At the beginning of 2023, the Legal Aid Network of the National Network for Children, through the international coalition Eurochild, initiated the filing of a collective action against Bulgaria before the European Committee for Social Rights in Strasbourg to establish violations of the revised European Social Charter . The main problems raised in the complaint of the Legal Aid Network of NNC and Eurochild refer to: 1) the lack of places in kindergartens in the city of Sofia and other populated areas; 2) the lack of adequate access to early childhood education and care throughout the country , as well as the lack of policies and measures with which the state actively supports the parents and children of Bulgaria with the provision of education and care for children from birth to the mandatory age to start primary education.
In February 2023, the Council of Europe publicly announced the initiation of the case ( Eurochild v. Bulgaria – No. 221/2023 ) and published the text of the complaint, and on 26.10.2023, the European Committee issued a decision allowing the claim to the merits phase. The legal basis on which the complaint will be considered in substance by the Committee is Art. 16 of the revised European Social Charter, entitled “Right of the family to social, legal and economic protection” , stating that:
“In order to ensure the conditions necessary for the comprehensive development of the family, which is the basic cell of society, the contracting parties undertake to assist in the economic, legal and social protection of family life by such means as social and family benefits, tax reliefs , provision of family housing, assistance to newly married families and other appropriate measures.’
As the NMD Legal Aid Network reported in the complaint filed by Eurochild, the level of coverage in Bulgaria of children from the age of 3 until they enter primary school (age 7) in early childhood education and care services is much lower lower than the European Union average. In 2019, 79.9% of children between the ages of 3 and 7 attended kindergartens, compared to 92.8% for the EU. These data for Bulgaria are far from the strategic goal of reaching 95% by 2030.
21%, or every fifth child in Bulgaria between the ages of 1 and 4 live on the territory of the Sofia Municipality. According to statistics, 98 places are available in Sofia for 100 children. Practically, in recent years, about 10,000 children remain outside the system for admission to nurseries, kindergartens and compulsory pre-school training. The “place availability” indicator for crèches practically does not change, increasing by 0.1 percentage points compared to 2020.
With its decision of 26.10.2023, the European Committee for Social Rights in Strasbourg gives Bulgaria until 15.12.2023 to respond to the substance of the complaint, after which the complainants will also be invited to submit written comments. We continue to inform you about the progress of this important international case for the reform of early childhood education and care in Bulgaria.