The Committee on the Rights of the Child issued the Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Bulgaria, adopted at its seventy-second session (17 May-3 June 2016).
1. The Committee considered the combined third, fourth and fifth periodic reports of Bulgaria (CRC/C/BGR/3-5) at its 2123rd and 2124th meetings (see CRC/C/SR.2123 and 2124), held on 30 May 2016, and adopted the following concluding observations at its 2132nd meeting (see CRC/C/SR.2132), held on 3 June 2016.
2. The Committee welcomes the submission of the combined Third to Fifth periodic reports of the State party and the written replies to the list of issues (CRC/C/BGR/Q/3-5) which allowed for a better understanding of the situation of children’s rights in the State party. The Committee expresses appreciation for the constructive dialogue held with the high-level and multisectoral delegation of the State party.
II. Follow-up measures undertaken and progress achieved by the State party
3. The Committee welcomes the progress achieved by the State party in various areas including the ratification of or accession to international and regional instruments as well as the adoption of a number of new Acts and institutional and policy measures related to children’s rights since its last review, in particular the National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria for Roma Integration 2012-2020.
4. The Committee notes as positive the agreement by the State party to host the visits undertaken by the Independent Expert on Minority Issues in 2011.
III. Main areas of concern and recommendations
A. General measures of implementation (arts. 4, 42 and 44, para. 6, of the Convention)
5. The Committee recommends that the State party take all necessary measures necessary to address its previous recommendations of 2008 (CRC/C/BGR/CO/2) which have not been implemented or have been insufficiently implemented.
6. While the Committee welcomes the progress made by the State party in harmonizing its domestic legislation with the principles of the Convention through the adoption of a new Family Code in 2009 (and amendments to the Child Protection Act, Family Allowance Act and Social Assistance Act), it remains concerned at the lack of consistency between other key child related legislation, in particular the Persons and Family Act, and the Child Protection Act. Concern is also expressed at gaps in implementation as a result of vague interpretation of laws due to the insufficient capacity and awareness of child rights on the part of the judiciary.
7. The Committee recalls its recommendation of 2008 and encourages the State party to continue harmonizing its legislation with the principles and provisions of the Convention. In particular the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Take measures to ensure that provisions outlined in other relevant legislation are harmonized with the Child Protection Act;
(b) Introduce a child rights impact assessment procedure for all new legislation adopted at the national level;
(c) Offer continuous capacity-building in international human rights law for judges, prosecutors and lawyers in line with recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers (A/HRC/20/19/Add.2, para. 105), placing particular focus on the Convention.
Comprehensive policy and strategy
8. The Committee notes with appreciation the introduction of a National Strategy for Children (2008 – 2018) as a means of improving coordination and implementation of the Convention. However, it is concerned that progress has not occurred in all envisaged areas as reflected in the external evaluation of said Strategy conducted in 2011. Of particular concern is the lack of coordination among individual sectoral policies, and the disproportionate focus on children at risk. The Committee also notes with regret that the proposed Child Act, which provides for the establishment of a Commission on the Rights of the Child, was not adopted due to a lack of public support.
9. The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Consider the recommendations outlined in the independent review and amend the Strategy as appropriate to ensure that it is as comprehensive as possible encompassing all areas covered by the Convention, and covers all children;
(b) Ensure that the Strategy is supported with the appropriate elements for its application, including sufficient human, technical and financial resources;
(c) Ensure consultations with all relevant stakeholders, including children, to further develop the Strategy and continue to regularly assess the effectiveness of its implementation;
(d) Develop an awareness raising campaign to promote the benefits of adopting a Children’s Commission.
10. The Committee recommends that the State party establish an institutional mechanism at the inter-ministerial level with a clear mandate and sufficient authority to coordinate all activities related to the implementation of the Convention at cross-sectoral, national, regional and local levels. The State party should ensure that said coordinating mechanism is provided with the necessary human, technical and financial resources for its effective operation.
Allocation of resources
11. The Committee is concerned that the State party’s budgeting process fails to stipulate budget allocations for children in the relevant sectors and agencies, including indicators and tracking systems at all levels, as well as targeted budget allocations for children in marginalized and vulnerable situations, such as Roma children, children with disabilities, migrant children and children of refugees and asylum seekers. The Committee is further concerned that Bulgaria continues to have the lowest rate of GDP allocated to public education in the European Union.
12. In light of its day of general discussion in 2007 on “Resources for the rights of the child – responsibility of States”, the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Establish a budgeting process which includes a child rights perspective and specifies clear allocations to children in the relevant sectors and agencies, including specific indicators and a tracking system;
(b) Establish mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the adequacy, efficacy and equitability of the distribution of resources allocated to the implementation of the Convention;
(c) Ensure transparent and participatory budgeting through public dialogue, especially with children, and for proper accountability of the authorities, including at the local level;
(d) Conduct a comprehensive assessment of the budget needs of children and allocate adequate budgetary resources, in accordance with article 4 of the Convention, for the implementation of children’s rights, increase the budget allocated to social sectors and address disparities on the basis of indicators related to children’s rights, and in particular increase substantially the allocations in the areas of education and social assistance to adequate levels.
13. While noting the efforts that have been undertaken to develop a data collection system under the auspices of the State Agency for Child Protection and the National Statistical Institute, the Committee remains concerned that the lack of a unified centralised database, has resulted in a scarcity of disaggregated data on children, particularly on children with disabilities, children living in marginalised situations and Roma children.
