Institutionalized Girl Wins Strasbourg Case Against Bulgaria

Another ruling against Bulgaria highlights the problems in the system of juvenile justice and the lack of children's protection in general.
The applicant, Darina (not a real name), was born in 1999 in Pleven. She grew up in a dysfunctional family. On August 2, 2012, she was placed in a "center for children in crisis."

One year later, the local committee for combatting anti-social behavior by young people asked the court to order that the applicant be placed in an educational center, in particular to protect her from possible sexual exploitation.

The court refused the request on the grounds that placement in an educational center was liable to have a negative impact on the young girl’s psychological and social development, given the unfavorable environment offered by that type of institution.

Suicide attempt

A month after this decision, the local committee again requested an order for Darina to be placed in an educational center on the grounds that she kept running away, had an unstable family background and frequently met with people who encouraged her to engage in immoral conduct and to provide "sexual services."

This time the court ordered that Darina should be placed in an educational center despite her desire not to go there. A few days before the move, Darina attempted suicide.

After a two-day stay in a hospital, she was sent to the boarding school in the village Podem. The people who solicited her for prostitution were not punished.

Reading her mail

In 2014, Darina went to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and was represented pro bono by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC).

Darina argued that her placement in an educational center had been in violation of Article 5.1 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Moreover, she argued that it had been impossible to have that measure reviewed properly by a court, which violated Article 5.4 (right to have the lawfulness of detention examined speedily).

She also complained that the monitoring of correspondence and telephone conversations in the institution in question had infringed Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the Convention.

The ECtHR held that Darina's right under Article 5.4 was violated, as she not had the benefit of a regular and automatic judicial review of the lawfulness of her detention. According to Bulgarian legislation, there is no periodic judicial review, and children in boarding schools and their parents have no right to request a review of the educational measure.

The court also considered that the automatic monitoring of the correspondence of minors placed in the Podem center, and the blanket monitoring of Darina's telephone calls with family members, human rights organizations, etc., is not based on an individual risk assessment and constitutes a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.

The English press release is available here.