To protect the rights of children in Bulgaria

To protect the rights of children in Bulgaria
December 10, 2020 Адриана Гоцова

As an organization working for the well-being of children at risk, we at the Cedar Foundation join the open letter to the international institutions outlined further, calling for their support for children’s rights in Bulgaria.
The letter is signed by 69 other civil organizations working in the field of childcare and children’s rights, supporting children and their families.

The main reason for our concern and for this open letter’s appeal are certain proposals for changes in the Child Protection Act made by a Bulgarian political party. These proposals seriously endanger children’s rights and threaten the progress that has been achieved in this area over the last 20 years.

We at Cedar Foundation, alongside all the other organizations who signed the open letter, work every day to protect the rights of children, to ensure their survival and well being and to support their families. It is unacceptable for us to use the lives of the most vulnerable members of our society for political purposes and populist schemes whilst spreading false theories and outright lies.

Read the full text of the open letter below:

TO:
DUBRAVKA SHUITSA, DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF DEMOCRACY AND DEMOGRAPHY EC
VERA YOUROVA, DEPUTY PRESIDENT OF “EC VALUES AND TRANSPARENCY”
ELISA FEREIRA, EC COMMISSIONER FOR COHESION AND REFORM
NIKOLA SCHMITT, COMMISSIONER “JOBS AND SOCIAL RIGHTS” EC
DIDIE RINDERS, COMMISSIONER OF JUSTICE EC
HELENA DALI, EC COMMISSIONER “EQUALITY”
RENATE WINTER, CHAIRMAN OF THE UN CHILDREN’S RIGHTS COMMITTEE
DUNJA MIJATOVIC, COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS TO THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
MICHAEL O’FLAERTI, DIRECTOR OF THE EUROPEAN AGENCY FOR FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS TO THE EC
HENRIETA FOR, UNICEF EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
MARY-LOUISE COLLEIRO PRECA, PRESIDENT OF EUROCHILD
MARIA HERZOG, PRESIDENT OF CHILD RIGHTS CONNECT
CAROL VELLAMI, PRESIDENT OF EXPAT INTERNATIONAL
December 10, 2020, Sofia

OPEN LETTER
From 70 civil organizations in Bulgaria in relation to the attack on children’s rights based on the proposals for amendments to the Child Protection Act.

Ladies and gentlemen, representatives of International and European institutions,

We turn to you, hoping for support for the rights of children in Bulgaria, which have been systematically violated in the last three years.

A specific reason for our letter is the bill for amendment and supplement of the Child Protection Act number 054-01-111, submitted to the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria on December 4, 2020. The petitioner is the IMRO – Bulgarian National Movement parliamentary group, part of the country’s ruling coalition.

The bill, if passed, would result in bringing Bulgarian child protection law and practices back to where they were 20 years ago. The proposals submitted are in clear contradiction with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the understanding of children as subjects, individuals and citizens, as opposed to being someone’s property.

The main ideas of the legislative change proposal are as follows:

  • The bill limits the ability of institutions to apply basic standards for the protection of children’s rights. There is a lack of balance rooted in the opposition between the rights of parents, guardians, custodians and the rights of children; this in turn is in violation of all international documents for child protection.
  • The definition of “child at risk” is changed, without any solid arguments as to what warrants this change; basic criteria are replaced by subjective judgments.
  • The principle of respect for the “best interests of the child” has been replaced by the observance of “traditions, good manners and generally accepted morals in the country”, which is in contradiction not only to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but to EU law, as well
  • The submission of a signal the child is actually in danger can be done ONLY with a preliminary signed and notarized declaration of authenticity; this, in turn would practically result in repeated failed attempts of people close to the family or the child (incl. teachers, neighbors, friends) to inform child protection institutions of any potential wrongdoing.
  • The bill in question foresees the possibility for submitting the rights to raise a child to third parties through a notarized declaration, as if children are real estate that can be transferred for use.

This initiative for a legislative change is part of a series of actions threatening children’s rights in Bulgaria. Nationalist political parties and populist organizations, often for political purposes, have turned Bulgarian society into an object of misinformation and propaganda, using the topic of child protection and the related to it legislation. As a result, Bulgarian children’s human rights organizations have come under attack and some activists have been systematically slandered in public.

