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: While public education is universal and compulsory until the age of 16 and free through the 12th grade, authorities did not effectively enforce attendance requirements. According to the State Agency for Child Protection (SACP) and NGOs, 23.2 percent of Romani children did not attend school.
Child Abuse: Violence against children continued to be a problem. In April the ombudsman reported that the number of reported cases of violence against children in schools had increased more than 100 percent in less than one year. The SACP registered the same rate of reports of child abuse in 2015 as the year before. The government has an interagency coordination mechanism for children who are either survivors or at risk of violence. The interagency mechanism is tasked with cooperating in crisis interventions but the multidisciplinary teams implementing it complained of a lack of access to social services and a lack of qualified experts in many municipalities. According to the Animus Association Foundation, discussion of sexual violence against children remained a social taboo.
In January the Supreme Administrative Prosecution Service acted upon an ombudsman’s report and ordered inspections of all correctional boarding schools, uncovering cases of physical and psychological violence and of degrading treatment of children by staff. Similar inspections in 2014 revealed similar violations, and the prosecution service concluded that the measures taken by authorities have not been effective.
NGOs continued to advocate 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 a 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 eight months of the year, helpline counselors received nearly 60,000 calls and carried out 6,684 consultations, 76 percent of which were with children and the rest with parents. More than 8 percent of the calls concerned cases of violence, with most of the callers in violence cases being adults reaching out on behalf of children. Helpline consultants referred 360 cases of children at risk to the child protection administration. Approximately one third of those cases involved children from rural areas where access to community services and programs was a problem due to isolation and insufficient funding. NGOs expressed concern that, in many cases, social workers, guided by conflicting laws, preferred to send a child out of an abusive home into an institution rather than to remove the abusive parent.
According to the National Institute of Statistics, the number of children registered with juvenile delinquency offices in 2015 increased 15 percent to 2,849. The most common reasons for registration were running away from home, drug abuse, vagrancy, and begging.
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 2015 there were 481 marriages of girls under 18, or 1.7 percent of total marriages, which continued an increasing trend since 2009, when the figure was 0.6 percent. In addition, there were 2,767 children born to mothers between the ages of 15 and 17 as well as 294 to mothers under 15. As of July, courts had sentenced 68 persons over a five-year period for cohabitating with a person less than 14 years of age, which is punishable by law with two to five years in prison; 63 of the sentences were suspended, however.
NGOs criticized authorities for treating early marriages and resulting early parenthood as an ethnic Romani rather than a gender problem, but acknowledged that child marriage was a pervasive problem in Romani communities and resulted in school dropouts, early childbirths, poor parenting, and spreading poverty. In February, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published a report which noted that the number of child marriages and early births in Romani communities has decreased in the previous 10 years, but the number of Romani girls who gave birth to a second or third child, while slightly lower, remained high. The law provides for in-kind allowance payments for underage mothers in order to avert child neglect. 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.
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 to 15,000 levs ($2,800 to $8,400), and child sex trafficking, for which it provides for three to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 to 20,000 levs ($5,600 to $11,100). 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 ($4,500) for violations.
Displaced Children: As of September 28, the State Agency for Refugees had received asylum applications for 1,857 unaccompanied minors and had issued refugee status to six and humanitarian status to another six. There were approximately 150 unaccompanied minors at any given time in refugee reception centers. The ombudsman reported that authorities registered unaccompanied minors as relatives of other asylum-seeking families in order to evade the legal prohibition on detaining minors alone. As a result, instead of receiving specialized assistance and protection, minors ended up in detention centers for adults. The ombudsman’s report further stated that refugee centers did not meet the minimum requirements for accommodating unaccompanied minors.
Institutionalized Children: As of February, the government had closed all residential care institutions for children with disabilities. Through August the government closed six institutions for parentless children and one for medical and social care as part of a plan to close all institutions by 2025 and replace them with community-based care. NGOs criticized the system of financing new centers by paying them per child staying per day, as it motivated them to fill the center to capacity without regard to the individual needs of the child. NGOs further criticized the deinstitutionalization process, noting that the new centers recreated the atmosphere of the larger institutions, serving as “final destinations” for children rather than developing their self-reliance and social inclusion skills. A November 2015 survey showed a high rate of societal tolerance to housing children in institutions rather than integrating them in larger society as well as to stigmatizing children with intellectual disabilities. 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 the institutions and the new centers, uncovering malpractice and mistreatment of the children placed there. For example, in February the Minister of Education and Sciences fired the director of the correctional boarding school in Podem, following up on a State Agency for Child Protection recommendation that was based on the ombudsman’s report of violence and harassment at the school. A follow-up surprise inspection by the ombudsman in September found that, despite the change in leadership, the staff continued to impose unsanctioned punishments and that there was violence among students.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.