14. In light of its general comment No. 5 (2003) on general measures of implementation, the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Expeditiously improve its data collection system to cover all areas of the Convention. Data should be disaggregated by, among others, age, sex, disability, geographic location, ethnic and national origin and socioeconomic background in order to facilitate analysis on the situation of all children, particularly those in situations of vulnerability;
(b) Ensure that data and indicators are shared among relevant Ministries and used for the formulation, monitoring and evaluation of policies, programmes and projects for the effective implementation of the Convention;
(c) Take into account the conceptual and methodological framework set out in the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) entitled Human rights indicators: a guide to measurement and implementation when defining, collecting and disseminating statistical information.
15. The Committee welcomes the steps taken by the State party to incorporate the rights of the child into the mandate of the Ombudsman through amendments to the Ombudsman Act in 2012 (Article 19, para. 1.9), and the appointment of a Deputy Ombudsman to deal with children’s rights, along with the Ombudsman’s role as National Preventative Mechanism. Despite this progress the Committee is concerned that due to a lack of sufficient resources within the Office of the Ombudsman children’s rights are not being sufficiently addressed.
16. In the light of its general comment No. 2 (2002) on the role of independent human rights institutions, the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Strengthen the mandate of the Deputy Ombudsman to receive, investigate and address complaints by children in a child-sensitive manner and allocate sufficient technical, human and financial resources to support the work of the office;
(b) Ensure the privacy and protection of child victims, particularly when monitoring and follow-up visits to institutions are undertaken within the Ombudsman’s role as National Preventative Mechanism;
(c) Ensure continuous capacity building and training of Ombudsman staff on issues related to children’s rights.
Dissemination, awareness-raising and training
17. The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation of 2008 (CRC/C/BGR/CO/2) and encourages the State party to:
(a) Strengthen its efforts to provide adequate and systematic training and/or sensitization on children’s rights to professional groups working with and for children, such as law enforcement officials, parliamentarians, judges, lawyers, health personnel, teachers, school administrators, academics, social workers, media professionals and others as required;
(b) Pay particular attention to the systematic inclusion of teaching of the Convention’s principles and provisions, at all levels of the school curricula;
(c) Give special attention to the participation of children in the dissemination of their rights;
(d) Encourage the media to ensure its sensitivity to children’s rights as well as the inclusion of children in the development of programs; and
(e) Continue and strengthen its efforts to increase the awareness of the Convention and its principles and provisions and to disseminate the Convention throughout the country, in close cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders and by paying particular attention to the remote and rural areas and children from minority groups.
B. Definition of the child (art.1 of the Convention)
18. The Committee recommends that the State party amend its Family Code to remove all exceptions that allow marriage under the age of 18 years.
C. General principles (arts. 2, 3, 6 and 12 of the Convention)
19. While noting as positive the introduction of a National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria for Roma Integration 2012 – 2020, the Committee remains deeply concerned at the persistent discrimination against Roma children. Of particular concern are reports indicating that existing discrimination against Roma in all areas of life is among the principal reason leading to the placement of Roma children in institutions. Further concern is expressed that Roma children, as well as children with disabilities, asylum seeking and refugee children, minority children and children living in remote areas, continue to face discrimination with regard to access to education, health care and adequate housing. The Committee is also concerned that the Commission for the Protection against Discrimination does not have a special unit to deal with cases of discrimination against children.
20. The Committee urges the State party to:
(a) Ensure full implementation of relevant existing laws prohibiting discrimination, including by strengthening public education campaigns to address negative social attitudes towards Roma children, children with disabilities, minority children and refugees and asylum seeking children;
(b) Ensure that children living in rural areas have access to quality education, adequate health care and housing;
(c) Implement the National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria for Roma Integration 2012 – 2020 and ensure the availability of sufficient human, technical and financial resources;
(d) Introduce a specific mechanism within the Commission for Protection against Discrimination to address cases of discrimination against children.
Best interests of the child
21. The Committee welcomes the amendments to the Child Protection Act in 2009 to ensure the right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration, and notes the general framework established by the State party to ensure that the best interests of the child are upheld as a fundamental principle of child protection. However, it is concerned about the continuing misunderstanding with respect to its meaning and the responsibilities it entails, particularly among the judiciary, child protection professionals and social workers.
22. In light of its general comment No 14 (2013) on the right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration, the Committee recommends that the State party strengthen its efforts to ensure that this right is appropriately integrated and consistently interpreted and applied in all legislative, administrative and judicial proceedings and decisions as well as in all policies, programmes and projects that are relevant to and have an impact on children. In this regard, the State party is encouraged to develop procedures and criteria to provide guidance to all relevant persons in authority for determining the best interests of the child in every area and for giving it due weight as a primary consideration.
Right to life, survival and development
23. While noting as positive the overall decrease in child mortality since 2008, the Committee is concerned at the high rate of infant mortality in some parts of the country due to a lack of adequate health care, poverty, inadequate nutrition and the existence of harmful traditional practices. The Committee is also seriously concerned at the continuing allegations of serious abuse resulting in a high number of deaths of children between the ages of 0-3 who are deprived of parental care, as well as children with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities in Institutions for Medical and Social Care for Children (IMSCC). The Committee is also concerned that socio-economic inequalities place children from marginalised and deprived areas at particular risk of unintentional injury due to exposure to unsafe home, play and road environments.
