10th December 2020, Sofia
OPEN LETTER TO:
DUBRAVKA ŠUICA, VICE-PRESIDENT FOR DEMOCRACY AND
VĚRA JOUROVÁ, VICE-PRESIDENT FOR VALUES AND TRANSPARENCY
ELISA FERREIRA, COMMISSIONER FOR COHESION AND REFORMS
NICOLAS SCHMIT, COMMISIONER FOR JOBS AND SOCIAL RIGHTS
DIDIER REYNDERS, COMMISSIONER FOR JUSTICE
HELENA DALLI, COMMISSIONER FOR EQUALITY JUSTICE
RENATE WINTER, CHAIRPERSON OF THE UNCRC COMMITTEE
DUNJA MIJATOVIĆ, THE COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
MICHAEL O’FLAHERTY, DIRECTOR OF THE EUROPEAN UNION AGENCY FOR FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS
HENRIETTA FORE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR UNICEF
MARIE-LOUISE COLEIRO PRECA, PRESIDENT OF EUROCHILD
MARIA HERCZOG, PRESIDENT OF CHILD RIGHTS CONNECT
CAROL BELLAMY, CHAIR OF ECPAT INTERNATIONAL
From 70 civil society organizations in Bulgaria on the occasion of the attack on children’s rights in the form of a proposed draft-law on amending the Child Protection Act
Dear ladies and gentlemen, representatives of International and European institutions,
We turn to you, seeking support for the cause of children’s rights in Bulgaria which throughout the last three years, have been systematically violated.
The exact reason why we address you with this letter is the fact that on December 4, 2020 in the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria a draft law was submitted on behalf of the political party which is a part of the governing coalition „VMRO – Bulgarian national movement“ № 054-01-111 for amendment of the Child Protection Act. The draft law, if passed and adopted, would take Bulgarian child protection law system and practice 20 years back. The submitted proposals are in complete contradiction with the Convention on the rights of the child as well as other international and European standards and the understanding of children as subjects, individuals and citizens, and not as someone’s property.
We hereby introduce the main ideas that are put forward as suggestions for amendments in the Child Protection Act:
- The draft law limits the prerogatives of institutions to apply basic standards for the protection of children’s rights. The balance is disturbed as opposition is introduced regarding the rights of “biological” parents, guardians, custodians as opposed to the rights of children, which is contrary to all international documents on child protection.
- The definition of “child at risk” is altered and even abolished without any motive being introduced, as basic criteria are replaced by subjective judgments.
- The principle of respect of the “best interests of the child” has been replaced by the respect of “traditions, decency and commonly accepted morals in the State”, which is contradictory to both the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as EU law.
- The submission of a signal/referral for danger of the child or a child being at risk is conditioned by a pre-signed statement of truth and authenticity, which greatly increases the signalling barrier and would practically lead to failure of any attempt of relatives or family, including teachers, neighbours, friends, to make referrals to child protection institutions especially not in written form but by a call to the Institutions.
- The draft law envisages that the rights to raise a child and even the rights of custody can be given to third parties solely through a notarized declaration by the parents, as if the children are real estate that can be transferred.
This legislative change initiative is part of a series of actions threatening children’s rights in Bulgaria. Nationalistic political parties and poipulist organizations have often turned Bulgarian society into an object of misinformation and propaganda for political purposes, using the topic of child protection and related legislation. As a result, Bulgarian children’s human rights organizations have come under attack, and some activists have been systematically slandered in the public space.
An “indisputable success” of the attacks on children’s rights is the decision of Prime Minister Borissov to terminate the procedure of amendment in the phase of public consultations and discussions of the draft National Strategy for the Child 2019-2030 and even repeatedly point out in public that “There is no Strategy for the child” as a positive fact. This action directly violates the domestic legislation of Bulgaria (Article 1, paragraph 3 of the Child Protection Act), which explicitly provides and endorses for the adoption of this strategy by the National Assembly. At the same time, the Bulgarian Prime minister legitimized the statements of misinformation, on the basis of which the procedure for the adoption of the Strategy was put to an end.
The campaign against children’s rights, together with the constantly delayed reforms, have brought the child protection system in Bulgaria to a serious crisis and have lead to difficulties in implementation and, in practice, to the suspension of the application of statutory measures for the protection of children at risk. As a result of the constant postponement of needed reforms, the child protection system in Bulgaria has lost its fragile initial capacity since its creation 20 years ago.
Dear Sirs and Madams,
Today, not only Bulgaria, but the whole world is put to a serious test in terms of human rights, children’s rights and democratic principles. With this letter we would like to alarm you for the negative changes in Bulgaria, despite the adoption of the European Parliament Resolution on the rule of law and fundamental rights in Bulgaria (2020/2793 (RSP)).
We call on everyone of you, within your own competences, to resolutely and responsibly oppose both the attempts to pursue policies aiming to restrict human rights in the EU member states, as well as and especially oppose those amendments with a purpose to limit children’s rights. Moreover, we believe that a key measure is to address conspiracy theories and propaganda regarding children’s rights as part of policies for restriction of the spread of fake news. Let the institutions and organizations we lead bear responsibility for the public interest of all nations and create policies and measures that guarantee the rights of children and other vulnerable members of society.
Together, we must place the policies for children at the heart of our democracies!
National Network for Children – Bulgaria
BNC Together for children”
Alliance of Bulgarian Midwives
Applied Research and Communications Fund
Association “European Spaces 21” Ruse
Association for pedagogical and social assistance for children FICE-Bulgaria
Association for shared learning ELA
Association Initiative for Development – Kardjali Decides
Bulgarian Center For Not-For-Profit Law Foundation
Bulgarian Donors’ Forum
Bulgarian Family Planning and Sexual Health Association
Bulgarian Fund For Women
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
Child and Space Association
Concordia Bulgaria Foundation
Detski Knigi Foundation
Devetashko plato Association
Ecological Association Za Zemiata
Ekaterina Karavelova Women’s Association
For our children Foundation
For the Good Foundation
Foundation „Gender Alternatives”
Future For The Children Association
Future Foundation – Rakitovo
Habitat for Humanity – Bulgaria
Health and Social Development Foundation
Hope 2002 Association
Initiative Rhodope Mountains 21st century
Institute for Progressive Education Association
International Social Service – Bulgaria (ISS-Bulgaria)
JANETA Association – Razgrad
Karin Dom Foundation
Law and internet Foundation
Listen up Foundation
Maria’s World Foundation
Mission Wings Foundation
National Association of Resource Teachers Bulgaria
NC Future Now
NGO Club – Targovishte
Opportunity and Protection Association
Organisation Drom Association
Partners Bulgaria Foundation
Program And Analytical Center For European Law
Roma Iskra Fund
Smile Association – Burgas
Social Activities and Practice Institute
Social Dialogue 2001
SOS Children’s villages Bulgaria
Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus – Bulgaria
Teach for Bulgaria Foundation
The Cedar Foundation
The Heart Foundation
Together for a better future – Sredets
Workshop for Civc Iinitiatives Foundation
Worldwide Orphans Bulgaria
YMCA Gabrovo Association