On November 20, the pan-European network Eurochild published the report
Children’s rights: political will or not?
Eurochild 2023 report on children in need across Europe
The most children at risk of poverty or social exclusion are in Romania – 41.5%, Bulgaria is in second place with 33.9%
The pan-European network Eurochild presented its annual report on child poverty in the countries of Europe. The analysis Children’s rights: political will or not? draws on data provided by 38 Eurochild members in 26 countries and includes recommendations to each country to tackle child poverty and social exclusion, discrimination, health care, online safety and early childhood services.
The paper assesses whether national action plans for the European Child Guarantee are in line with the current state and countries’ needs for improvements in children’s policies and outlines future priorities that EU decision-makers and national governments can pursue in order to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children.
For the preparation of the analysis and recommendations in the report from the Bulgarian side, assistance to Eurochild was provided by Nadezhda and homes for children – Bulgaria branch , Know-how center for alternative care for children – NBU and National Network for Children, in its capacity as a member of the pan-European network and main national partner for Bulgaria in a number of focal policies, including the effective implementation of the European Child Guarantee.
What the report shows in the part about Bulgaria
Key topics for our country are children’s rights in the following areas: online safety; the children affected by the war; children’s participation in the decisions that affect them and in the public debate on the topics important to them. According to Eurochild, we lack an understanding of children’s rights, and the position of a child, compared to that of an adult, is belittled , which is a major obstacle to their wider civic participation.
In Bulgaria, movements against children’s rights and human rights in general are clearly observed. A fact that is particularly applicable to children who assert their views against the so-called “traditional societal norms” and children from minority groups (refugee and migrant children, ethnic minorities, children from the LGBTI community). Their vulnerability is largely due to widespread discriminatory attitudes, high levels of misinformation, fake news and everyday hate speech.
The Safer Internet Centre’s hotline receives a record number of reports , 90% of which are about online sexual exploitation, including harassment and sexual extortion. The quality of the National Children’s Hotline (the second tool in Bulgaria for supporting children who are victims of violence together with the State Agency for Child Protection) has deteriorated in recent years due to the lack of the necessary expertise among the employees who manage it , including lack of qualifications to provide psychological support to children calling and seeking help.
The child protection system in Bulgaria remains reactive, with about 2,000 children entering it annually. Child protection departments are still severely understaffed and have high turnover. There are also gaps in action to promote a change in attitudes that stigmatise poverty and marginalisation. Children’s rights are undermined and violated in the new type of housing, which is supposed to provide a new type of care compared to the institutionalised model of child rearing. There is a lack of efforts to build and strengthen intersectoral cooperation and coordination between all public institutions, making up all elements of the child protection system.
Bulgaria has the largest share of unaccompanied minors among the EU member states. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, nearly 150,000 Ukrainian refugees have passed through Bulgaria, about 40% of them are children. Less than 10% of them (about 2,200 children) are enrolled in the Bulgarian education system. Eurochild emphasises that all refugee children’s access to education and social services must be above the political commitments of states. However, families remain faced with a number of practical barriers to access to education, such as language barriers and low administrative and financial capacity of service providers for enrolment, attendance at an educational institution and support in a school setting.
The National Strategy for Mental Health of the Citizens of the Republic of Bulgaria 2020-2030 envisages strengthening the focus on children and youth. The planned activities include programs to support children with mental illnesses and their families, combating violence against children and training health professionals and general practitioners to integrate activities and services for early diagnosis of mental problems. The strategy also includes the development of a public register of approved qualified specialists providing mental health care to children and youth. In order for the strategy to have a real positive effect, a more stable collection of data on the mental health of children in Bulgaria is necessary. Eurochild’s recommendation is to map children’s needs and provide support directly on the ground in schools to help students cope with the demands of the education system.
In the section on Bulgaria, the Europchild report notes some key activities for children’s rights by the organisations partnering in the report. For Know-how centre for alternative care for children – NBU they are in the direction of empowering children to become human rights defenders, for Nadezhda and homes for children – Bulgaria branch – final deinstitutionalisation and support for the cause of every child growing up in a family environment, and for National network for children – advocacy for reforms in the Bulgarian justice system for children and youth.