24. The Committee urges the State party to:
(a) Introduce a thorough investigative case review procedure in cases when a child has died or was seriously injured as a result of abuse or neglect, and in particular, conduct a full investigation into the allegations of the high number of child deaths in IMSCC institutions;
(b) Fully investigate all allegations of ill-treatment of children, and ensure that such acts are given an appropriate response through judicial processes, in order to avoid impunity for perpetrators;
(c) Strengthen efforts to ensure that access to adequate health care, including pre-natal care for uninsured pregnant women, is extended to the most vulnerable families, particularly those living in marginalised and remote areas;
(d) Intensify awareness-raising and educational campaigns through the National Strategy for the Improvement of Road Safety.
Respect for the views of the child
25. While welcoming the ongoing efforts to ensure respect for the views of the child, including its consideration as one of the priority areas in the National Strategy for Children 2008-2018, and its incorporation in the Child Protection Act, the Committee is concerned that the implementation of this right remains at the discretion of professionals involved in each case. Traditional practices and cultural attitudes in the family, schools and certain social and judicial settings further impede the full realisation of the rights of children to express their views freely. While the Committee recognises the efforts being made by the State party to address this issue through awareness raising campaigns it remains concerned that children in vulnerable or marginalized situations, such as children in administrative care and children with disabilities, are often not consulted in matters concerning them.
26. In light of its general comment No. 12 (2009) on the right of the child to be heard, the Committee reiterates its previous concluding observations (CRC/C/BGR/CO/2, para. 27) and encourages the State party to ensure that children’s views are given due consideration, in accordance with article 12 of the Convention, in the family, at schools, in the courts and in all relevant administrative and other processes concerning them through, inter alia, the adoption of appropriate legislation, the training of professionals, the establishment of specific activities at schools and general awareness-raising. The Committee further encourages the State Party to work in collaboration with relevant stakeholders to disseminate the Convention (including in minority languages) and to strengthen the creation of meaningful spaces through which children can influence public policy.
D. Violence against children (arts. 19, 24, para.3, 28, para. 2, 34, 37 (a) and 39)
Freedom of the child from all forms of violence
27. The Committee notes as positive the efforts made by the State party to develop a child protection system, in particular through provisions outlined in the Child Protection Act and the Family Code; the establishment of a coordination mechanism to address cases of children who are victims or at risk of violence; the establishment of an expert task force to tackle bullying in schools; and the introduction of a National Helpline for Children in 2009. Despite this progress the Committee is deeply concerned at:
(a) The inhuman or degrading treatment, including physical, psychological and sexual abuse, among and against children living in institutional care homes;
(b) Reports indicating that children in Juvenile Detention Centres, Socio-Pedagogical Boarding Schools, Correctional Boarding Schools and Homes for the Temporary Placement of Minors and Juveniles, suffer from disproportionate punishment including physical beatings, arbitrary periods in solitary confinement and limited food rations;
(c) The secondary victimization of children as a result of flawed investigative procedures which fail to provide sufficient guarantees of redress and lack a child sensitive approach;
(d) The lack of general understanding as to what constitutes violence against children, and limited ability to recognise cases by professionals, as well as insufficient cooperation and information sharing among relevant agencies and inadequate follow up;
(e) The lack of continued investment and ongoing support to ensure a ‘whole school’ approach to tackle bullying.
28. With reference to Sustainable Development Goal 16.2 to end, inter alia, all forms of violence against children, and General Comment 13 on the right of the child to freedom from all forms of violence, the Committee urges the State party to:
(a) In coordination with the office of the Ombudsman, in its capacity as National Preventative Mechanism, establish a monitoring mechanism to ensure that all children deprived of liberty, including in the course of criminal or corrective procedure, are free from all forms of torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, and ensure that they have access to a safe and child-friendly mechanism for complaints related to their deprivation of liberty, conditions of detention/internment and treatment;
(b) Ensure that child victims of ill-treatment are provided with care and rehabilitation programmes, and ensure that re-victimisation of any kind is avoided;
(c) Strengthen capacity-building programmes for teachers and staff members of child care facilities, in order to promote positive and alternative forms of discipline and respect for children’s rights and to raise awareness about the adverse consequences of corporal punishment on children;
(d) Ensure efficient cooperation, coordination and data sharing between child protection services and the police and justice system;
(e) Establish compulsory training courses on violence against children for all relevant professionals;
(f) Develop a national programme to address violence in schools with support from the Ministry of Education and Science and teacher training agencies to establish standards, mentoring and peer review violence in schools, and provide training, including for parents, on the risks of (cyber) bullying;
(g) Develop a public awareness campaign as a means of changing prevailing attitudes in relation to violence against children and move towards zero tolerance;
(h) Seek technical cooperation from UNICEF and the World Health Organisation as a means of addressing the aforementioned issues.
Abuse and neglect
29. While the Committee notes as positive the establishment of a coordination mechanism to address cases of children who are victims or at risk of violence, it is concerned that gaps in coordination are preventing multi-disciplinary teams at the local level from functioning properly. It is further concerned that there is insufficient refuge accommodation and accessible counselling services for children affected by abuse, and at prevailing societal attitudes that perceive domestic abuse to be a private matter.
