National Network for Children calls in an open letter for concrete, urgent measures and actions by the government and state institutions to limit the risk for the life and future of Bulgarian children and their families.
In the past few weeks within the declared state of emergency, the Bulgarian government undertook several measures aiming to limit the spread of COVID-19 and effective care and support for the affected people. These measures are focused on the life and health protection of people and workers in the health system, also measures for the elderly people and part of the business sector. All of these actions are timely and necessary and the National Network for Children (NNC) supports them.
At the same time, NNC would like to warn that the effects of the economic stagnation and the isolation can be detrimental to hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian children and families. The abilities of physical survival worsen with each passing day for children and families living in poverty and material deprivation. Children at risk of poverty or social exclusion are over 400 000 , with child poverty directly dependent on parental poverty. For many children in Bulgaria, the main meal is provided by the school and today with distance learning, they no longer have access to it. Moreover, this applies not only to children and families living in extreme poverty but also to thousands of people who have not been in this situation before. Working parents fall into the trap of poverty and hunger due to forced unpaid leave, loss of employment and sources to support their families.
NNC’s members which are working directly with poor children and families report for many cases of families who cannot earn the sum of BGN 5-10 per day for their basic needs relying on activities such as digging, collecting and selling herbs and plastic, window cleaning etc. The number of extremely poor increases due to staff cut down or forced unpaid leave. The situation is aggravated by the fact that access to staple foods is becoming increasingly difficult. There is a serious risk of mass famine, an increase in domestic violence cases, theft and other domestic crime as a result of the constraints and aggravated economic situation. Besides, there is a real danger for children who have recently been reintegrated into families to be abandoned again due to the lack of the ability of these families to meet their basic needs – a risk for the efforts to provide the best possible care in the family. And children are the victims of this situation.
The government has so far been determined to implement precautionary measures, but care for the most vulnerable groups of people is insufficient. These groups include children and families living in poverty before and new ones due to the COVID-19. Among them are families who cannot afford regular meals, meat consumption, who live in miserable conditions and are unable to keep their home adequately warm even before the pandemic crisis. Even if they are not affected by the pandemic itself, today they are at another serious risk – to remain unable to meet their basic needs and their children’s basic needs. Along with health support campaigns, civil society organizations are making serious efforts to support families in need, but this is not enough. At the same time many countries, such as the UK, France, Germany, Spain and others, are taking steps to prevent any company from going bankrupt and leaving no one with the means to meet their most basic needs.
Considering the described situation National Network for Children appeal for 3 government actions:
1. An urgent government plan to provide essential food and access to food for the most vulnerable families with children. The civic organizations working directly with these families are ready to support and assist in the implementation of these measures so that these products to be delivered locally to municipalities and other local authorities.
2. Risk analysis and planning long-term measures with deadlines and clear commitments for post-crisis recovery for the most affected sectors and vulnerable groups of people, including and self-employed practitioners. This plan must take into account the number of non-serviced and non-performing loans, the expected unemployment rates, and the risk of poverty, etc. and to ensure the health, well-being and respect for the rights of all children and support for their families after overcoming the pandemic.
3. Measures for children and their families to provide psychological and social support to overcome the enormous distress and uncertainty caused by the crisis. This is especially important with the increasing risk of further negative consequences of the situation such as the increase of suicides, violence and crises in families. Social services in Bulgaria can be of great benefit in implementing such measures.
We, at the National Children’s Network, are ready to support state institutions and insist no child live in hunger and without family!