Bulgaria should speed up deinstitutionalisation reforms, Human Rights Commissioner says

Despite progress made still more than 2700 children are growing up in institutions.

“Important changes are required to ensure that long-stay residential institutions are replaced with family and community-based services which respect the rights, dignity and wishes of each individual”, says Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights in his country report on Bulgaria.

The publication has been put together after the Commissioner’s visit in February 2015. “Children are sent to such places established on the basis of obsolete legislation without a due assessment of their needs and where physical and psychological violence happens regularly. Once they are inside, they lack the necessary protection and are cut-off from quality education, thus reducing their chances of reintegrating into society”, said Mr Muižnieks at the report launch.

Despite progress made, still more than 2700 children are growing up in different forms of institutional caresays Dani Koleva, Opening Doors campaign coordinator and Programme Director at the National Network for Children in Bulgaria, who contributed to the report.

One of the most pressing issues is the overrepresentation of children from families living in poverty, children with disabilities and Roma children. Ending institutional care would be possible if the country invested in prevention of family separation, in foster care and in community services for children.

In Bulgarian institutions “human rights violations frequently occur” says the Commissioner. His report explains that there are different forms of institutionalisation in the country, that the system is outdated and that it should be completely reformed.

Correctional boarding schools, for example, are institutions created in the 1950s where children with so-called “anti-social behaviour” are detained. Originally considered as re-education centers they became places where children lack necessary education and risk to remain locked up for years.

Correctional boarding schools lack an effective methodology for working with children in conflict with the law. We call on the government to strengthen efforts to reintegrate these children back to their families in the first place and to provide children in correctional boarding schools with quality education and healthcare”, Dani Koleva concludes.

Mr Muižnieks also called for a “rapid phasing out” of all the outdated juvenile delinquency institutions, which should be replaced by a system that respects the human rights of children.

Download the report here.