30. The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Further strengthen awareness-raising and education programmes — including campaigns — with the involvement of children, in order to formulate a comprehensive strategy for preventing and combating child abuse;
(b) Establish a national database on all cases of domestic violence against children, and undertake a comprehensive assessment of the extent, causes and nature of such violence;
(c) Ensure the allocation of adequate human, technical and financial resources to the State Agency for Child Protection to enable it to implement long-term programmes for addressing the root causes of violence and abuse;
(d) Encourage community-based programmes aimed at preventing and tackling domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, including by involving former victims, volunteers and community members, and providing training support to them.
31. While the Committee notes as positive provisions in the Child Protection Act (Article 11 (2)) and the Family Code (Article 125 (2)) prohibiting violence in all settings, including the home, as well as the Implementing Regulation on the Public Education Act (Article 129) prohibiting violence in schools, it is concerned that corporal punishment continues to be widely accepted in society as a means of disciplining children, and is not explicitly prohibited or sanctioned in legislation.
32. In light of its general comment No. 8 (2006) on corporal punishment, the Committee urges the State Party to:
(a) Explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in legislation;
(b) Ensure that the prohibition of corporal punishment is adequately monitored and enforced in all settings;
(c) Promote positive, non-violent and participatory forms of child-rearing and discipline through awareness campaigns;
(d) Ensure that offenders are brought before the competent administrative and judicial authorities.
33. The Committee recommends that the State party establish a system to track all cases involving child marriages among ethnic groups, particularly Roma girls, and provide victims with shelter as well as appropriate rehabilitation and counselling services.
E. Family environment and alternative care (arts. 5, 9-11, 18 (paras. 1 and 2), 20-21, 25 and 27 (para. 4))
Children deprived of a family environment
34. While the Committee welcomes the progress made through the State party’s deinstitutionalization process in considerably reducing the number of children living in institutional care and increasing the number of children entering family based care, it remains seriously concerned that:
(a) The number of children, including children up to 3 years, placed in formal care is still significant, with the risk of family separation and institutionalisation remaining high for children from the most disadvantaged groups including Roma children and children with disabilities;
(b) Lack of support and inadequate training for social workers and staff in Family Type Placement Centres, along with gaps in the child protection system, has led to the separation of children from their families without proper assessment and planning with the risk of re-institutionalisation remaining high;
(c) Implementation of the I Have a Family too project is relatively slow due to lack of coordination among relevant agencies, while the lack of capacity and management of foster care services has led to poor placement decisions;
(d) Family court judges tend to choose placement of the child in institutional care, rather than prioritising support to the original family to keep their children;
(e) Support for reintegration in the society of children and young people leaving care, including those with disabilities, is insufficient.
35. Drawing the State party’s attention to the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (General Assembly resolution 64/142, annex), the Committee emphasizes that financial and material poverty — or conditions directly and uniquely attributable to such poverty — should never be the sole justification for removing a child from parental care, for receiving a child into alternative care or for preventing a child’s social reintegration. In this regard, the Committee recommends that the
(a) Urgently reduce placement of children under the age of 3 years in residential care institutions, including those with disabilities, and expedite the placement in family-based care;
(b) Ensure adequate safeguards and clear criteria, particularly for Roma children and children with disabilities, based on the needs as well as best interests of the child, for determining whether a child should be placed in alternative care;
(c) Ensure institutionalization is used only in the short term, including by providing information to expectant parents and healthcare workers who serve new parents, on the rights and dignity of children with disabilities;
(d) Ensure implementation of proper preparation procedures, before relocation to the newly established Family Type Placement Centres, including adequate child participation, and develop a monitoring mechanism to ensure that staff receive adequate and regular training and supervision;
(e) Ensure adequate legal safeguards and clear criteria for determining whether a child should be placed in alternative care, taking into consideration the views and best interests of the child, and enforce such criteria by raising awareness of family court judges;
(f) Support and monitor regular and appropriate contact between the child and their family, provided that it is consistent with the child’s best interests;
(g) Strengthen support to children and young people leaving care, including those with disabilities, to enable them to reintegrate into society, by providing access to adequate housing, legal, health and social services, as well as educational and vocational training opportunities;
(h) Raise awareness in society to counter the stigmatization and discrimination of children in alternative care.
36. While the Committee notes that the number of adoptions of children with disabilities and special needs has increased, it remains concerned that the number of adoptions of children with severe disabilities has only slightly increased and the number of adoptions of Roma children remains very low.
37. The Committee reiterates its recommendations of 2008 (CRC/C/BGR/CO/2, para. 38) and further recommends that the State party:
(a) Ensure that children with disabilities and Roma children are not discriminated against in the adoption process and establish programmes to reduce misconceptions related to the adoption of children with severe disabilities and Roma children;
(b) Amend the Family Code to ensure that children under the age of 14 are consulted in all decisions that affect their lives, including in cases of adoption;
(c) Ensure enhanced coordination of relevant agencies along with sufficient staff training to ensure appropriate long term support for the adopted child and adoptive parents;
(d) Introduce legislation guaranteeing the right of the child to know his or her origins in line with Universal Periodic Review recommendation 80.79 of 2011 (A/HRC/16/9).
