The Invisible Parents
By Ketevan Ghvedashvili, Advocacy Manager, Human Rights Development Fund
Being a parent is already a huge responsibility but it is doubly complicated when you have to cope with difficulties alone, without help. Often, such parents become targets of negativity from society.
Nor is the State very generous towards single parents. The only positive step the State took with regards to single parents was applying the definition of the status of single parent in the law in 2014. However, on the one hand, the State acknowledges that these people have to bring up their children alone, but on the other hand did nothing to set any benefits for them.
Nowadays, single parents get assistance only based on the kind will of local self-governments, though not in every municipality. Moreover, benefits are granted only to single mothers while single fathers tend to become victims of discrimination. Further, women are unable to get benefits without pre-conditions – they should have the status of socially indigent person.
Non-governmental organization Human Rights Development Fund, which implements a project to advocate for the rights of single mothers, surveyed the budgets of 25 municipalities in the regions of Shida Kartli, Kakheti, Imereti, and in Tbilisi. They found that only 13 municipalities envisage funds for the assistance of single parents in their budgets, but that 10 of them assist only single mothers. HRDF representatives said they had already recommended all municipal councils to amend the discriminative norm; and to date, Khoni and Signagi municipal councils have fulfilled the recommendations.
Yet, it is not just the problem of local self-governments. The only benefits single parents get under the law is also discriminative: single mothers whose annual income is less than 3,000 GEL, do not pay income tax. Fathers cannot enjoy the same. HRDF representatives said they have already recommended the Ministry of Finances amend the law.
If a single parent wants to get social benefits from the State, he/she must first take the status of socially indigent person. However, here we face another obstacle: in accordance with the Law of Georgia on the State Pension, a person cannot take two or more benefits simultaneously. Consequently, if the government fixes social benefits for a single parent, she/he will lose their socially indigent person benefits, and vice versa.
“When we meet single mothers in the regions and Tbilisi, they first inquire what benefits they can get from the status. The majority wants to tackle their primary problems and request legislative guarantees, social benefits and material assistance. Some also have health problems and need medical assistance,” HRDF representative Salome Mezurnishvili said.
However, the problems experienced by single parents do not end there. It is a miscarriage of the law that only certain categories of people can take the status. However, people who got divorced or became widowed are deprived of the right to have the status of single parents, though they also bring up children alone. They can get neither alimony nor benefits for the lost breadwinners in an amount sufficient to support the family.
“Both categories of people should get the status: divorced people and those who have children outside of marriage,” said Eka Skhiladz,e Deputy Public Defender of Georgia, at a discussion organized by HRDF. “However, it should be taken into account that the second category is doubly vulnerable because they are often isolated from families and society”.
“For some reason, we narrow the definition and view it only in relation to the social benefits,” Skhiladze added. “Nowhere else does the status mean only financial support. Often, it is enough for the women if the State acknowledges them as single mothers and creates legislative guarantees. So, the benefits for single parents should be determined based on the social welfare of each parent; maybe, in some instances, it will not mean financial support at all”.
Single fathers also face problems in acquiring the status. While on the one hand, the State gave them the right to take the status, it is only in compliance with the same criteria as set for mothers. The Deputy Ombudsman says this particular provision in the law excludes the notion of single fathers at all, because it is impossible that a mother’s name not be written on the birth certificate of a child. So, the father is restricted in taking the status of single parent. Ms. Skhiladze said the statistics prove the same: 1417 persons received the status since the law went in force and none of them were fathers.
Nino Andriashvili, lawyer at HRDF, spoke about the miscarriage in the law, explaining that the organization has a beneficiary who cannot take the status because of the aforementioned loopholes in the law.
“We have a beneficiary who was abandoned by his wife and now brings up his two underage sons alone. He has done so for six years and says the mother does not call the sons, let alone help them. However, as the name of the mother is written on the birth certificates, the man cannot take the status of a single father,” says Andriashvili, adding that the recording of a second parent on the birth certificate should not prevent a single parent from taking single parent status.
She went on to recall a case of another beneficiary which saw a mother appealing at court for single parent status. She had obtained the identity of her child’s father based on a DNA test in order to respond to the negative attitudes she was experiencing from society. After the expertise conclusion, the information about the father was recorded on the birth certificate. For that reason, she cannot take the status of single mother even though the child’s father does not take responsibility for the care of his child. The State has no effective mechanism to enforce court judgments about alimonies.
In February 2017, a special group was established in Parliament to work on the issues of single parents. Deputy Ombudsman Skhiladze hopes the group will draft legislative amendments which will widen the circle of potential single parents and fix benefits for them.
The State needs to be aware that if these people are strengthened today, tomorrow the State will no longer need to pay benefits to them. It is within the interests of the State to take care of single parents. It is also important to remember that with the strengthening of the parent, we assist the child, defending his/her best interests; surely the biggest priority for any state.