The Prime Minister Borisov’s decision to terminate the procedure for discussing a draft for National Strategy for the Child 2019-2030 can be described only as “indisputable success”. Mr. Borisov has actually gone that far as to repeatedly claim [as a positive fact] that “There’s no child strategy”. This act directly violates the domestic legislation of Bulgaria (Article 1, paragraph 3 of the Child Protection Act), which explicitly provides for the adoption of this strategy by the National Assembly. At the same time, the Bulgarian Prime Minister legitimized the allegations of misinformation, on the basis of which the procedure for the adoption of the Strategy was terminated.

Negative campaigns and attacks on the system have also led to the loss of the fragile initial capacity, the creation and buildup of which began 20 years ago.

Dear honorable ladies and gentlemen,

Today, not only Bulgaria, but the whole world is put to a serious test in terms of the recognition and protection of human rights, the rights of children and democratic principles.

With this letter we would like to alert you to the negative changes that are taking place in Bulgaria, even after the adoption of the European Parliament Resolution in terms of the rule of law and fundamental rights in Bulgaria (2020/2793 (RSP)).

We call on everyone, within their competence, to oppose decisively and with responsibility to both, the attempts to pursue policies that restrict human rights in the EU member states and especially to those policies with regard to children’s rights.

Moreover, a key measure is to address conspiracy theories and propaganda regarding children’s rights as part of policies to limit the spread of false news. Let the institutions and organizations we lead, be responsible for the public interest of the nations and create policies as well as for the creation and implementation of measures which guarantee the rights of children and other vulnerable members of society.

Together, we must place policies for our children at the heart of our democracies!

With respect:
National Network for Children
BNC “Together for the children”
Alliance of Bulgarian Midwives Association
Applied Research and Communications Foundation
ASSIST – Assistive Technology Foundation
Association “European Spaces 21” – Ruse
Association for pedagogical and social assistance for children – FICE – BULGARIA
ELA Shared Learning Association
Development Initiative Association “Kardzhali decides”
Beekeeving Foundation for Charity
Bulgarian Center for Non-Profit Law
Bulgarian Donation Forum
Association “Bulgarian Association for Family Planning and Sexual Health”
Bulgarian Fund for Women
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
Center for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance AMALIPE
Child and Space Association
Concordia Bulgaria
Association “Complicity” – Varna
Children Foundation
Children’s Books Foundation
Devetashko Plateau Association
Ecological Association “For the Earth”
Women’s Association “Ekaterina Karavelova” – Silistra
Equilibrium Association – Ruse
For Our Children Foundation
For the Good Foundation
Gender Alternatives Foundation
Three Foundation
IGA Foundation – Pazardzhik
Future for Children Association
Future Foundation – Rakitovo
Habitat Bulgaria
Health and Social Development Foundation
Hestia Foundation
Nadezhda 2002 Association
NSNC Initiative Rhodope Mountains 21st century
Institute for Progressive Education
International Social Service
JANETA Association
Karin Dom Foundation – Varna
KUZMANOV Foundation
Law and Internet Foundation
Hear Yourself Foundation
The World of Mary Foundation
Wings Mission Foundation – Stara Zagora
National Association of Resource Teachers
National Chitalishte “Future Now 2006”
NSO Club – Targovishte
Association “Chance and Protection” Haskovo
Association “Organization Drom” – Vidin
Partners – Bulgaria Foundation
European Law Program and Analytical Center Foundation
RF “Iskra” – Shumen
Association “SMILE” – Burgas
Institute of Social Activities and Practices
Social Dialogue Association 2001
SOS Children’s Villages Bulgaria
Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association – Bulgaria
Together in Class Foundation
Cedar Foundation
One Heart Foundation
NGO “Together for a better future – Sredets”
Civic Initiatives Workshop Foundation
Foundation for children at risk around the world
YMCA Association Gabrovo
PULSE Foundation – Pernik
DOIT Foundation – Sofia
Parents Association
Animus Association