F. Disability, basic health and welfare (arts. 6, 18 (para. 3), 23, 24, 26, 27 (paras. 1-3) and 33)
Children with disabilities
38. While the Committee welcomes the State party’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012, along with the adoption of a number of strategic national plans, it is concerned that:
(a) The inexistence of a standard legal definition of a child with a disability, combined with a lack of reliable data, hinders the delivery and evaluation of services for them;
(b) A disproportionate number of children with disabilities continue to live in institutions, due to, inter alia, the stigmatisation of children with disabilities and a fragmented system of social assistance which does not sufficiently encourage and support families to keep their children at home;
(c) Parents may decide that a child with disabilities will not attend inclusive education, without taking into account his/her best interests, resulting in a large proportion of children with disabilities attending special schools;
(d) Although the Draft Law on Pre-school and School Education proposes the development of a system of inclusive education, it does not provide for the necessary measures to change teaching methods, or for the provision of specialised training for teachers. It also proposes establishing three categories of alternative support centres for children with disabilities, which may undermine efforts to ensure inclusive education for all;
(e) Inclusion of children with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities remains unsatisfactory due to a lack of trained specialists, including, speech therapists, mental health professionals and psychologists.
39. In light of its general comment no. 9 (2006) on the rights of children with disabilities, the Committee urges the State party to adopt a human rights-based approach to disability, and establish a comprehensive strategy to ensure the inclusion of children with disabilities and:
(a) Enhance data collection on children with disabilities and conduct studies and analyses on the effectiveness of the implementation of the Convention and the existing laws and policies;
(b) Reform the system of social assistance for children with disabilities and their families in order to improve its coherence and coordination and avoid institutionalization;
(c) Give priority to measures that facilitate full inclusion of children with disabilities, including those with intellectual and psycho-social disabilities, in all areas of public life, such as leisure activities, community-based care and provision of social housing with reasonable accommodation;
(d) Undertake awareness-raising campaigns to combat the stigmatization of and prejudice against children with disabilities;
(e) Guarantee all children with disabilities the right to inclusive education in mainstream schools independent of parental consent;
(f) Train and assign specialized teachers and professionals in integrated classes providing individual support and due attention to children with learning difficulties, and address the shortage of speech therapists and qualified professionals for children with mental and psychosocial disabilities;
(g) Revise the Draft Law on Preschool and School Education to ensure that the three categories of alternative support centres for children with disabilities do not undermine efforts to ensure inclusive education for all.
Health and health services
40. The Committee notes the efforts to improve maternal and child health services including through the National Programme for Improving Mother and Child Healthcare 2014-2020, however it remains deeply concerned at the high infant and under 5 mortality rates, premature births and pregnancies that are not subject to medical pre-natal services. The Committee is also concerned that Roma mothers and young children are particularly vulnerable and continue to lack access to maternal and adequate health care, resulting in early births, low rates of immunization against childhood diseases and high rates of dental disease. High levels of malnutrition also affect the Roma community with poverty and social isolation further exacerbating their plight. The Committee is further concerned at the lack of information on breastfeeding in the country.
41. In light of its general comment No. 15 (2013) on the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and taking note of Sustainable Development Goal 3, target 3.1 on reducing maternal mortality and target 3.2 on ending preventable deaths of new-borns and children under 5 years of age, the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Allocate adequate human and financial resources to ensure full implementation of the National Programme for Improving Mother and Child Healthcare 2014-2020, and to strengthen and increase support in Roma communities of newly appointed health mediators;
(b) Ensure availability of and equitable access to quality primary and specialised health and dental care for all children in the country, particularly those from socially and economically disadvantaged groups including Roma children and children with disabilities;
(c) Strengthen efforts to ensure that access to adequate health care, including pre-natal care for uninsured pregnant women, is extended to families living in the most vulnerable situations, particularly those living in marginalised and remote areas;
(d) Implement and apply the OHCHR Technical guidance on the application of a human rights-based approach to the implementation of policies and programmes to reduce and eliminate preventable mortality and morbidity of children under 5 years of age (A/HRC/27/31);
(e) Fully implement the International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes, and develop a national program for the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding through comprehensive campaigns. Mothers should be appropriately supported through counselling structures in hospitals, clinics and community and the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative should implemented throughout the country.
42. The Committee notes certain measures taken by the State party to address mental health issues and particularly welcomes the combined educational and social measures adopted when treating children with behavioural problems. The Committee is however concerned about the shortage of qualified child psychiatrists and community based mental health services.
43. The Committee recommends that community based mental health services are made readily available, while preventive work in school, home and care centres should be strengthened. It further recommends that the number of child psychiatrists and psychologists be increased.
44. While welcoming efforts to address reproductive health of adolescents through its National Programme for Sexual and Reproductive Health (2013 – 2017), the Committee remains concerned at the high rate of teenage pregnancies and abortions. It is further concerned at the lack of a comprehensive national programme and poor coordination among agencies that undermines the potential to develop a strategic and sustainable response to preventing early pregnancies. The high incidence of drug, tobacco, alcohol and other toxic substances among children is also of concern.
45. In light of its general comment No. 4 (2003) on adolescent health, the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Expand the scope of the National Programme for Sexual and Reproductive Health (2013 – 2017) to provide a comprehensive, age-appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health, including information on family planning and contraceptives, the dangers of early pregnancy and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases;
(b) Ensure unimpeded access to sexual and reproductive health services, including confidential counselling and modern contraception for adolescent girls and boys and make the conditions for abortion less restrictive and, in relation to adolescent girls, to reflect the right of the child to express her views;
(c) Address the incidence of drug use by children and adolescents by, inter alia, providing children and adolescents with accurate and objective information as well as life skills education on preventing substance abuse — including tobacco and alcohol —, and develop accessible and youth-friendly drug dependence treatment and harm reduction services.
