Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents. Children are immediately registered upon birth in the country.
Education: Public education is compulsory to the age of 16 and free through the 12th grade, but authorities did not effectively enforce attendance requirements.
According to the National Statistical Institute, nearly 19,000 children dropped out of school in 2011. However, the Education Ministry estimated the number of dropouts at around 6,000, explaining that many students left the country’s schools to emigrate. NGOs consider both figures to be inaccurate and estimated that the actual number of dropouts was between these figures. School drop-out rates were disproportionately high among ethnic minorities, particularly the Romani population, who lacked affirmative incentives to complete secondary education. According to official government data for 2011, while secondary school was the highest level of education completed by 52.3 percent of the Bulgarian population, only 29.7 percent of the Turkish and 9 percent of the Romani populations had completed that level. The proportion of the groups that never completed any level of education ranged from 0.9 percent for Bulgarians to 7.5 percent of Turks and 21.8 percent of Roma.
Child Abuse: Violence against children was a problem. According to the State Agency for Child Protection, there was an increase in the number of child abuse cases in the previous few years. In 2011 there were 2,175 cases reported, up from 2,155 in 2010. Violence in the home continued to be the most prevalent form of violence (79 percent), while 9 percent of the cases occurred on the street and only 5 percent in school.
According to the Social Activities and Practices Institute, one in eight children becomes a victim of sexual violence. In 85 percent of sexual violence cases, there is a close relationship between the victim and the abuser. The Animus Association Foundation stated that, while sexual violence against children had increased in the past few years, discussion of it remained a social taboo. In July the State Agency for Child Protection inspected 51 child care institutions and uncovered 46 cases of abuse. The agency noted that the conditions and organization in some of the institutions, such as those in Veliki Preslav, Shumen, and Isperih, had created an environment that was conducive to violence. In May the government adopted a national plan for prevention of violence against children that aimed to improve the professional capacity of experts working with children and raise public awareness of the problem. According to the National Statistical Institute, 1,803 children were victims of serious crimes in 2011, down from 2,090 victims in 2010.
The government funded an NGO-operated 24-hour free helpline that children could call for counseling, information, and support as well as to report abuse. During the first nine months of the year, helpline counselors carried out 14,772 consultations. Nearly 13 percent of the calls concerned family problems and violence that prompted investigations that sometimes resulted in the removal of children from abusive homes and the prosecution of abusive parents. Hotline administrators referred 206 reports to child protection authorities for handling.
Child Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 16. Although no official statistics were available, NGOs reported that child marriage was common in Romani communities. According to a 2010 study by the Romani NGO Amalipe, 20 percent of 16-year-old Roma and 50 percent of 18-year-old Roma were either married or cohabiting, which resulted in school dropouts, early childbirths, poor parenting, and spreading poverty. The youngest reported case of cohabitation among Roma involved a child who was 12.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides for two to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine of 5,000-15,000 levs ($3,369-$10,108) for forcing children into prostitution, as well as three to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000-20,000 levs ($6,738-$13,477) for child sex trafficking. The legal minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The law prohibits child pornography and provides for up to six years in prison and a fine of up to 8,000 levs ($5,391).
Institutionalized Children: The BHC and other NGOs criticized the prosecution service for terminating many of the investigations into the 238 deaths and other abuses discovered in 2010 in the specialized institutions for children. The government continued to inspect the institutions, uncovering numerous malpractices and mistreatment of the children placed there. Many institutions continued to accept children both with and without disabilities. The number of institutionalized children dropped by more than 30 percent between 2009 and 2011, declining from 6,730 to 4,755 at the end of 2011. A 2011 report by the European Roma Rights Center and the BHC stated that Romani children accounted for 63 percent of all institutionalized children, while Roma accounted for 5 percent of the total population. Most children in state institutions were not orphans; courts institutionalized children when they determined that their families were unable to provide them adequate care.
The government continued implementing the first stage of its deinstitutionalization program, targeting 31 facilities for children up to the age of three and 24 facilities for children ages three and older. The government reported evaluating 1,797 institutionalized children with disabilities and drew up an individual deinstitutionalization plan for each. As of August 300 children had been reintegrated with their families, adopted, placed in foster care, or relocated to a center providing individualized care for six to eight children in a simulated family environment.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information see the Department of State’s report on compliance at http://travel.state.gov/abduction/resources/congressreport/congressreport_4308.html.