A report by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) establishes that children in Bulgaria are often unlawfully or arbitrarily deprived of liberty for long periods of time. This is a serious violation of international human rights law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, according to which deprivation of liberty should be a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.
The report (in Bulgarian) also found that children deprived of liberty are exposed to increased risks of abuse, violence, acute social discrimination and denial of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
The report is the result of two years of work and is part of the large-scale project "Children Deprived of Liberty in Central and Eastern Europe: Between Legacy and Reform." Five organizations from Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Poland took part in the project. The report presents a systematic human rights overview of the situation in closed institutions where children are deprived of liberty.
"The main conclusion of the study is that children are often unlawfully or arbitrarily deprived of liberty, without the principles of proportionality and necessity of the deprivation of liberty being applied, and instead of a timely judicial penalty. For example, the law on combating delinquency of minors (JDA) does not clearly define what constitutes an anti-social behavior and this often leads to the illegal deprivation of liberty," said Krassimir Kanev, chairman of BHC.
During the visits to institutions for children in Bulgaria, BHC found other serious problems as well:
- There is a frightful record of violence and abuse against children in detention. "Children are reluctant to report cases of ill-treatment because of a fear of reprisals and a lack of faith that the system will be effective," said Zhenya Ivanova, a researcher in BHC's "Monitoring and Research" program.
- Children from vulnerable groups – ethnic minorities (Roma), poor children, and children with special needs – are overrepresented in closed institutions.
- Girls recognized as victims of sexual violence and exploitation are being placed in institutions instead of being provided with specialized care and support.
- Children deprived of liberty are sometimes placed in unacceptable material conditions (with no access to or inadequate ventilation, lighting, heating and hot water facilities, sanitary facilities and others). These institutions are not suitable for children with disabilities.
- Some of the institutions for children do not provide any access to education.
- Children have limited contact with their families, as visits and vacations are rare. The quality of communications is further hindered by the lack of privacy for correspondence, telephone communication or received parcels.
- Children having problems with the law are not formally considered to be children at risk by the Child Protection Act, although they are often victims of violence or abuse and are more likely to drop out of school. The principle of the child’s best interest is not applied and there’s no social work to address the root causes of their behavior.
- Children are placed in social care institutions without consideration of their health status and the potential of the institution to provide for adequate medical and psychological care.
- While the Roadmap for the Implementation of the State Policy Concept for Juvenile Justice Reform mentions juvenile justice institutions such as socio-pedagogical boarding schools and correctional boarding schools, it does not include reform of penitentiary institutions. Thus, the approach enshrined in the roadmap is not integral and overarching, but rather piecemeal.