Standard of living
46. While noting as positive the efforts undertaken by the State party to address poverty and social exclusion through the 2020 National Strategy for Reducing Poverty and Encouraging Social Inclusion, and the National Development Programme: 2020, the Committee remains deeply concerned that:
(a) Children in marginalised and remote and rural communities continue to be disproportionately affected by poverty, while families with more than three children, Roma families, and families with children with disabilities are at higher risk of experiencing multidimensional poverty;
(b) Inadequate housing continues to be a problem, particularly for Roma families who are often subjected to forced evictions, leaving children without access to basic services including clean and safe drinking water and sanitation, and therefore vulnerable to serious health problems.
47. The Committee draws attention to Sustainable Development Goal 1, target 1.3 on implementing nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all and recommends that the State party:
(a) Consider holding targeted consultations with families and children, including those in vulnerable situations, particularly Roma families, as well as children’s rights civil society organizations, with a view to strengthening the strategies and measures for reducing child poverty;
(b) Strengthen the support to children living below the poverty line, in particular single-parent families, families with three or more children and families with children with disabilities, and ensure that social protection measures provide for the real costs of decent living of the children, including expenses relevant to their right to health, nutritious diet, education, adequate housing and water and sanitation;
(c) Review its legislation, policies and programmes on housing in order to prevent and eliminate homelessness, taking into account special needs of children, including Roma children, children with disabilities, their families and young people leaving alternative care;
(d) Ensure that the policies, projects and practices on development and the governance of land, including those which may entail relocation, are in line with relevant international standards, including the basic principles and guidelines on development-based evictions and displacement (see A/HRC/4/18, annex 1) and with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, adopted by the Committee on World Food Security of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2012.
G. Education, leisure and cultural activities (arts. 28, 29, 30 and 31)
Education, including vocational training and guidance
48. The Committee welcomes efforts made to reduce urban and rural disparities in accessing quality education, to enhance the provision of early childhood education, to integrate Roma children into mainstream schools, to reduce dropout rates, and to guarantee access to free public education and educational support services for asylum-seeking and refugee children. However, the Committee remains seriously concerned that:
(a) Children living in rural areas and small towns still face inequality in accessing quality education;
(b) The existence of high levels of non-attendance and early school-leaving remains a problem for a high number of students in many parts of the country;
(c) Participation in pre-school, primary, secondary and vocational education for Roma children, particularly for Roma girls, remains low with many Roma children continuing to face segregation in the school system.
(d) Asylum-seeking children placed in detention centres based in remote areas do not have access to full-time education.
49. In light of its general comment No. 1 (2001) on the aims of education and taking note of Sustainable Development Goal 4, targets 4.1 and 4.2 to ensure that by 2030 all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education, and have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education, the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Further strengthen its efforts to improve access to quality education in rural areas and in small towns, including access to pre-school, secondary and higher education;
(b) Develop programmes, along with monitoring and evaluation of such programmes to reduce drop-out rates;
(c) Facilitate the participation and inclusion of Roma children in education at all levels, including pre-school education, raise awareness of teachers and staff members of psychological and pedagogical counselling centres on the history and culture of Roma people, ensure the use of non-verbal and culturally sensitive tests;
(d) Ensure the full enjoyment of the right to education by asylum-seeking children, regardless of their status, length of stay or residence, on equal footing with all other children in the country.
H. Special protection measures (arts. 22, 30, 32-33, 35-36, 37 (b)-(d), 38, 39 and 40)
Asylum-seeking and refugee children
50. While the Committee welcomes the State party’s continued cooperation with UNHCR, along with efforts it has made to improve reception facilities and the registration process for asylum seekers and refugees, it is concerned that:
(a) A targeted refugee integration support programme has not been in place since 2014;
(b) Due to lack of space in reception centres, in some cases, unaccompanied asylum seeking children are placed in rooms with adults, while reports suggest overcrowding and poor hygiene place children at risk;
(c) Under current regulations a working mechanism to appoint a guardian for unaccompanied children does not exist;
(d) Despite amendments to the Law on Foreigners stipulating that unaccompanied children should not be detained but should be cared for by the Social Assistance Directorate, they continue to be detained, in exceptional circumstances for up to 3 months. Similarly proposals to detain asylum seekers, including children, in closed reception centres to ensure family unity have been made without due regard for the best interest of the child, including their physical, emotional and physical development or sufficient guarantees to ensure access to judicial review;
(e) There are no administrative or financial arrangements in place to ensure free legal assistance for asylum-seekers including unaccompanied children;
(f) The procedures for family reunification are not physically and economically accessible for many asylum-seekers and refugees and are overly demanding in terms of requirement for documentation and physical verification of applicants;
(g) The absence of a proper identification procedure and lack of sufficient interpreters at the border increases the risk of unaccompanied children entering the country being identified as ‘accompanied’ and therefore placed in detention centres or they may not be promptly referred to the State Agency for Refugees;
(h) Hate speech against asylum seekers and refugees in the media as well as among high ranking officials is on the rise.
