Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents. The law requires the registration of all births within seven days without discriminating between boys and girls. Authorities did not register children born to asylum seekers, however, until the mother received either refugee or humanitarian status.
Education: Public education is universal and compulsory until the age of 16 and free through the 12th grade, but authorities did not effectively enforce attendance requirements. According to the State Agency for Child Protection (SACP), school dropout rates, at 26 percent, were disproportionately high among the Romani population.
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 reported child abuse cases compared with the previous few years. The SACP stated that 53 percent of its inspections resulted from reports of violence, mostly in schools. In March the Education Ministry reported that 80 percent of schools registered at least one case of aggression or violence. According to the Animus Association Foundation, discussion of sexual violence against children remained a social taboo.
In January the Justice Ministry inspected the juvenile correctional facility in Boychinovtsi, where inmates alleged that the guards customarily resorted to violence. Prosecutors opened an investigation into the ministry’s report, but terminated it after two months, stating they did not find any proof of violence.
NGOs continued to advocate for closing all juvenile detention centers and reforming the juvenile justice system, which dated back to 1958.
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. Due to the rising number of calls, the government increased the number of helpline consultants from three to four, which made it possible to answer every second call instead of every third. During the first nine months of the year, helpline counselors received 85,666 calls and carried out 9,477 consultations. Less than 6 percent of the calls concerned cases of violence, which in almost all cases was accompanied by emotional abuse. Between 20 and 25 percent of the callers were adults reaching out on behalf of children. Helpline consultants referred 521 cases of children at risk to the child protection administration. NGOs expressed concern that, in many cases, social workers, guided by conflicting legislation, preferred to send a child out of an abusive home into an institution rather than to remove the abusive parent.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. In exceptional cases, a person can enter into marriage at 16 with permission from the regional court. According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2014 there were 393 marriages of girls under 18, or 1.6 percent of the total number, which continued an increasing trend since 2009, when the figure was 0.6 percent. As of July courts sentenced 84 persons for cohabitating with a person less than 14 years of age, which is punishable by law with two to five years in prison. NGOs reported that child marriage was a pervasive problem in Romani communities and resulted in school dropouts, early childbirths, poor parenting, and spreading poverty. Arguing that underage mothers pose a risk of careless parenting, in July the government passed amendments to the Law on Family Allowances for Children, which discontinued allowance payments for minors who become parents. If a minor parent continues to attend school, however, his or her family is entitled to the full amount of the allowance as a lump sum. The National Network for Children criticized authorities for viewing early marriages and resulting early parenthood as an ethnic Romani rather than a gender problem.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code differentiates between forcing children into prostitution, for which it provides for two to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 to15,000 levs ($2,700 to $8,000), and child sex trafficking, for which it provides for three to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 to 20,000 levs ($5,400 to $10,900). 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 ($4,300) for violations.
Displaced Children: As of November a total of 1,404 unaccompanied minors had sought asylum in the country during the year. There were approximately 150-200 unaccompanied minors at any given time in refugee reception centers. The State Agency for Refugees granted refugee status to 668, while the remaining 700 or more minors left the centers before the authorities could make a determination on their cases, and in some cases even before authorities could register them.
Institutionalized Children: As of October the government operated 73 institutions for children. During the year the government closed 25 institutions, including 10 for parentless children, 13 for children with disabilities, and two for those needing medical and social care, as part of a plan to close all institutions by 2025 and replace them with alternative, community-based care. The majority of the children from those institutions were relocated to family-type centers, and a smaller number were either accommodated in protected housing, reunited with their families, or placed in foster care. More than 1,600 children resided in the newly established centers. As of July the number of institutionalized children declined from more than 12,000 in 2001 to 1,632. According to the State Agency for Child Protection, an estimated 50 percent of institutionalized children were Roma. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee was concerned that, despite its deinstitutionalization policy, the government continued to place children in institutions.
Most children in government institutions were not orphans; courts institutionalized children when they determined their families were unable to provide them adequate care. The government continued to inspect both institutions and the new centers, uncovering malpractice and mistreatment of the children placed there. For example, in March an inspection of two family-type centers in Narechenski Bani revealed that four staff members had used unacceptable disciplinary methods and engaged in psychological abuse. In February the agency fired the director of the social and medical care institution in Vidin after media reports revealed that a 14-month-old child died there due to neglect.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html and country-specific information at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/english/country/bulgaria.html.