is a UN body and that is the way the organisation works, but it can be quite impenetrable; I would certainly like to see the language made more accessible.

If you were not working in children's rights, what would you be doing?
I have never regretted my choice, but sometimes I think I would like to lead a calmer life – spending more time in the library and writing books, perhaps. Sometimes in my work I get disheartened like anyone, but then you realise that you are adding flavour to important work that is being done.

Sum up children's rights in one word
Respect. For me, children's rights is about respect of grown-ups towards children and respect between human beings generally: respect for the unique qualities of each person.



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