The collective action before the European Committee of Social Rights is because the problems facing early childhood care and the lack of a National Strategy for Children
National Network for Children, through the international coalition Eurochild, has initiated a class action against Bulgaria before the European Committee of Social Rights to establish violations of the revised European Social Charter.
The main issues highlighted in the complaint by National Network for Children’s Legal Aid Network and Eurochild relate to:
1) the lack of places in kindergartens in some cities;
2) the lack of adequate access to early childhood education and care across the country, and the lack of policies and measures for the state to actively support parents and children in Bulgaria with the provision of education and care for children from birth to the compulsory age of primary school entry.
The complaint argues that there is a lack of a comprehensive legal framework and state vision for early childhood education and care, and that the problem is exacerbated by the failure to adopt for four years a National Strategy for the Child, which should set uniform standards and measures for early childhood education and development to support Bulgaria’s parents and children.
“We from National Network for Children resorted to this extreme measure of filing a claim before the European Committee for Social Rights, because we see a refusal on the part of the Bulgarian state institutions and political parties to put the problems of children and families in the focus of their daily work. Increasingly, children are used as propaganda in elections, and ultimately we continue to have a medical model of care that dates back more than 60 years and does not meet modern standards of early education and care. Bulgaria is the only country in the EU where children from 0 to 3 years are cared for by nurses, whose average age is over 70 years, and we do not have specialists in early childhood development. For the fourth year, we have been without a national strategic document for children, which is in violation of our internal legislation,” said Georgi Bogdanov, executive director of the National Network for Children.
Although increasing the coverage of pre-school children and improving the quality of early childhood education and care services are key priorities for Bulgaria, even the quantitative data on the coverage rate of children from the age of 3 to primary school entry (7 years) is much lower than the EU average – in 2019, 79.9% of children aged between 3 and 7 attended kindergartens (compared to 92.8% for the EU). These figures for Bulgaria are also far from the strategic target of reaching 95% coverage by 2030.
21% or one in five children in Bulgaria aged 1-4 live in Sofia municipality. According to statistics, there are 98 places for 100 children in Sofia. In practice, in recent years about 10 000 children have been left out of the nursery, kindergarten and compulsory pre-school admission system. The indicator “availability of places” for crèches is practically unchanged, as compared to 2020 it increases by 0.1 percentage points.
Although partial measures have been taken, such as the payment of kindergarten fees and compensation for children not enrolled, they do not represent a comprehensive approach to fully address the problem of places, let alone the quality of early childhood education and care services. This is particularly true in large municipalities, where the problem of places often manages to shift the conversation away from issues of quality.
Bulgaria ratified the European Social Charter in 2000 and has adopted the Charter’s collective redress system. National Network for Children’s complaint cites violations of the following provisions of the European Social Charter: Article 11 (right to health care), Article 13 (right to social and medical assistance), Article 14 (right to assistance from social welfare services), Article 17 (right of children and young people to social, legal and economic protection), Article 27 (right of workers with family responsibilities to have equal opportunities and be treated equally), Article 30 (right to protection against poverty and social exclusion).
The Council of Europe publicly announced the opening of the case (Eurochild v. Bulgaria – No. 221/2023) and published the text of the complaint.
This is the first strategic case with an international element behind which National Network for Children’s Legal Aid Network is involved. We will continue to keep updated on the progress of the proceedings and on our causes dedicated to access to quality early childhood education and care for every child in Bulgaria.