Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents. Children are registered immediately 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. School dropout rates were disproportionately high among the Romani population.
According to the National Statistical Institute, more than 18,000 children dropped out of school in 2012. The Education Ministry estimated the number of dropouts at 3,883. NGOs considered both figures inaccurate and estimated the actual number of dropouts to fall between these figures.
Child Abuse: Violence against children continued to be a problem. According to the SACP, in the first nine months of the year, there was a slight decrease in the number of child abuse cases compared with the previous few years. In 2012 there were 2,127 cases reported, down from 2,175 in 2011. Physical violence remained the most prevalent form of violence (36.7 percent), followed by neglect (28.6 percent), emotional violence (19.4 percent), and sexual violence (15.3 percent). The home continued to be the most prevalent location of violence (73.5 percent), while 9.1 percent of the cases occurred on the street, 5.3 percent in school, and 5.2 percent in a public location. 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 2012 the SACP inspected childcare institutions for children seven to 18 years old and uncovered 46 cases of abuse, including 35 cases of physical violence, 10 of sexual violence and one of emotional violence. In 2012 the government adopted a three-year 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, 1,777 children were victims of serious crimes in 2012, down from 1,803 victims in 2011.
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 six months of the year, helpline counselors carried out 10,416 consultations. Fifty percent of the reports of abuse received at the helpline concerned physical violence and 32 percent concerned emotional abuse. The accounts prompted investigations that sometimes resulted in the removal of children from abusive homes and the prosecution of abusive parents. Hotline administrators complained that child protection authorities did not possess proper training and often returned cases stating they did not involve domestic violence, which led to further victimization of the children involved. NGOs expressed concern that in many cases social workers, guided by conflicting legislation, preferred to send the child out of the abusive home into an institution rather than remove the abusive parent.
Forced and Early Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 16. Although no official statistics were available, NGOs reported that child marriage was a growing problem in Romani communities, which resulted in school dropouts, early childbirths, poor parenting, and spreading poverty.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides for two to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine of 5,000-15,000 levs ($3,500-$10,000) for forcing children into prostitution, as well as three to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000-20,000 levs ($6,900-$14,000) 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 (5,500).
Institutionalized Children: Authorities placed children with varying types and degrees of disability in the same institution. Between January and August, the government closed 10 institutions. As of October the government operated 57 institutions for parentless children, 30 for those needing medical and social care, and 23 for children and youth with physical disabilities. The number of institutionalized children further dropped by approximately 25 percent, declining from 4,755 at the end of 2011 to 3,592 as of July. Approximately half of the children remaining in institutions had disabilities. According to the SACP, by ethnicity approximately 52 percent of institutionalized children were Roma, 28 percent Bulgarian, and 6 percent Turkish.
Most children in government institutions were not orphans because courts institutionalized children when they determined that their families were unable to provide them adequate care. The government continued to inspect the institutions, uncovering numerous malpractices and mistreatment of the children placed there. In May an inspection of the institution in Sevlievo revealed that the institution’s director and staff had forced two teenage girls to have abortions.
The government continued implementing the first stage of its deinstitutionalization program after developing individual deinstitutionalization plans for each child. In the first six months of the year, authorities removed 530 children from institutions and relocated the majority of them to a family-type center, with a smaller number reintegrated with their families, adopted, or placed in foster care. The SACP expressed concern that foster care families were not ready to assume the high standard of care needed for children with serious health problems, mostly due to societal prejudice.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For country-specific information see http://travel.state.gov/abduction/country/country_3781.html.