51. In light of General comment No. 6 on the treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin, the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Ensure that sufficient provisions are made to prevent unaccompanied asylum seeking children from being placed in rooms with unrelated adults;
(b) Take all necessary legal and practical steps to ensure the timely appointment of guardians for unaccompanied and separated children;
(c) Avoid any form of detention of asylum-seekers under 18 and families with children and consider all possible alternatives, including unconditional release, prior to detention. In doing so, the Committee draws attention to the UNHCR Revised Guidelines on Applicable Criteria and Standards relating to the Detention of Asylum-Seekers (26 February 1999);
(d) Ensure that all asylum-seeking children are systematically provided with information on their rights and obligations, asylum procedures and available services. In this regard, consider amending relevant national legislation, including the Law on Asylum and Refugees;
(e) Expand the scope of free legal assistance to all asylum-seeking and refugee children at all stages of the application for international protection by amending relevant legislation and providing financial support to NGOs providing legal assistance to asylum-seeking and refugee children;
(f) Ensure full respect of the principle of non-refoulement and facilitate access to the asylum system for children in need of international protection in line with Articles 6,22 and 37 of the Convention and General Comment No.6;
(g) Take all necessary measures to safeguard the principle of family unity for refugees and their children, including by making administrative requirements for family unification more flexible and affordable;
(h) Develop campaigns to counter hate speech against asylum seekers and refugees;
(i) Effectively implement the National Integration Strategy for Individuals Granted International Protection in Bulgaria (2014 – 2020) with particular focus on the needs of children.
Children belonging to minority groups
52. The Committee is concerned that:
(a) Stigma and discrimination against Roma people, including children, are still widespread, resulting in violence and hate speech against them;
(b) Roma families with children living in informal settlements face forced eviction;
(c) Roma families face difficulty in accessing social protection services and social integration programmes.
53. The Committee urges the State party to:
(a) Conduct campaigns at all levels and in all provinces aimed at addressing the negative attitudes towards the Roma in society at large and take effective measures to prevent violence and hate speech against Roma;
(b) Assess the particular situation of Roma children and take measures to facilitate their access to social protection measures and social integration programmes, including by improving cultural sensitivity of services provided and readjusting the scope of social programmes.
Economic exploitation, including child labour
54. While the Committee notes as positive the efforts made by the State party to address child labour, particularly through the 2008 Labour Inspection Act, and its collaboration with the International Labour Office, it is concerned that children living in vulnerable situations, particularly Roma children, continue to be exposed to harmful and exploitative labour within the informal economy, mainly in agriculture, tourism, the retail sector and domestic work.
55. The Committee urges the State party to:
(a) Continue to seek technical assistance from the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour of the International Labour Office in this regard;
(b) Take all necessary measures to enforce the Labour Law and fully implement ILO Minimum Age Convention No. 138, and ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182;
(c) Establish training programmes for Labour Inspectors and increase their numbers to ensure that employment practices are sufficiently monitored.
Sexual exploitation and trafficking
56. The Committee welcomes the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse in 2011 along with amendments to the Criminal Code and the Child Protection Act that aim to protect victims of trafficking, however the Committee remains concerned that:
(a) The 2010 Coordination Mechanism for Referral and Support of Cases of Unaccompanied Children and Child Victims of Trafficking Returning from Abroad does not function efficiently;
(b) There is no system to provide specialized care and support for child victims of trafficking who are often placed in socio-pedagogical boarding schools, and correctional centres.
57. The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Establish adequate and coordinated mechanisms for identification and protection of child victims of trafficking, including systematic and timely information sharing among relevant officials, and strengthen the capacity of police officers, border guards, labour inspectors and social workers to identify child victims of trafficking;
(b) Enhance the efforts to raise awareness and competency of family court judges and prosecutors on existing national and international standards as well as on how to respect the best interests of the child in the legal proceedings relevant to human trafficking, taking into consideration specific protection needs of child victims of trafficking;
(c) Based on the evaluation of the outcome of the National Programme for Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking and Protecting Victims (as prepared and elaborated annually since 2011), integrate, in the next round of National Programmes, comprehensive measures to identify, protect and support child victims of trafficking which reflect their best interests and special needs.
Administration of juvenile justice
58. While the Committee notes as positive efforts undertaken to reform the juvenile justice system through the adoption in 2011 of the Concept for Public Policy on Justice for Children and the Road Map for its implementation in 2013, along with the adoption of the Strategy for Judicial Reform of the Minister of Justice in 2015, and the training of Magistrates in relation to child rights, it remains deeply concerned that the majority of its previous recommendations have yet to be implemented (CRC/C/BGR/CO/2, para. 69). It is particularly concerned that:
(a) Children as young as 8 years continue to be deprived of liberty in correctional facilities under the Juvenile Delinquency Act;
(b) The principle of deprivation of liberty as a last resort, and for the minimum period of time, is not explicitly provided for in legislation;
(c) Amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act and the Criminal Procedure Act, as suggested by the Committee in its previous concluding observations, have not been implemented;
(d) The term ‘anti-social’ behaviour continues to be applied in contravention of international standards;
(e) A large number of children continue to be placed in juvenile correctional and educational facilities, with inadequate living conditions, often isolated from the wider community and limited contact with family.
59. In relation to the abovementioned concerns the Committee urges the State party to implement its previous recommendations (CRC/C/BGR/CO/2, para. 69) as a matter of priority.
60. The Committee expresses further concern that:
(a) Children with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, severe health issues such as HIV/AIDS, and drug addiction continue to be placed in Social-Pedagogical Boarding Schools and Correctional Boarding Schools;
(b) Pregnant girls placed in correctional facilities are often deprived of adequate living conditions, including a safe environment, adequate food and nutrition and a lack of access to appropriate medical care. Separation of mother and child after birth is apparently common place;
(c) Legal counsel and representation is not guaranteed for children, while periodic review and monitoring of correctional facilities is lacking. The placement of children in Homes for Temporary Placement of Minors and Adolescents is implemented by administrative order without the possibility of judicial review.
