Below Tbilisi’s Rose Revolution Square and its shiny Radisson-Blu Hotel lies a crumbling, urine-dappled, underground labyrinth with bunker-like hideaways blaring Turkish and Middle Eastern dance music. Some allegedly are not just venues for drinks and stripteases. For underage girls who have spent most of their lives on the streets, nightclubs like these signal an opportunity to work as prostitutes, child-welfare workers claim. It’s a problem Georgia is only starting to address.
A lack of data means that nobody knows how many children are sexually exploited in this South-Caucasus country of 4.49 million. Yet child-welfare professionals maintain it is part of a much larger problem of impoverishment that drives children to the streets to escape a deplorable home life.
A 2008 study by Save the Children calculated that a maximum of 1,500 children live on the streets of Georgia’s four major cities (Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Rustavi), although World Vision, an international humanitarian organization, estimates the current number at closer to 2,500.
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Paul Rimple is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi. Justyna Mielnikiewicz is a freelance photojournalist also based in Tbilisi.