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The national strategy Vision on the Deinstitutionalisation of Children in the Republic of Bulgaria adopted by the Council of Ministers on February 24 2010, marked an important step forward in the delivery of better quality care to children in Bulgaria.
Still, the homes for children with mental disabilities in Bulgaria continue to maintain a practice of malnourishment, violence, physical restraint, and treatment with incapacitating drugs. Results from a joint BHC-Prosecutor’s Office investigation from 2010 indicate that over the past ten years, 238 children with disabilities have died in social care homes: 31 children have died of systematic malnutrition; 84 – due to general staff negligence; 13 – of infections resulting from bad hygiene; 36 – of pneumonia through persistent exposure to cold or long-term immobility; 6 – in accidents such as freezing to death, drowning, and suffocation; 2 – as a result of violence. The causes of 15 of the deaths remain unknown. Sixty three per cent of all deaths occurred in institutions, as opposed to hospitals. This alarming percentage comes to say that sick children tend not to be hospitalised, regardless of the gravity of their health condition, and that they are left to die in the institution, or hospitalised too late. Since a significant proportion of the deaths occurred during the cold months of the year, it is clear that the very basics, such as adequate heating, food staples, and vital medication are not provided.
Upon completing the abovementioned inspection of all institutions for children with mental disabilities, the Prosecutor’s Office initiated 248 pre-trial proceedings. As of 1 June 2011, 25 of them have been terminated and 21 are still being reviewed by a court of higher instance, said the deputy chief prosecutor of Bulgaria, Galina Toneva at a news conference organised by BHC on the International Children’s Day. Still, not a single indictment has been made. The prosecutors have issued a number of disquieting refusals to investigate cases such as failure to treat a child’s abscess and to provide specialised dental care to a child, to a child abused by means of ill appointed tranquilisers; also cases of sexual abuse, hypotrophy and pneumonia-related deaths, and bodily damage. On 1 June 2011, BHC launched its campaign for access to information in care homes for children by media and civil society for regulative purposes.
The reform of the system of correctional and educational facilities, the correctional boarding schools (CBS) and the social educational boarding schools (SBS) has been under discussion for a decade and still has not materialized. The long-awaited reforms in the field of justice for minors and juveniles are also not on the agenda. Over the past twelve years, the number of boarding schools was reduced from thirty-three to nine, as law enforcement bodies realised the placement of children in CBS and SBS has no educational effect. This reduction was also a result of the legislative changes which restricted the arbitrariness of such placements. However, this measure could not completely guarantee the respect for the rights of children at risk. The placement procedure is inconsistent with fair trial standards. The grounds for placement in the case of ‘anti-social behaviour’ discriminate against the children, as they allow for the deprivation of liberty for acts which are not deemed crimes if performed by adults.