61. The Committee urges the State party to:
(a) Ensure that children placed in specialised educational facilities have access to protection measures under the Child Protection Act;
(b) Ensure the provision of adequate living conditions, including the right to adequate food and nutrition, medical care and a safe environment for pregnant girls placed in correctional facilities;
(c) Monitor the implementation of alternatives to deprivation of liberty handed down by courts to ensure that it is only used as a last resort and for the shortest possible period of time and that it is reviewed on a regular basis with a view to withdrawing it;
(d) Ensure the provision of qualified and independent legal aid to children in conflict with the law at an early stage of the procedure and throughout the legal proceedings;
(e) In cases where detention is unavoidable, ensure that the children are not detained together with adults and that detention conditions are compliant with international standards, including with regard to access to education and health services.
Child victims and witnesses of crimes
62. While welcoming the adoption of several EU Directives (including Directive 2011/91/EU and Directive 2012/29/EU) as a means of improving conditions for child witnesses, along with the establishment of child friendly ‘Blue Rooms’, the Committee urges the State party to expedite the establishment of child sensitive procedures, ensure that interviews are conducted in an appropriate manner, in the absence of the accused, and by adequately trained judicial staff to prevent re-victimisation and traumatisation of children and to take fully into account the Guidelines on Justice in Matters involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime (Economic and Social Council resolution 2005/20, annex).
Follow up to the Committee’s previous concluding observations and recommendations on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography
63. The Committee notes as positive amendments to the Criminal Code aimed at increasing penalties for various trafficking offences, however it is concerned at the absence of measures taken to amend domestic legislation to incorporate the provisions outlined in Article 3 of the Optional Protocol concerning all elements related to child pornography and sale of children for adoption. It is also concerned at the lack of information on whether or not the State party exercises extraterritorial jurisdiction over all crimes contained within the Optional Protocol. It is further concerned at reports of illegal adoptions, including the sale of babies, particularly within the Roma community.
64. The Committee urges the State party to bring its penal code into full compliance with articles 2 and 3 of the Optional Protocol and recommends that it step up its anti-trafficking prevention efforts in relation to child victims, and take preventive measures to address sale of children, child prostitution and sex trafficking in Roma communities. In particular urgent measures should be taken to combat the sale of children for adoption. The State party is requested to provide information in its next report to the Committee with regards to its extraterritorial jurisdiction over all crimes provided for in the Optional Protocol.
Follow up to the Committee’s previous concluding observations and recommendations on the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict
65. The Committee welcomes the State party’s decision to abolish obligatory military conscription in 2008, and the fact that children under the age of 18 are not permitted to serve in the Bulgarian armed forces. However the Committee regrets the lack of information provided on measures taken to:
(a) Criminalise the recruitment and involvement of children in hostilities led by the armed forces and/or by non-state armed groups;
(b) Establish and exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction over all crimes under the Optional Protocol;
(c) Ensure that psychological assistance, rehabilitation and reintegration into society is provided for asylum-seeking, refugee and migrant children, including unaccompanied children, who may have been involved in armed conflicts, or recruited for hostilities abroad.
66. The Committee urges the State party to provide information in its next report to the Committee on the issues outlined in the aforementioned paragraph.
Ratification of the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure
67. The Committee is concerned that the State party’s decision to ratify the Optional Protocol is based on whether or not the proposed Child Act is adopted.
68. The Committee recommends that in order to further strengthen the fulfilment of children’s rights the State party consider ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure and ensure that appropriate mechanisms are in place to ensure it is fully implemented.
I. Ratification of international human rights instruments
69. The Committee recommends that the State party, in order to further strengthen the fulfilment of children’s rights, ratify the core human rights instruments to which it is not yet a party, namely the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
J. Cooperation with regional bodies
70. The Committee recommends that the State party continue to cooperate with the Council of Europe on the implementation of the Convention and other human rights instruments, both in the State party and in other Council of Europe member States.
V. Implementation and reporting
A. Follow-up and dissemination
71. The Committee recommends that the State party take all appropriate measures to ensure that the recommendations contained in the present concluding observations are fully implemented. The Committee also recommends that the combined third, fourth and fifth periodic reports, the written replies to the list of issues of the State party and the present concluding observations be made widely available in the languages of the country.
B. Next report
72. The Committee invites the State party to submit its combined sixth and seventh periodic reports by 2 January 2022 and to include therein information on the follow-up to the present concluding observations. The report should be in compliance with the Committee’s harmonized treaty-specific reporting guidelines adopted on 31 January 2014 (CRC/C/58/Rev.3) and should not exceed 21,200 words (see General Assembly resolution 68/268, para. 16). In the event that a report exceeding the established word limit is submitted, the State party will be asked to shorten the report in accordance with the above-mentioned resolution. If the State party is not in a position to review and resubmit the report, translation thereof for the purposes of consideration by the treaty body cannot be guaranteed.
73. The Committee also invites the State party to submit an updated core document, not exceeding 42,400 words, in accordance with the requirements for the common core document in the harmonized guidelines on reporting under the international human rights treaties, including guidelines on a common core document and treaty-specific documents (HRI/GEN/2/Rev.6, chap. I) and General Assembly resolution 68/268 (para. 16).