There are a total of 1.18 million children in Bulgaria, 33.9% of whom live at risk of poverty and social exclusion by 2022. This equates to approximately 403,004 Bulgarian children in need. The percentage of children at risk of poverty and social exclusion has increased since 2021. There is a serious disparity between the overall rate of child poverty and that of children of different ethnic origins – 37.5% of children from Turkey and 69.4% of Roma origin in poverty are increasing respectively. Nearly 20% of children in Bulgaria live in households with three or more children. It is they who are traditionally at the highest risk of poverty and social exclusion. Mostly children from marginalised communities and children with disabilities are placed in places for out-of-family care on the state budget. According to Eurochild, the reason for this is the consistent failure to apply the “principle of necessity” in the separation of children and their families.
The analysis notes with a positive sign:
- Abolition of kindergarten and crèche fees as an approach to tackling child poverty;
- Maternity leave for parents who have children in their second year has been increased, as has the amount of tax relief for working parents.
However, it is insufficient to provide integrated support for the poorest and most marginalised families with children. A number of pilot initiatives targeting different aspects of poverty are introduced, but they are not sustainable over time and beyond their pilot phase do not become a stable national policy with clear evaluation criteria and persistence in achieving clearly set results.
The implementation of the European Child Guarantee in Bulgaria
Bulgaria creates and publishes its National Action Plan for the implementation of the European Child Guarantee in December 2022. The plan identifies the most needy groups of children in the country, namely children with disabilities, children in migration and refugees, children from minority origins, children in alternative care and those leaving care, especially children in homes and children from households with more than three children, as well as children in single-parent families. The plan highlights the importance of regional differences in the proportion of children at risk of poverty and social exclusion, such as children living in isolated and hard-to-reach regions who are exposed to multiple risk factors. The document contains measures against social exclusion and the fight against child poverty, but they are not specifically linked to the target groups of children in need. The plan also does not include stable indicators and a framework for monitoring how the measures will be implemented or coordinated between the responsible state institutions.
In order to guarantee the effective implementation of the measures in the National Plan, Eurochild recommends the development of a tool for evaluating the results by municipalities, not at the national level . This would help address regional differences. It is also recommended to seek feedback from children and their families to ensure an overall picture of effectiveness, as well as a working cross-sectoral coordination between representatives of all institutions responsible for the care and protection of children at the municipal level to support every child in need . From the pan-European network, they expect a responsible attitude at the highest political level for the monitoring and evaluation of the results of the European Child Guarantee. Among non-governmental organisations, however, there are fears that the Guarantee will be applied formally and as another pro forma document through which institutions will report their activities, instead of building real policies to improve the lives of children in Bulgaria, says the report Children’s Rights: Political Will or not? .
Child poverty in Europe
Children in poverty and social exclusion have less chance of achieving well in school, of good health and of realising their full potential in their adult lives. According to the latest Eurostat figures for 2022, 24.7% of children in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Compared to 2021, child poverty increased in 8 countries and decreased in 19 countries. Romania has the most children at risk of poverty or social exclusion – 41.5%. Bulgaria is in second place with 33.9%, and in third place is Spain with 32.2%.
The biggest increase in child poverty was in Slovakia and France, registering increases of 5.0% and 4.7% respectively. The most significant decline was observed in Luxembourg (-5.4%), Hungary (-5.2%) and Greece (-3.9%). The percentage of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion in countries awaiting EU accession remains much higher than in EU countries, with the highest in Turkey at 45.2%. The exception is Serbia with 27.5%. There are no Eurostat data for Ukraine. For UK countries, data is from the UK Office for National Statistics. For 2022, England has 30.8% of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion – an increase of 0.15% on 2021.
The full report Children’s rights: political will or not? is available on the Eurochild website here .
The publication of the evaluations by country with translation into the respective language is expected within days.
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Eurochild brings together over 200 organisations in 37 countries in Europe and advocates for the rights and well-being of children in close cooperation with European Union structures. The National Children’s Network has been a member of Eurochild for more than 10 years and is the main national partner for Bulgaria in a number of focal policies, including the effective implementation of the European Child Guarantee (ECG) – an EC initiative for access to healthcare, education, childcare , affordable housing and adequate nutrition for poverty-stricken and vulnerable guppy children in the EU.