On December 10 – International Human Rights Day, the National Network for Children sent an open letter to international and Bulgarian institutions calling for support for children’s rights in Bulgaria.
The letter, signed by 70 civil society organizations, is on the occasion of a proposal to amend the Child Protection Act, submitted to the National Assembly on December 4 by „VMRO – Bulgarian national movement“ political party, which puts children at risk, violates their rights and contradicts all international documents.
The draft law, if passed and adopted, would take Bulgarian child protection law system and practice 20 years back. The submitted proposals are in complete contradiction with the Convention on the rights of the child as well as other international and European standards and the understanding of children as subjects, individuals and citizens, and not as someone’s property.
We hereby introduce the main ideas that are put forward as suggestions for amendments in the Child Protection Act:
- The draft law limits the prerogatives of institutions to apply basic standards for the protection of children’s rights. The balance is disturbed as opposition is introduced regarding the rights of “biological” parents, guardians, custodians as opposed to the rights of children, which is contrary to all international documents on child protection.
- The definition of “child at risk” is altered and even abolished without any motive being introduced, as basic criteria are replaced by subjective judgments.
- The principle of respect of the “best interests of the child” has been replaced by the respect of “traditions, decency and commonly accepted morals in the State”, which is contradictory to both the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as EU law.
- The submission of a signal/referral for danger of the child or a child being at risk is conditioned by a pre-signed statement of truth and authenticity, which greatly increases the signalling barrier and would practically lead to failure of any attempt of relatives or family, including teachers, neighbours, friends, to make referrals to child protection institutions especially not in written form but by a call to the Institutions.
- The draft law envisages that the rights to raise a child and even the rights of custody can be given to third parties solely through a notarized declaration by the parents, as if the children are real estate that can be transferred.
This legislative change initiative is part of a series of actions threatening children’s rights in Bulgaria. Nationalistic political parties and populist organizations have often turned Bulgarian society into an object of misinformation and propaganda for political purposes, using the topic of child protection and related legislation. As a result, Bulgarian children’s human rights organizations have come under attack, and some activists have been systematically slandered in the public space.
An “indisputable success” of the attacks on children’s rights is the decision of Prime Minister Borissov to terminate the procedure of amendment in the phase of public consultations and discussions of the draft National Strategy for the Child 2019-2030 and even repeatedly point out in public that “There is no Strategy for the child” as a positive fact. This action directly violates the domestic legislation of Bulgaria (Article 1, paragraph 3 of the Child Protection Act), which explicitly provides and endorses for the adoption of this strategy by the National Assembly. At the same time, the Bulgarian Prime minister legitimized the statements of misinformation, on the basis of which the procedure for the adoption of the Strategy was put to an end.
The campaign against children’s rights, together with the constantly delayed reforms, have brought the child protection system in Bulgaria to a serious crisis and have lead to difficulties in implementation and, in practice, to the suspension of the application of statutory measures for the protection of children at risk. As a result of the constant postponement of needed reforms, the child protection system in Bulgaria has lost its fragile initial capacity since its creation 20 years ago.
Today, not only Bulgaria, but the whole world is put to a serious test in terms of human rights, children’s rights and democratic principles. With this letter we would like to alarm you for the negative changes in Bulgaria, despite the adoption of the European Parliament Resolution on the rule of law and fundamental rights in Bulgaria (2020/2793 (RSP)).
We call on international and Bulgarian institutions to resolutely and responsibly oppose both the attempts to pursue policies aiming to restrict human rights in the EU member states, as well as and especially oppose those amendments with a purpose to limit children’s rights. Moreover, we believe that a key measure is to address conspiracy theories and propaganda regarding children’s rights as part of policies for restriction of the spread of fake news. Let the institutions and organizations we lead bear responsibility for the public interest of all nations and create policies and measures that guarantee the rights of children and other vulnerable members of society.
Together, we must place the policies for children at the heart of our democracies!